Just one year removed from the 2017 NFL Draft, let’s take a look at how each of the Bengals’ picks panned out. I’ll use a 0-10 scale to grade each pick.
The Cincinnati Bengals selected Wide Receiver John Ross at ninth overall in the first round which earns a grade of pi because that’s the only way to view this draft pick: irrational. With players such as defensive end Jonathan Allen, edge rusher Derek Barnett, and safety Malik Hooker available, the Bengals shockingly selected Ross. Ross turned heads at the combine by setting a 40-yard dash record of 4.22 seconds. He also pulled his hamstring during that run, though, playing into the narrative that he is injury-prone.
Ross had an incredibly disappointing rookie season for the Bengals. Did you know it was possible to score negative fantasy points? Ross ended the season with -.80 points, racking up no catches and 1 carry for 12 yards. He fumbled the carry. He barely even saw the field, dealing with several injuries over the course of the year. Allegedly, Ross hid these injuries from the Bengals during the draft process. All in all, Ross had a maddeningly disappointing season for a top ten pick. Ross couldn’t overcome his injury problems, and when he saw the field, he was not an effective weapon.
However, the potential is clearly still there with Ross, and that’s why the grade can’t be too low. At Washington, Ross had an insane junior year, totaling 89 catches for 1,252 yards and 18 touchdowns. He added on 102 yards and another touchdown on the ground. Many draft analysts pigeonholed Ross as a deep threat due to his speed, but Ross has much more versatility to this game. He was dynamic on short and intermediate routes, and his 18 touchdowns are proof he was a viable red zone threat too. Ross’ potential opposite wide receiver A.J. Green in this offense is sky high. If last season and this offseason helped Ross adjust to the NFL, year two could be a breakout year. These next couple years will be critical for Ross’ success in the league.
The Bengals selected running back Joe Mixon in the second round with the 48th pick. He came into the draft as a very polarizing prospect. On one hand, he had the potential to be a dynamic three-down back in the NFL. On the other hand, Mixon was involved in a horrifying off the field incident, in which he broke a woman’s jaw. Regardless, the Bengals selected him in the second round and made him the centerpiece of the run game. Mixon had an up and down year and ended with 178 carries for 626 yards and 4 TDs.
Mixon certainly flashed his elite ability but struggled to put together consistent games his rookie season. Though some of his poor efficiency last year is due to the offensive line and his inexperience, some of it has to fall on Mixon himself. Mixon simply wasn’t good enough to justify a three-down back role in the NFL. However, Mixon proved he can be the feature back in this offense, especially in combination with a scatback like Giovani Bernard. If Mixon can be more explosive next year, he can an established NFL starter. Overall, this was a good pick by Cincinnati.
With the Bengals third-round pick they selected defensive end, Jordan Willis. He was, at the time, an excellent pick for the Bengals. Many expected Willis to be a second-round pick, but he slipped to the Bengals in the third. Willis showed out at the combine, demonstrating that he’s an athletic freak. Willis was also incredibly productive at Kansas State, netting 20 sacks in his final two years in school.
He began the year as a rotation rusher for the Bengals and maintained that role throughout the year. Willis played between 25-35% of snaps in most games and was able to get 1 sack. Willis was outplayed by fellow draftee linebacker Carl Lawson (see below), but still was an okay option for the Bengals. He should provide reliable depth to the Bengals’ pass rush for the foreseeable future, which is good value for his draft position.
With their first of three fourth-round picks, the Bengals selected defensive end/ linebacker, Carl Lawson. He is clearly the best draft pick in this Bengals’ draft class, and the 8.5 grade is deserving because it matches his 2017 sack total. Lawson’s 8.5 sacks were the most of any rookie and placed him in a tie for 25th among the NFL sack leaders. Lawson, like Willis, was supposed to go during Day 2 of the draft but fell to the Bengals in round 4. He popped in week 3 when he recorded 2.5 sacks against the Packers, but still played fewer than 50% of snaps in most games as a pass rush specialist.
The only reason Lawson doesn’t earn a higher grade than 8.5 is that there are some serious flaws in his game. Even though his rookie season was off the charts, Lawson showed he was a liability defending the run. This limits his overall effectiveness to the Bengals’ defense. It would be asinine to suggest that Lawson isn’t useful, but he will likely be used in primarily pass rush situations. If Lawson develops into one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers, which is certainly a possibility, this draft pick grade will go up. No matter what, this fourth-round pick was an absolute coup for the Bengals.
The Bengals selected wide receiver Josh Malone with their second fourth-round pick at pick 128. He earns a pick grade of 6 to match the number of catches he had last season. While it may seem like a high grade to assign to a player who only totaled 6 catches for the year, Malone established himself as a member of the WR core moving forward. At 6’3″, 210 pounds, Malone has an excellent frame, and he pairs that with fluid athleticism.
That physical ability will make Malone a big play threat for the Bengals moving forward, and he displayed a taste of that ability last season. Malone will likely never be a primary weapon in the passing game, but he can certainly have an important role in it moving forward. Considering the draft position, this was a solid selection by the Bengals.
The Bengals had an excellent fourth round, netting three potential contributors to this team in the future. Defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow was the last of these three picks, and his impact last year mirrors what Malone did on offense. In fact, he was slightly better than Malone, hence the extra .1 for his draft grade. Glasgow operated as a rotational lineman last season and played better than his numbers.
He only compiled 12 tackles, but still was on the field for around 40% of snaps most games. Glasgow graded out as PFF’s 91st best interior lineman, which is considered “average.” Glasgow will likely not become a starter because he’s a limited athlete, but he can be a rotational lineman like he was last year. Again, for a fourth-round pick, this is a great value.
Jake Elliott is one of the most frustrating picks the Bengals made in last year’s draft. With the 153rd pick in the fifth-round, the Bengals knew they needed a reliable kicker, so they identified Elliott as the best kicker in the draft. Elliott indeed performed as one of the better kickers in the league last year, especially from long range. He even nailed a 61-yard game-winning field goal during the season.
The only issue? Elliott did this all for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bengals inexplicably waived him in favor of veteran Randy Bullock during training camp, even though Elliott performed well in camp. The Bengals botched the kicker competition and essentially wasted a fifth-round pick. Elliott certainly won’t complain; he’s a Super Bowl 52 champion, and thus the Bengals get a grade of 0.52.
Not every pick works out for most teams. In this case, the Bengals just missed on J.J. Dielman. Even at a position of need – center – Dielman couldn’t make the final 53 man roster.
Cincinnati selected outside linebacker Jordan Evans in the sixth-round with the 193rd pick. Jordan Evans falls into the pool of players the Bengals drafted that qualify as potential rotation players. Evans’ grade is just .1 behind the others because he’s less of a known quantity. Regardless, Evans had a great year for a sixth-round pick. He didn’t see the field much at all the first half of the season, but injuries forced him to fill in for the last 8 games. Evans took advantage of his time on the field and looked like he belonged out there. Especially with the unreliability of LB Vontaze Burfict, Evans could play a very important role on this team in the future if he maintains his level of play.
Brandon Wilson was an intriguing prospect coming out of Houston since he can play both sides of the ball. Wilson made the final roster as a rookie but didn’t play a single snap on either side of the ball. The Bengals did use him on about two-thirds of special teams plays, but he didn’t even record a tackle. It’s unclear if the Bengals plan to expand Wilson’s role next year, but for now, it looks like Wilson is clinging to a roster spot.
Mason Schreck was a project pick as a high-upside tight end at the 257th pick in the seventh round, but injury issues have plagued Schreck throughout his career. In fact, it was injuries that kept Schreck off the field all of last year. Schreck spent the entire season on Injured Reserve and didn’t have the chance to prove himself over backups Tyler Kroft and CJ Uzomah. I would not be surprised if Schreck did not make the roster next season, as the Bengals will likely not keep four tight ends. Seemingly, this was another missed pick from the Bengals.