The Cincinnati Bengals, like every other team, have had their fair share of studs and duds in the last five years. Let’s take a look at some of each.
The Cincinnati Bengals are finishing up their big draft board as we draw closer to the NFL draft. With only two days away before the team makes their first selection in the first round of the draft, barring some kind of trade, fans are getting excited to see the outcome. With all of the mock drafts floating around, everyone is ready to see how the draft finally plays out.
Every year there are players who increase or decrease their draft stock during the weeks prior to the draft, players that are surrounded by hype but don’t pan out, and then players that go from mid to late round picks into superstars. Just because a player is drafted in the first round doesn’t make him a sure bet to be a great or even average player at the next level. The same can be said about late round picks who could turn out to be the first-round talent with the right coaching in the NFL.
Superstars can be found in any round of the draft if the teams do their homework and have great scouts to find those hidden gems. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the coaching staff on whether a player with excel at the next level even if they were first round material. Let’s take a look at some studs and duds drafted by the Bengals in the last five years.
Carl Lawson 2017 fourth-round (Stud)
Defensive end out of Auburn Carl Lawson was projected by many as a first-round talent going into the 2017 draft. Some experts had him going in the third because of his raw talent and liability in the run game. The Cincinnati Bengals were able to grab him in the fourth-round which turned out to be arguably their best pick from last year’s draft.
The Bengals have Lawson on their roster as a linebacker but played him in his college role as a defensive end in 2017. Racking up 8.5 sacks and 10 tackles for Cincinnati in his limited role with the defense, the team saw enough to want to expand his roles this coming season with some more linebacker responsibilities. Only playing on 34.44% of the Bengals defensive snaps, Lawson took his limited opportunities and made the best of them. Expect to see him in a much bigger role in 2018, especially if he can work on stopping the run game.
He will likely still line up on passing downs as an edge rusher like he did last season but could be lining up in linebacker roles on earlier downs. There have been talks about the different looks to the defense for 2018 with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Could we see some 3-4 looks with Lawson lining up on the outside and rushing the quarterback from there on third and longs?
Cedric Ogbuehi 2015 first-round (Dud)
The Texas A&M product Cedric Ogbuehi had many scouts concerned about how he would develop at the next level. Many scouts talked about their worry for his core strength and ability to anchor in pass protection. Projected to be drafted in the first or second round, the Bengals selected him with their first pick in the 2015 draft.
Hoping that Ogbuehi would develop and learn from star tackle Andrew Whitworth, it seems that they might have found themselves a dud. Ogbuehi has yet to be able to hold a starting role on either side of the line. He was tested out at left tackle in 2016 and right tackle in 2017 before being benched for Jake Fisher who struggled as well.
Letting go of Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler could have been a huge mistake for the Bengals as we saw what the offensive line play looked like in 2017. Entering the fourth year of his rookie contract, Ogbuehi has one last chance to prove that he can start somewhere on the offensive line. He had some experience at guard in college which could be an interesting case this year with the Bengals. Cincinnati has Clint Boling holding down the left guard spot so Ogbuehi would have to fight against Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman who looked good ending the season.
William Jackson III 2016 first-round (Stud)
After missing his entire rookie season due to an injury, William Jackson III came in as the Bengals slot corner during the 2017 campaign. His snap counts increased as the season went along and became a bigger role when cornerback Adam Jones went down with an injury. Jackson took advantage in is the second year becoming a great shut down corner for the Bengals secondary.
Only allowing 34.9% of targets thrown his way to be caught, Jackson led the entire NFL in this category and ranked second highest among all-time graded by Pro Football Focus. He also asked to cover top receivers like Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown who Jackson never allowed a single catch during the two games they played last season.
Entering only his third season in the league, Jackson should see a bigger role in 2018. Jackson will likely be avoided by most quarterbacks and trying to target fellow teammate cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick who battled injuries last season and ended up having a poor overall year. If Kirkpatrick can get back to 2015-16 form, this secondary could be a solid group including Darqueze Dennard.
Will Clarke 2014 third round (Dud)
Cincinnati drafted defensive end Will Clarke out of West Virginia in the third round of the 2014 draft. There was a great deal of comparison to defensive end Michael Johnson which is a big reason the Bengals pulled the trigger on Clarke hoping to get similar results.
Unfortunately, Clarke never saw a tremendous amount of time on the defensive side of the ball. The most he saw for the Bengals was in 2016 when he played on 34.22% of the defensive snaps and brought in 10 tackles and 4 sacks.
Before 2016, Clarke had earned very little playing time and only .5 sacks and 7 tackles in his first couple seasons. With the struggles of Michael Johnson in 2016, Clarke saw more playing time but never seemed to really impress in the bigger role. Pro Football Focus even ranked Clarke as the 97th edge defender among 109 available players.
Clarke was cut during last year’s preseason after Cincinnati drafted Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis as edge rushers in the third and fourth round of the 2017 draft. Clarke would then sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Considering the third round selection, it is a bust if the player can’t even finish out the rookie deal with the team.
Darqueze Dennard 2014 first round (Stud)
Cincinnati was in the middle of putting together an elite group of cornerbacks when they drafted Darqueze Dennard in the first round of the 2014 draft. Seeing very little time due to the talent at cornerback on the Bengals roster his rookie season, he was hard to gage. He saw more and more snaps in 2015 and 2016 seeing more time in nickel and dime sets.
Dennard struggled still in those sets and in his higher snap counts looking like he may not have met his first round potential the team was hoping for. For the first time in Dennard’s career, he played on over 50% of the defensive snaps in 2017 during his breakout season. Dennard led the team in tackles with 85 and picked off two passes, one which was returned for a touchdown.
During his breakout season in the slot, Dennard ranked as the 32nd best cornerback last season according to Pro Football Focus. Cincinnati picked up Dennard’s fifth-year option this offseason keeping him around for another year. It will be interesting to see if the Bengals find a way to ink a contract with Dennard after this season if he has another good season. They are already paying top cornerback money to Kirkpatrick and have to sign other big names next offseason.
Margus Hunt 2013 second round (Dud)
Defensive lineman Margus Hunt out of SMU was drafted in the second round of the 2013 draft with high upside potential. It seems the Bengals were never able to unlock the true potential of Hunt as he was let go after his rookie deal finished. He appeared in 44 games for the Bengals through the 2013-2016 seasons only hauling in 1.5 sacks during that time frame.
Hunt failed to get off blocks when offensive linemen got the first contact even when leaving for the Indianapolis Colts. Standing at 6’8″ and 290 pounds, Cincinnati was hoping to unlock the potential and create a real monster in the pass rush with Hunt. It never seemed to pan out as Hunt never learned how to take on NFL blockers.
He also seemed to look confused in many plays for both the Bengals and the Colts not knowing his assignments. It looked like he was taking the wrong gaps and trying to penetrate like a linebacker. Coming into the league at 25-years-old, Hunt was already at the age most players reach their full potential and extremely raw. Even if the Bengals were able to unlock that potential, it wouldn’t have been till he was in his late 20’s giving them little time with that talent.