The Cincinnati Bengals had a great weekend during the 2018 NFL Draft bringing in players that will help get this team back to the playoffs.
The Cincinnati Bengals had an excellent 2018 draft grabbing players that will be immediate starters in positions of need and significant value late round picks. Looking at this year’s Bengals draft class, you can get a feel for what the Bengals are wanting to do this season. On defense, it’s evident that the team wants to get aggressive and cause more turnovers. Cincinnati brought in multiple ballhawks along with guys to get into the backfield.
If I had to grade the overall draft for the Bengals, I would give them an A-. The reason that I don’t give them the full A is because they used all eleven picks and drafted a couple of players ahead better prospects. At the same time, Cincinnati got a couple of players like Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard who dropped to the third round. I thought before the draft that they should trade up with all these late round draft picks to get guys earlier in the draft. Instead, the only trade the Bengals were involved in was them trading back in the second round.
Regardless, the Bengals grabbed players at every position of need. The only pick that bugged me was selecting Mark Walton in the fourth-round. It’s not about liking another player over Walton but the fact that it was not a significant need and third running back can be found later in the draft. I think they had more pressing needs they could have taken care of in the fourth-round. Let’s take a look at each player from the draft.
The Bengals addressed their most significant need in the draft at center by taking Ohio State Billy Price in the first round. Following the trade with the Buffalo Bills for left tackle Cordy Glenn, Cincinnati needed help in the middle next. Former center Russell Bodine left a gaping hole in the middle, and the Bengals did a great job filling it with an upgrade.
This was a massive need for the Bengals to address some offensive linemen this offseason after rating 28th among offensive line units in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. Cincinnati needed to better the offensive line if they wanted to get their offense back on track. Partially due to poor offensive line play, the Bengals offense ranked last in the league in 2017 for yards per game.
Price will be an anchor in the middle of the line for new offensive line coach Frank Pollack to develop into a star. He was arguably the strongest center in the draft and has experience all over the offensive line at Ohio State. The first round pick will be an immediate starter and upgrade in the middle to help this offensive line. One thing he will need to work on is his ability to get to the next level in the run game. Overall high pick at a significant need for the Bengals.
The Bengals land one of the best safeties in this class in Jessie Bates, a rangy, athletic safety with a solid football IQ. Behind elite prospects Derwin James and Minkah Fitzpatrick, Bates was arguably the best safety in the entire draft. For him to fall to the Bengals in the middle of the second round is fortuitous.
The Bengals have two quality safeties in George Iloka and Shawn Williams – $10 million a year for the two of them – but they may not be a viable long-term tandem. Both Iloka and Williams are strong safeties by trade and are not great in space. They’re physical safeties who operate more effectively closer to the line of scrimmage. Bates gives the Bengals a true free safety option. His skill set is the perfect complement to either Iloka or Williams if he can assume the starting role at free safety.
Cincinnati was able to grab Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard in the third round of the NFL Draft. Projected to go in the first or second round, the Bengals got a high-value pick with their first pick in the third round. It wasn’t the most significant need on the roster, but it was absolutely one that needed to be addressed.
Defensive end Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap are on the last year of their respective contracts. With linebacker Carl Lawson moving to more linebacker roles in 2018, Cincinnati needed another defensive end that could play both the run and pass. They also drafted defensive end, Jordan Willis, last year who will also be a big name to watch on the defensive line this year.
Hubbard has high strength and length to go along with his hand fighting skills that are already ahead of many linemen coming out of college. He consistently makes plays in the backfield with 13.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in his last season at Ohio State. Cincinnati has struggled with the run game the last couple seasons, and Hubbard is a guy that can be played on any down as he is not a liability against the run on early downs.
His high motor keeps him fighting through the whistle and chasing ball carriers across the field. Even when knocked down by a block, Hubbard gets right back up and continues the chase. It was an absolute steal for the Bengals to grab him in the third round.
Malik Jefferson is well-liked by the Bengals fanbase and a need for Cincinnati this offseason. His best game comes in the open field. Jefferson played well in coverage being able to keep up not only with tight ends but slot receivers. He has excellent reaction time and burst of speed to be a sideline to sideline linebacker but will likely play outside linebacker in the NFL.
The Texas product lacks instincts to take his play to the next level as an elite linebacker and keep him inside. He will need some developing and some time in the film room to learn to recognize offensive line schemes, plays developing, and pulling guards. Too often you would see Jefferson get swallowed up by pulling guards and linemen coming to the second level.
This is where his awareness and recognition will need some work. When playing deeper in the defense, Jefferson has the burst of speed to get anywhere on the field and make a play. The problem is when he is down by the line of scrimmage and doesn’t diagnose the play in time getting him taken over by a guard coming to the second level or taking the wrong gap.
Jefferson has very high potential in the NFL with some development. If he can develop some of these instincts, he could become one of the best linebackers in the league. He addresses a need for the Bengals being able to drop into man coverage which is an area Bengals linebackers have gotten torched over the last few years. A developmental project, but a player that can make plays on the defense in week one.
This pick was not one that I was wanting to see the team making in the fourth round of the draft. This has nothing to do with Mark Walton being a dangerous running back, but it’s more of the need and how the Bengals handle their running backs recently. I think there were better needs in the fourth round they could have addressed and found a third running back later in the draft.
Regardless, Walton is an interesting pick for the Bengals. He reminds an analyst from Pro Football Focus of New England Patriots running back Deon Lewis. Walton has some quickness and explosiveness that helped him make big plays for Miami. He’s best out in space where he can take advantage of linebackers who aren’t as athletic to cover all the way to the sideline or change direction as fast.
Cincinnati needed to replace former running back Jeremy Hill who left for the Patriots in free agency this offseason. I believe they are planning on possibly needing to replace Giovani Bernard if they drafted him in the fourth round. They could have found a third back in the seventh round if that was really what they were looking for.
The Bengals entered the draft needing to find another cornerback at some point in the draft. Cincinnati already lost Adam Jones in free agency, but now cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw are set to hit free agency following the 2018 season. Dennard is currently playing on his fifth-year option and had a breakout season in 2017. If he has another good season this year, the Bengals might not be able to re-sign him with contracts coming up and already paying top money to teammate Dre Kirkpatrick.
It will be interesting to see where Harris makes it on the roster as he has the versatility to play either cornerback or safety. I’m interested to see where defensive coordinator Teryl Austin wants to place him and how he utilizes him in this Bengals defense. Even with his smaller size, Harris is exceptionally aggressive putting hits on receivers to knock the ball loose and attacking the run game.
Most likely Harris will either be a special teams contributor or practice squad player in his rookie season. He has the speed to work on special teams and sitting behind some great cornerbacks; Harris should have no problem developing into a good slot cornerback.
The hope is that Andrew Brown will finally end the poor play next to Geno Atkins in the middle of the defensive line. He has a quick burst and strength to get off the line of scrimmage and get under guards to attack the pocket. He played offensive tackle in high school and has the length of a good tackle. Playing in the middle will give guards a hard time getting a hand on him with his long arms and strength to push them back in the pocket.
Brown is a playmaker in the backfield with his 33 tackles in the backfield over the last two seasons. Cincinnati has been long looking for help next to Atkins and even brought in Chris Baker in on a one year deal this offseason. If Brown can work with Atkins this season and develop some more during his rookie season, he could turn into a monster next to Atkins giving the Bengals another big-time pass rusher up the middle.
Cincinnati addressed the cornerback position twice in the fifth round when they selected Darius Phillips. This pick made more sense to me than Harris, and he fits exactly what Austin wants in his defense. Phillips was a former wide receiver before switching to the defensive side of the ball before the 2015 season. A ballhawk that had 12 interceptions and 35 passes defended in college is the type of playmaker the Bengals are looking for.
There is also kick return experience that the Bengals have been looking for this season. It’s possible that Phillips could spend his rookie season as a kick returner and sit behind the top cornerbacks and learn for a season. He is another guy that could be Dennard’s replacement due to his size which will likely keep him inside.
If there is one thing that Teryl Austin and the Bengals front office has emphasized the defense this offseason, it’s becoming more aggressive and causing more turnovers. Phillips is a playmaking ballhawk that would fit that mold.
The Bengals started off the seventh round by drafting Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside. Cincinnati brought in Matt Barkley in free agency to back up Andy Dalton and replace former backup A.J. McCarron. Woodside was an interesting choice but one that has some upside with absolutely no risk.
Many analysts believe that Woodside is severely underrated coming into the draft and thought he would be a steal in the fifth round. That would mean finding him in the seventh would be robbing the bank I’m assuming. The young quarterback put up fantasy-type numbers during his time in Toledo throwing for more than 10,000 yards and 93 touchdowns.
Playing four games his freshman year before being asked to redshirt the following season, Woodside had to wait to start his final two seasons at Toledo. He took full advantage throwing for 45 touchdowns in 2016. Even if Woodside can become a solid back up quarterback in the league, spending a seventh-round pick on him would be a steal.
Rod Taylor spent four seasons playing along the offensive line for Ole Miss. Spending two years at guard before asking to play both sides at tackle, Taylor will likely play along the interior in the NFL. This is a draft pick that will probably go straight to the practice squad in hopes of development. Cincinnati already has competition at the guard and tackle positions on the right side and Taylor doesn’t come close to beating out those guys for those positions.
Part of me was surprised that the Bengals waited till the final pick of their draft to select a wide receiver. There were plenty of mock drafts selecting one in the first three rounds which never made sense to me. A seventh-round end of the draft pick like Tate is what does make sense.
The Bengals already have five receivers with two or fewer years of experience to their name. It made no sense to draft another offensive playmaker in the first two days but drafting a guy that has some good size and athleticism that could sit and learn for a couple of years is precisely what the seventh round is for.
Tate finished his college career with Florida State hauling in 957 yards and 16 touchdowns, 10 of which came in 2017. He has great height and length to be a red zone target down the road if he can develop with the coaching staff. There is no such thing as drafting too many seventh-round big bodied receivers.