If the Bengals are going to surprise people this year, a lot hinges on the rookie class contributing immediately.
The Bengals were hit unusually hard by injuries last year and that was a large reason for their season falling apart. Injuries are tough for any team to overcome, but some rosters are better equipped than others.
If last year underscored anything, it was that Cincinnati’s roster lacked depth as well as just talent in general. The roster looked very similar to last year’s after free agency. Thus, the draft was especially crucial.
The Bengals did a solid job in Nashville. Some teams ask their incoming rookies to do more than others. Given the way the team played last year, It looks like much of the class from Zac Taylor’s first draft will be asked to be immediate contributors and how they perform may well decide the team’s ability to contend.
First round pick Jonah Williams is a day one starter somewhere along the offensive line. That was known from the minute Roger Goodell called his name. The early evidence points to left tackle for Williams.
Second round pick Drew Sample is known for his blocking. Thus, the tight end figures to be a key in what looks like a run heavy Bengals offense. With Tyler Eifert’s injury history, Sample could also be forced into prominent pass catching duty along with the rest of the tight end room.
It also is not a stretch to think versatile former Buckeyes offensive lineman Michael Jordan will end up supplanting one of the guards from last year. Billy Price being the center is pretty much the only certainty up front for the Bengals
Given Cincinnati’s lack of preexisting talent at linebacker, third round pick Germane Pratt also figures to be a day one starter.
Running backs Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson will compete with veteran Giovani Bernard to spell workhorse Joe Mixon. The losing rookie in that battle may find a home on special teams. Special teams is also the likely immediate home for sixth round pick linebacker Deshaun Davis.
It is harder to find places for defensive tackle Renell Wren to contribute right away, but the fourth round pick’s raw athleticism is the kind you find a spot for. Defensive back Jordan Brown will likely have a tough time making the roster.
When you consider that the ultimate success or failure of this class may lie in Ryan Finley’s ability (or lack their of) to take over from Andy Dalton in a year or two, that means all but one of this year’s class will be given a real chance to be part of both the long term and short term solutions in Cincinnati.
While that is the idea behind the draft, rarely is one thing so abundantly clear for any team, including the Bengals. In three years, this draft class will be viewed as either the one that turned the franchise into a powerhouse, or the one that sent the Bengals even further off course.