The Cincinnati Bengals finished last season with another trip to the playoffs and went into the 2013 NFL Draft with the chance to add pieces to not only take control of the AFC North, but also to become a Super Bowl contender. They had a ton of flexibility as their drafting and management of their roster has put them in position to add talent rather than have to target needs. The move to retain Marvin Lewis and give him more control of the roster has paid huge dividends in their assessment of talent and the early indications are he had another productive draft this year that will make them better as they attempt to go from fringe playoff team to serious contender.
Going into the draft, the Bengals were expected to target a safety or maybe a linebacker in the first round with a few other options thrown into the mix. Two things did not really enter the conversation with any serious consideration; tight end due to a lack of need and specifically Tyler Eifert because he was expected to go earlier. For whatever reason, despite being as talented a skill player as this draft had to offer, Eifert managed to slip past a number of teams that could have used him. The Bengals did not hesitate and grabbed the talented Notre Dame tight end.
A position that was a relative strength with Jermaine Gresham and Orson Charles coming off a developmental year as a rookie, they now add Eifert to the mix. Now, they have the ability to put two tight ends on the field who are 6’5” and over 250lbs each with the ability to make plays all over the field. Gresham is a more accomplished blocker than Eifert and that is an area that Eifert needs to improve, but because Gresham is the man, Eifert can be more of a wild card and a weapon as opposed to the main player at the position. He can line up inline or play in the slot and goes up and gets the ball as anyone that was in this draft and in some ways, was a tight version of A.J. Green in that respect. The Bengals now have two extremely talented tight ends that could become the best pair in the league as well as one of the best receivers in football in Green with a number of young, developing receivers that can make plays because the defense is stressed defending those three. Defending one 6’6” 260lb tight end in Gresham is difficult and few defenders are built to do it. Assuming a team has one that can, they now have to account for another 6’5” 250lb weapon on the other side. The expectations will understandably increase significantly for quarterback Andy Dalton this year. And Charles is still in the fold as another potential option as a joker threat.
The Bengals also really needed to come out of this draft with a bigger threat at the running back position, but people assuming they would take Eddie Lacy were not taking a few variables into account. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a plodding, work horse back that can get yards and compile a decent season as a power back, but he offers little if anything as a receiving option. Lacy is a more talented power back and a better receiver out of the backfield than Green-Ellis, but the Bengals wanted a threat out of the backfield. They also run a west coast offense and wanted a running back that fit that scheme better. Enter their second round pick, Giovani Bernard, the talented back out of North Carolina. Depending on the person being asked, Bernard was arguably the most talented back in the draft but he was certainly the best fit for what the Bengals wanted. Bernard is the prototypical west coast back as an all-around back with a good mix of power and speed. What makes Bernard special is his vision and balances, which are elite traits and those could carry him to a great career with the Bengals. He is also a big time threat as a receiver and gives Dalton an outlet to throw the ball on the third down as well as with screen passes, taking pressure off of him. It remains to be seen if they will allow him to do it in Cincinnati, but Bernard is also an accomplished punt returner and a threat in that aspect of the game as well. Now, the Bengals have what should be their franchise running back and a great fit most importantly in addition to a good value. With their offensive line and the overwhelming talent on offense, Bernard has a shot to be the offensive rookie of the year.
Later in the second round, the Bengals took a sizeable risk when they selected Margus Hunt, the titan sized defensive lineman out of SMU with incredible size, strength, and speed. Hunt aces the eyeball test and comes into a defensive line group that features a ton of talent already. At nearly 6’8” 280lbs, Hunt is a physical specimen along the lines of current Bengal Carlos Dunlap. He is also an incredible athlete with phenomenal speed for his size. What makes Hunt a risk is the fact that he has not played much football, is still very raw, and he will turn 26 this season with the Bengals. He has incredible potential, but his technique is a work in progress and much of it comes down to leverage. Hunt struggles to get low and make use of his incredible strength. Too often, he ends up playing high and attacks offensive linemen at an angle that uses nothing but his arm strength which resulted in a lack of production. When he flashes his technique and stays behind his pads, he can be frightening, both in his power and quickness and is nearly unstoppable at times as he showed in the past two bowl games. That needs to happen more often and with more consistency. The good news is the Bengals do not need Hunt to be great as a rookie. They have a talented defensive line rotation and they can take their time working with him and making sure he develops good habits. If they can get him to play with lower pad level and get underneath the opponents pads, he can contribute anywhere on the line in their already impressive rotation and gives opponents one more talented defensive lineman to stop. Hunt also has an impressive history of blocking kicks and that is something he will have a chance to do immediately. This is a risky play but the Bengals had the picks to afford it and the stability to enable it and it gives them a defensive line rotation that is talented to the ninth man.
In the third round, the Bengals went both predictable and surprising as far as their pick. They got a safety, which was expected and a player from Georgia, which they have a long track record of doing. The mild surprise was that they picked Shawn Williams, the Bulldogs strong safety. The Bengals have had a successful reclamation project in former Jacksonville Jaguar first round pick Reggie Nelson. The thought process of many was they would go with a hybrid safety or another free safety to help them in coverage and increase their ability to cause turnovers. The candidates were LSU’s Eric Reid and Florida International’ Johnathan Cyprien, but Reid went before the Bengals selected and once they picked Eifert, Cyprien was no longer realistic. The Bengals opted to get a strong safety instead and now have Williams to come in and compete with a less successful reclamation project in Taylor Mays and their mid round draft picks from the previous two years in George Iloka and Robert Sands. It is difficult to project who will ultimately win the starting job there at this point but it would not be a surprise if it was Williams was to come out and take it.
The Bengals made an interesting selection in the fourth round when they chose Sean Porter, the outside linebacker from Texas A&M. The pick stood out because Porter’s best season for the Aggies was in the 3-4 and as an attacking outside linebacker who went after the quarterback. Between this pick and the pickup of free agent James Harrison right before draft, the Bengals have brought in a strong side linebacker in Harrison and a weak side linebacker in Porter who both excel at going after the quarterback. There is nothing wrong with that, but the Bengals have a lack of guys who are all that effective in coverage. Porter is a little underrated in this area, but he is not overly fast and could have some trouble keeping up with faster receiving threats. He is also slightly undersized and appears to struggle to add much weight, so he will likely not get much bigger than 230lbs. The good news is that in the 4-3, he is a true weak side linebacker and that is one more than they Bengals had on their roster before. Regardless of where he lines up, Vontaze Burfict is built to play in the middle and that is ultimately where he should end up, possibly as early as this season. He played well in coverage last year, but the Bengals did not have a second reliable coverage linebacker for nickel situations. Porter could earn himself a role there if he can prove he can be effective in coverage while giving the Bengals just another option to get after the quarterback. With the lack of athleticism at the linebacker position and with some of the skill sets their safeties bring to the table, one possibility is they will use some big nickel formations and take a linebacker off the field and keep Burfict in but add a third safety on the field to improve their coverage options and give them more speed. From the standpoint of having a dozen defenders on the defense that can attack the quarterback, Porter fits in to what Zimmer likes to do. Some might question the pick because he is not an obvious coverage player and will need to prove to be able to do that in camp or the Bengals could be vulnerable in that area.
In the fifth round, the Bengals made the first of a couple picks both for now and for the future when they drafted Kansas Offensive Tackle Tanner Hawkinson. Hawkinson is a slightly undersized left tackle that needs physical development, but has the tools and experience to play left tackle in the NFL if he can develop. Hawkinson spent the last few seasons playing left tackle in Charlie Weis’s pro-style offense at Kansas which has helped prepare him for the NFL. He has the feet and pretty good technique for the position but needs to get stronger and improve his functional strength. There is no hurry for him to play as they have Andrew Whitworth manning the left tackle spot for the foreseeable future. But if Whitworth were to get hurt, they have a guy in Hawkinson who can play in a pinch and not get their quarterback killed. And while he provides insurance for Whitworth, he can get stronger and refining his technique behind them, potentially giving them an option down the road if Whitworth becomes ineffective as he gets older.
In the sixth round, the Bengals opted to add another running back in Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead, the talented back who can play in a variety of roles but had issues with injuries during his career in Lincoln. When on tape, some people assume Burkhead is much smaller than he actually is, having a surprising amount of size at nearly 215lbs for how quick he is. When Burkhead was healthy, he was effective for the Cornhuskers and was the primary running back for their attack. He also has experience lining up as a fullback but not as a blocking back; just as a different way to get the ball and attack the defense. Burkhead will compete with Dan Herron, Bernard Scott, and Cedric Peerman for the third and fourth running back spots if they opt to keep that many. Burkhead might have some utility in the same mold as former Bengal Brian Leonard did if he can make the roster.
Later in the sixth round, the Bengals took a flyer on Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton has a skill set that should be familiar to Bengal fans and is awfully similar to now former Cleveland Brown Josh Cribbs. Hamilton is a slot receiver who transitions from receiver to ball carrier quickly and runs with power in a north and south style that makes him play faster than he times. He is a great potential fit in a west coast offense in the slot and is someone who can take a seven yard slant all the way to the end zone because of his no-nonsense running style, but the reason he was available in round six is because he struggles to catch the ball consistently. For all he can add to a team in terms of toughness and his ability to make plays, he struggled with drops. It is not as if he is hearing footsteps and just losing concentration on the football. In fact, he is fearless when it comes to going across the middle and going for catches in traffic or when he is going to get hit. If he can get consistent when it comes to catching the football, he could be an elite slot receiver in the NFL and a nice addition to the Bengals. Hamilton has an uphill battle as the Bengals currently have nine wide receivers on the roster and while they could keep five, he is still going to have to be a pleasant surprise in camp to make the roster. He could be a guy who ends up not making the final roster and if he goes unclaimed, he could find himself on the practice squad.
In the seventh round, the Bengals picked a couple more linemen; the first was Reid Fragel out of Ohio State. It was a surprise that he was still available in the seventh round and this could be a tremendous acquisition for the Bengals. Fragel started his career at Ohio State as a tight end and then moved to tackle this past year. He had some early season struggles as one might expect but he rallied and had a nice season down the stretch. Many were expecting Fragel to have a breakout performance at some point one of the post season events such as the Senior Bowl but it just never happened. Still, at the combine, Fragel was impressive in his strength on the bench and he shows a ton of tools to develop. He enters into a great situation in Cincinnati because they have two starting tackles and he can be developed as potential replacement for down the road. The Bengals do have a loaded roster for their offensive line so they are either going to release a few journeymen, but it would not be a surprise if Fragel making the final roster comes down to a competition with Hawkinson. The winner becomes their developmental swing tackle. The loser they hope can make it to the practice squad, unless one of them comes up with an injury that allows them to ride out the season on injured reserve.
The last pick of the Bengals draft was for a need spot at the center position when they selected South Carolina’s T.J. Johnson. The Bengals had some real problems at center last year which at one point had them getting Jeff Faine off the street to come in and play, but he struggled. There was some thought they might want to attack the center position earlier in the draft and perhaps find a longer term solution. This draft was not great for the center position and the Bengals only opted to add a seventh round center that will have to compete to make the team. If he can show something and make them want to keep him around over Kyle Cook, which would prove to be a great pick in the seventh round. Still, in a weak class and at the end of the final round, it would hardly be a surprise if Johnson is unable to make the team and ends up on the practice squad.
My Thoughts: The Eifert pick was great and when a team is in the position the Bengals have put themselves, they can end up getting a great pick that pays dividends immediately and down the road. It would hardly be a surprise if Eifert ends up being a great player in a couple years and one of the better ones in this draft. Their ability to create mismatches is a nightmare for the reason of the division and they have made Dalton’s life easier.
As good as the Eifert pick was, their best pick might have been Giovani Bernard. Many were convinced it would be Lacy, but this is just a great fit from every angle. He could end up being the best running back they have drafted since Corey Dillon and it seems like it is an underrated pick in this draft. While he will have to compete for carries with Green-Ellis, he should be the feature back sooner than later with Green-Ellis coming in the fourth quarter of games as their power back type closer. The Bengals really wanted to make an effort to improve their running game as well as give them another receiving threat out of the backfield and Bernard gives them both.
The pick that made the least sense on the surface was Margus Hunt. Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer loves having a deep rotation that can just keep sending guys but this was a substantial risk for the Bengals. If it pays off, he is a huge weapon for them but I just wonder even if he is everything they hope he can be, how many snaps will there be for him. Having a great rotation on the defensive line is great and it has been a huge benefit for the Bengals. This move smells of future cost cutting and letting one of their talented defensive ends walk when they enter free agency as owner Mike Brown stays as close to the minimum on salary as possible. It is possible the Bengals will have real trouble signing all of these guys and he could actually not sign one of them as a reasonable move, but it is difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt with such a rich history of not being willing to pay his own players.
The other angle to the Margus Hunt pick is who they passed over to pick him. If Margus Hunt flames out, there will be a ton of Bengals fans who are sitting there pointing at the guy who went three picks after Hunt; Arthur Brown, who the Bengals not only passed over but he ended up staying in the division going to the Ravens. Brown could have given them a tremendous weak side linebacker with the skills to play in the middle as well. Brown is a tremendous linebacker who can do everything a team could want and would have solved the Bengals problems in nickel situations as he and Burfict would become their nickel linebackers, making that go from an area of concern to a strength. Many Bengals fans would have been thrilled to get Arthur Brown in the first round, so passing on him twice was a source of frustration.
The Bengals, on the whole, appear to have done a good job again under Marvin Lewis in the draft getting another offensive weapon that gives their offense a decisive advantage as well as getting the pieces to establish an effective running game, but maybe they should have grabbed a center to finish their offensive line, a more proven coverage threat at linebacker, and lastly, a quarterback. There is legitimate concern as to whether Dalton is good enough to lead them to a Super Bowl in Cincinnati and until they have an answer, they would be prudent to bring in a quarterback somewhere in the draft every single year until Dalton either proves he can be the franchise guy or they find someone else better. It will be interesting to watch their team this year and whether they make the playoffs or not, the microscope that is on their quarterback and how they approach the position in the future. Right now, he is the unquestioned guy there, but he will need to improve dramatically this year to make people stop wondering about whether he is the answer or not. With the weapons they have and a better running game, he has the tools to do it. Coming out of the draft, the Bengals deserve to be the early favorite to win the AFC North even if they only get contributions from their top two picks; anything else would be a welcome bonus this year, but do not be surprised if the lasting legacy of this draft for the Bengals is that Margus Hunt pick, regardless of which way it goes.
Topics: 2013 Nfl Draft, Arkansas Razorbacks Football, Cincinnati Bengals, Cobi Hamilton, Giovani Bernard, Kansas Jayhawks Football, Margus Hunt, Nebraska Cornhuskers Football, North Carolina Tarheels Football, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football, Ohio State Buckeyes Football, Reid Fragel, Rex Burkhead, Sean Porter, SMU Mustangs Football, South Carolina Gamecocks Football, T.J. Hamilton, Tanner Hawkinson, Texas A&M Aggies Football, Tyler Eifert