1. Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State
2. Jeremy Hill, RB LSU
3. Will Clarke, DE West Virginia
4. Russell Bodine, C North Carolina
5. A.J. McCarron, QB Alabama
6. Marquis Flowers, OLB Arizona
7. James Wright, WR LSU
7. Lavelle Westbrooks, CB Georgia Southern
The Cincinnati Bengals went into the 2014 NFL Draft with one of the more talented rosters in the NFL, but a clumsy approach to free agency carried over into a somewhat clumsy draft. They had some needs they addressed, but the manner in which they did it felt awkward in a few instances and the draft could turn out well, but if it does not, the warning signs were there.
After a ton of speculation on whether they would take Teddy Bridgewater at their pick in the first round (they should have), they opted to take Darqueze Dennard. I do not love this pick, but I appreciate it for what the Bengals are trying to do. Unlike a lot of teams that might have taken Dennard, the Bengals need him to be a physical second corner as opposed to their #1 guy.
Though he missed much of the season due to injury, Leon Hall is their top guy and he should be. A combination of injuries and age created an issue for the Bengals, so the Bengals went ahead and took Dennard to hopefully come in and start. Dre Kirkpatrick is in put up or shut up mode and the Bengals have a ton of tough minded, physical football players which should welcome Dennard’s style.
The issue with Dennard is while he is great in press and playing in Cover-2, he has bad hips and if he does not have help over the top, he is susceptible to get beat with deep speed. At Michigan State, Dennard would often grab opponents to protect himself and he will probably get his share of illegal contact flags initially in his NFL career. If they keep safety help over him, he can do more than his fair share in the running game and punish opponents in his area of the field.
The second round pick for the Bengals was confusing. They took Jeremy Hill out of LSU despite some serious off field baggage and average on field play, at least in my opinion. Hill makes sense from the standpoint that he is the big back to complement Gio Bernard and gives them two vastly different runners. It also makes sense from the blocking scheme standpoint, which is similar to the one they ran at LSU. After that, it gets really questionable in a hurry.
The value is extremely questionable and for me, Hill compares to Toby Gerhart. That would give them an interesting dynamic at running back, but Hill tends only to get what his blocking can create for him. The other aspect of this is the opportunity cost; what they gave up by taking Hill. Considering what they took with their third round pick, two players jump out; defensive ends that fit the mold the Bengals love in Kony Ealy and Kareem Martin. Keeping in mind what they took in the fourth round, centers Marcus Martin and Travis Swanson jump out as possibilities there. And then lastly, if Hill struggles and Carlos Hyde goes onto a lot of success, there will be plenty of people who first guessed the move.
On almost any scale of grading the pick, the results come back muddled at best. The Bengals may end up bring right in their choice, but this could really come back to haunt them and it actually gets worse as the draft goes on in the ripple effect. This is a difficult pick to defend.
In the third round, the Bengals took Will Clarke, which fits the type of defensive end they have typically liked. Clarke is quick off the ball with good overall length. He can get after the passer decently, but despite his size, he needs to improve as a run defender. Clarke is coming from an odd man front, so in some respects, it could be a little easier for him playing in an even front. Early on, Clarke seems like he is most likely to see his time as a pass rusher that could come in at left defensive end or kick inside to a rush tackle spot. They will then attempt to develop him from there. Clarke has some decent potential and the Bengals have had success with this type of player, but at the same time, Clarke may also be tasked with beating out Margus Hunt, which was a questionable pick last year. This is not a bad pick on value, but again, it could have been better.
In the fourth round, the Bengals took a center in Russell Bodine. This pick might actually be worse than the Jeremy Hill pick. For me, Bodine was undraftable. He looks good and showed well on the bench press at the combine, but on tape, he struggled to make an impact. Bodine seemed to be constantly out of position and struggled to get to blocks he needed to make. There were better options available such as Wesley Johnson that would later go to rival Pittsburgh and could play all five spots.
For what the Bengals could see in Bodine; he has size and strength. The Bengals have been quick to grab those type of guys. Bodine does fit what the Bengals have looked for in their linemen. I think Bodine needs a substantial amount of technical development, but he has great physical tools, so if he can get the technique down, this pick can work.
Perhaps the Bengals miscalculated and hoped Bryan Stork would last to this pick and just grabbed the next guy, but carrying over from the misstep with Hill, this pick just rolled over what I think was a big mistake. The Bengals could have taken Kony Ealy with their second round pick, taken Stork in the third round and then Lorenzo Taliaferro in round four as a bigger back for instance and come out better, in my view.
Then in round five, the Bengals decided to take A.J. McCarron. The Bengals, with Andy Dalton, the quarterback in the NFL that succeeds in a turnkey offense, took McCarron, the college quarterback that succeeded in a turnkey offense. The best case scenario for McCarron is he become Dalton. If the idea was that if Dalton ever goes down to injury, they could put in McCarron and not miss a beat, mission accomplished.
The Bengals just insured that Dalton is going to get a huge contract extension by giving him no competition whatsoever to take his job. The rest of the AFC North is rooting for this exact scenario to play out and the Bengals are helping them.
In my view, they should have taken Bridgewater or Derek Carr with their first round pick and groomed them to try and beat out Dalton. Even if the Bengals were not going to go that route, it seemed smart to at least draft someone that had the upside to perhaps push Dalton down the road. Instead, they insured one of the most average starting quarterbacks in the NFL continues to be just that. David Fales or Keith Wenning would have been better picks to me. The good news with the McCarron pick is the investment is minimal and they could cut their losses quickly.
The Bengals were able to rally a little bit when they selected Marquis Flowers in round six. Flowers has great instincts and can help in coverage as well as on the blitz. The Bengals have really needed a pure coverage linebacker for a while and Flowers could find himself in a big role as a sub package player and on special teams early. Flowers could end up being the best pick in the entire draft for this team. He helps them with the ability to be faster and be more athletic.
The Bengals had an incredibly easy draft to second guess from top to bottom. The Dennard pick is fine, but the quarterback question is there. After that, every single pick until Flowers appeared to leave value on the table and could blow up in their face. Of those, Clarke may have the best chance to be a nice find for them in time. The Hill, Bodine, and McCarron picks are just bad.
To me, Marvin Lewis, all things considered with what he is dealing with having Mike Brown as the owner, is not far off from being Vince Lombardi there. Before he got there, they were the Bungles. He got them back to contention and a few division titles even though they have yet to win a playoff game in his tenure. When he leaves, there is a good chance they got right back to being the Bungles. However, this was not a good showing in my opinion for Lewis and a team that often takes great value with risks, they took poor value and did not get much talent from this draft in my view. From free agency to the draft, the Bengals offseason has been nothing short of a disaster and this could really hurt them going forward.