The fascination in recent years that NFL fans have had with mock drafts has given the yearly exercise a popularity that can not easily be understated. Of course, what is difficult for most mocks to fully account for, at least during late March and early April, is the ever-fluid free agency situation, as money, leverage, and the wining-and-dining of 31 possible other clubs threaten to swipe away a piece of one team’s carefully-constructed puzzle. Exhibit A this offseason surely is the effort by the Bengals to keep RT
And that’s where the draft comes in. Anyone who has recently browsed the various mock drafts scattered around the Internet – something made easy by our Draft Central section – knows a majority of the picks are prefaced with some variation of the phrase, “If the Bengals can’t sign Andre Smith.” With that in mind, and fresh off our own "media mock draft," let us take a brief look around the world of mock drafts to explore some of the possibilities for April’s version of the holiday season.
Pick by: Dave Lapham
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
WHY IT MAKES SENSE: As Lap points out, adding Eifert to two-time Pro Bowler
Adding Eifert would not only give the Bengals another offensive option, but also another red zone specialist. When healthy last season,
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Gresham has gone to two Pro Bowls in his first three NFL seasons, and Charles proved in his rookie season to be a valuable blocker, while also showing potential as a receiver. So is tight end a first-round priority, with two young and talented prospects already in the mix? The offense got production from Charles in 2012 and rookie college free agent TE Colin Cochart in ’11, and with talented prospects figured to be peppered throughout the middle rounds of this draft, one has to wonder if the team is confident it can do similar things by picking an under-the-radar prospect later on.
Pick by: Don Banks
T D.J. Fluker, Alabama
WHY IT MAKES SENSE: If Smith and the Bengals can not come to an agreement, Fluker would seem to be an entirely logical pick. Don’t let the 339 pounds fool you, because at 6-5, his build has been described as solid, not sloppy. There are obvious comparisons to Smith, given that both played collegiately at Alabama, and while most believe Smith to be the better athlete of the two, Fluker would certainly fill road grader void left by Smith on the right side of the line. Level of competition and coaching don’t figure as much into Fluker’s learning curve either, as he played on arguably one of the most dominant offensive lines in college football history, and did so on a weekly basis in the SEC against the country’s top talent. He has also blocked for a few top-notch running backs along the way—Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon—as Alabama’s running game has continued to be the cornerstone of its dominance in college football. As a two-time national champion for the Crimson Tide, Fluker comes with a winning pedigree, and he figures to be a plug-and-play, NFL-ready prospect.
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: If Smith and the Bengals do come to terms, it will likely be for multiple years, meaning the team’s right and left tackles are both locked in for the long haul, thus lessening need for an offensive tackle like Fluker. Even if Smith does come back though, don’t entirely close the door on Fluker, as the Bengals in 2006 did spend a second round pick
Pick by: Charley Casserly
WR Keenan Allen, California
WHY IT MAKES SENSE: Some around the league believe teams can never have enough wide receivers, or at least never have enough competition at wide receiver. That seems to be the philosophy employed here by Casserly, the former GM of the Redskins and Texans, as adding Allen would add to the competition/rotation at the second wide receiver spot. Allen would team with Sanu and Jones, his former college teammate at Cal, to earn snaps opposite Green on the outside. Allen is a physical wideout who uses his body well in traffic and can make the contested catch, but he can also beat you deep. The Ravens and Joe Flacco successfully showed everyone last postseason how to use a physical wideout like Anquan Boldin as a go-to weapon, specifically in the red zone. Adding Allen—a physical, versatile receiver—to the Bengals receiving corps could allow them to follow a similar blueprint, and it would add one more talented pass-catcher for whom opposing defensive coordinators must gameplan.
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Not once last season did A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins all see offensive time in the same game, so many feel the grade for the current receiving corps is incomplete. Adding another receiver to the mix may be beneficial, but spending a first-round pick to do so may not be necessary. Judging from recent published comments, there is little doubt the coaching staff is bullish on its current crop of receivers, so using the 21st selection on a wideout would likely mean employing a strategy of taking the best available player regardless of position.
Pick by: Pete Prisco
S Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
WHY IT MAKES SENSE: To many, the most obvious “need” for the Bengals in this draft (barring an Andre Smith departure) is the safety position. There’s a strong possibility that veteran
A four-year college player, Vaccaro is a leader with solid athleticism, good hips and the ability to play nickel. As a sophomore, he was Texas’s special teams MVP, a distinction that is sure to get the attention of Lewis and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons. Although some feel he may lack the top-end speed and burst of a top-flight NFL safety, possessing qualities like physicality and solid tackling ability could make him fit right in with the AFC North.
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: The general consensus is that the Bengals will address safety at some point in the draft. Therefore, the issue isn’t if the Bengals should take a safety, it is who they should take and when. Other early-round candidates include Matt Elam of Florida, Eric Reid of LSU and John Cyprien of Florida International. Since Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, the Bengals have gotten solid production—barring injury—out of early-round defensive backs. Also, add to the mix Bengals scout Robert Livingston, who played defensive back in college, coached defense in the SEC at Vanderbilt, and now as a scout has focused on talent on the south, especially in the SEC. Add defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who specializes in defensive backs, and defensive backs coach Mark Carrier to the evaluation process this spring, and expect the Bengals to have their ducks in a row regarding the evaluation of this year’s safeties.
Pick by: Nate Davis
DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
WHY IT MAKES SENSE: The departure of Pat Sims to Oakland last month leaves a void in the Bengals defensive tackle rotation. The numbers showed that when Sims was healthy and in the D-line rotation, the Bengals had a very stout run defense. Yes, the team last year did spend a second-round pick on
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: Sims was a 335-pound, run-stuffing defensive tackle, while Richardson’s forte is penetration and pass-rushing, so selecting Richardson wouldn’t as much fill the hole left by Sims as it would add to the interior pass-rushing rotation. But do the Bengals really need to spend a first-round pick on this position, merely for the sake of depth? None of the usual starters on last season’s defensive line—
Pick by: Josh Norris
RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama
WHY IT MAKES SENSE: It’s no secret the Bengals are searching for a running back to team with
DEVIL’S ADVOCATE: This could boil down to injuries. Only twice in the Marvin Lewis era have the Bengals selected a running back in the first two rounds—Chris Perry in 2004 and Kenny Irons in ’07 —and in both instances, injuries derailed their careers. Selecting Lacy would not ease many worries in that regard, as he has struggled with injuries. He was said to have played through multiple injuries last season at Alabama, then he suffered a hamstring injury right before the NFL Combine in February, and he has not worked out for NFL scouts since. ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport have both reported that Lacy will work out for scouts on April 11, but the injury concerns undoubtedly still loom. Add to it that many feel there is great value at running back in this draft is between the second and fourth rounds, where it’s believed somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 running backs could be taken. For a team playing in the rugged AFC North, it could be difficult to spend a first-round pick on someone with a history of injuries, when another highly-productive runner with fewer injury concerns could be available in the second, third or fourth round.