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In A Value-Packed Draft, Bengals Court The Future And Pad The Present

Iowa tight end Erick All (83) breaks a tackle by Michigan State defensive lineman Simeon Barrow Jr. (8) during a 13-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa tight end Erick All (83) breaks a tackle by Michigan State defensive lineman Simeon Barrow Jr. (8) during a 13-yard touchdown reception in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Bengals had a contender's calm-cool-collected NFL Draft. They were content to put their chip down on upside and on-the-come talent rather than instant gratification for their established roster during their value-pack weekend.

Which made for the biggest news coming after it was over Saturday and concerned two veterans.

Yes, Bengals head coach Zac Taylor confirmed starting safety Dax Hill is now in the mix for a starting cornerback job. No, Pro Bowl sack ace Trey Hendrickson is going nowhere after he requested a trade as he seeks a new contract.

But then, you knew that because the only cornerback they drafted didn't come until the fifth round and they didn't get an edge until the sixth.

While the Bengals had a higher grade than the fifth on TCU cornerback Josh Newton and have visions of him staking his claim as possibly the fourth cornerback, that gives Hill room to mix it up with Cam Taylor-Britt and DJ Turner II on the outside and Mike Hilton in the slot while Ravens free agent Geno Stone and his AFC-leading seven picks take over free safety.

"(Hill) is going to have a chance to go out there and compete in the corner room," Taylor said. "One of the reasons you took him was because of all the various things you'd seen on tape from him. He's a superb athlete, he's got great size, and he did a good amount of coverage at Michigan, playing inside covering slots, played some outside. We've seen it from him, and we think it's the best opportunity right now to help our team.

"He's got flexibility to do it all. We've taken a lot of guys that have a lot of flexibility. Those guys really all start outside, and then we shake it all out and they play inside. Just the way it all shakes out, they get opportunities to do both. There's a lot of flexibility there."

They're saying the same type of thing about Newton, who got his hands on 20 balls the past two seasons and sees himself as "a Swiss army knife." But like most of the Bengals' 10 rookies, he's got time to get acclimated in his role as he sits behind the veterans.

The two to be asked to compete right away look to be their defensive tackles they grabbed on Friday night. The white-knuckler selection of Michigan three technique Kris Jenkins in the middle of the second round and Texas A&M nose tackle McKinnley Jackson at the end of the third is representative of how it pretty much went for the Bengals this weekend.

The value of their board met the availability. You know, because director of player personnel Duke Tobin didn't orchestrate a trade up three spots like they did to get Cam Taylor-Britt in the 2022 second round or trade back as they did in the 2018 second to get Jessie Bates III and Sam Hubbard.

In fact, there were no trades for the first time since 2020 even as the trade winds buffeted them to open the second round.

(It seems like that's the only time they appeared to get itchy. But No. 49 was just too far back to go get Illinois defensive tackle Johhny Newton. Gone at No. 36. But, like they did all weekend, their next target, Jenkins, survived 13 more picks.)

"I think Duke did a really good job of managing it and of having the patience over the course of the draft to often times take our best player out there that fit a position of need and it worked out well for us," Tayor said. "I think his experience really kicks in there, and the experience in the room. It really paid off for us these last couple of days and I'm really happy with how this thing played out. It allowed us to get much better in the short term and long term as well. We've got clear visions for all these guys that are walking in the door here, and so I think it's a really good class for us."

Everyone knew they needed to draft two tackles at some point. But no one had the audacity to think they'd get them in the first 97 picks.

"Defensive tackle was a point of emphasis with us. The ideal world we were going to get two that could contribute. We got two that can contribute," Taylor said. "That was not a for sure thing that can happen, sometimes runs go on these guys but we have two that we really liked that we talked about extensively that fit us. We have visions for. They are going to help us now. They are going to help us in the future as well."

The future was on their mind from start to finish.

First-round pick Amarius Mims may have just eight college starts at right tackle. But the Bengals' doubts were erased by his sheer athleticism and measurables, along with their ability to mentor him with two Super Bowl champion tackles built a lot like him.

Or take Saturday's first pick, fourth-round tight end Erick All. All's last two seasons have been truncated by a herniated back disc in 2022 and a torn ACL last year. He says he'll be ready for training camp, but even if he's not they've already got three established guys in Mike Gesicki, Drew Sample, and Tanner Hudson and they took yet another tight end in the sixth round in Arizona's Tanner McLachlan. They're willing to take to time to develop a guy like All with his elite traits.

They were talking about All as early as No. 80.

Again, value.

"Obviously, the injuries are what allowed him to come to us. Otherwise, I don't think there's any shot in the world (that) he was there when we got him," Taylor said. "The tape spoke very loudly on him, and I think he's a really good fit for us.

"I think he can have true separation as a route runner and a catcher. I mean you just watched a couple of those games that stand out where he can run some isolation routes. They use him down the field. He's got some split out as a receiver, and some down-the-field play-action stuff involved in screen game. He can be a point-of-attack blocker. He likes the physicality aspect of that and he's willing to do it."

Mims was there because of injury, too. The draft that began with so much value at No. 18 also ended that way for them at No. 237 when they plucked Miami center Matt Lee and his 51 steel-belted college starts.

"Matt Lee was the last OL available crossing the 70/70 production and athleticism threshold - extremely predictive of NFL success," is how Gridiron Grading tweeted it out.

The man they took at No. 80, Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton, also has to climb into the starting lineup. And, he could. But Ja’Marr Chase is a three-time Pro Bowler, Tee Higgins is a two-time 1,000-yard receiver, Andrei Iosivas is coming off their Offensive Rookie of the Year season, Trenton Irwin plays best when needed most, and last year's fourth-round pick Charlie Jones is looking to make an impact.

But more value.

The Bengals spent loads of time with Burton in various venues during the process and were convinced there was no reason not to take him because of character concerns. They believe he has first-round talent and they got it in the third.

"You can see him run all sorts of routes from all positions. You see him make contested plays down the field. You see him run away from people down the field. You see no drops on tape this year," Taylor said. "You didn't see a single one. And you saw run after the catch. You saw great scramble awareness, getting in phase with the quarterback and create big plays on scrambles. So I just think he's got the ability to really add to the competition in that room."

Cool, calm, collected.