West Virginia speedster Mario Alford scooted to a seventh-round pick.
The Bengals finished up the 2015 NFL Draft Saturday at dinnertime when they picked up Fresno State safety Derron Smith in the sixth round and in the seventh round went for West Virginia wide receiver and kick returner Mario Alford. Smith thought he would be gone by the fourth round and so, apparently did the Bengals.
"He was rated still pretty high on our board," said safeties coach Mark Carrier. "He had surgery for a sports hernia, which he had all year, and he played through it and still was very productive. I'm sure it hurt his draft status a little bit, but we knew where he was at, and where he sat on our board, and we're lucky to have him here."
The 5-11, 197-pound Smith now tries to win the fourth safety spot behind starters Reggie Nelson and George Iloka and special teams ace Shawn Williams.
"I was honestly kind of surprised that I heard that they were interested in safeties," Smith said. "They have George Iloka from Boise State, that's a Mountain West team. And then I knew they had Reggie Nelson at safety. So I was a little surprised, but I'm looking forward to learning from those guys and trying to compete."
Smith says he's 100 percent rehabbed from the sports hernia and he's a classic Marvin Lewis pick in the sense he's four-year guy. Lewis loves experience, even from his rookies.
Another Lewis trait he covets: turnovers. Smith may not be fast , but he is often in the right place.
"I like his intelligence. Anytime you are a four-year starter, that says a lot about who you are," Carrier said. "He's a very efficient tackler, One of the things we always judge guys on is how good they are at tackling. This kid is a very good tackler. He's very instinctive. He's not the fastest guy at times, but you can see he's always in the right spot and doesn't get beat many times. And one of the big things that people have told me about him is that he's like another coach on the field. You love to have guys like that in your stable because they help find ways to win."
Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson had to wait almost 240 picks to get the speed receiver he's been talking about all year in dash medalist Mario Alford, the 5-8 kick returner from West Virginia they took in the seventh round. But it looked like he waited around for the fastest guy in the draft off his scorching 4.25-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.
There was a time when the Bengals would have steered away from Alford. Alford is the shortest receiver they've drafted this century and just the third shorter than 6-0, joining the 5-10 Peter Warrick (2000) and 5-11 Jordan Shipley (2010). But Jackson obviously had influence in his need for speed.
"It doesn't matter where you get him. First or last," Jackson said. "We've got a guy that can absolutely fly. I mean, you talk about a guy that can run. How many guys have you seen run 4.2?"
It's tempting to plug in Alford for veteran Brandon Tate as the fifth wide receiver because he returned two kicks for touchdown s last season while being ranked ranked No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 8 nationally, but he has little experience as a punt returner and cornerback Adam Jones is coming off a year he led the NFL in kick returns. It's believed special teams coach Darrin Simmons is going to see if he can return punts.
"The draft is always plentiful at wide receiver. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and they end up being productive players in different ways," said Lewis, who also said Alford will compete for a roster spot. "It's huge to find a guy that has some sort of special attribute, speed in Mario's case, so he has an opportunity to have a niche and make a difference.
"We prefer him to be 6-3" and run real fast, but that guy didn't come our way late," he said. "We felt that if we added a receiver, one of the things we hoped to do was add a guy who had speed — production, speed, the two things put together."
The Bengals felt comfortable enough with their top four receivers (A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and James Wright) that they wanted to get a guy that had something different than them. So instead of trying to pursue Alford in free agency, they jumped on that blazing speed.
Alford seemed destined to be a Bengal. Former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton is his agent and Lewis and wide receivers coach James Urban kept in touch through the months of the process.
" He's in pretty good with them, and I thank God for that," Alford said. "I got the chance to talk to Marvin and at the combine with Coach Urban. Him and I text each other, and he was wishing me luck throughout the whole thing. It worked out well."