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Bengals Flex Muscles In Trend-Breaking Draft

Dax Hill meets Bengaldom with Zac Taylor.
Dax Hill meets Bengaldom with Zac Taylor.

In last weekend's starry enterprise, the Bengals went where they've never gone before.

Like trading away picks to move up in two different rounds, eschewing players who touch the ball and taking a safety with the first pick.

But then again, when the roster is so deep and so young going into an NFL Draft that was neither, well, the draft room captain feels "very pleased about how it all worked out."

"We got guys we had very positive opinions on," said Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin on Sunday as he took a breath as deep as his roster. "It's a different world picking in the back of every round. But once the draft gets rolling, it's pretty standard."

The Bengals committed a franchise first when they traded up in two different rounds in the same draft. They jumped up in the second round for Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and in the fifth round for Toledo safety Tycen Anderson, filling the thinnest part of their depth chart with guys that both have run sub 4.4-second 40-yard dashes and offer versatility to defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.

When Tobin went up from 63 to 60 to get Taylor-Britt, it marked the earliest draft leap since the Bengals traded up to get the first overall pick in the 1995 draft.

"I never like to give away picks, but some situations call for you to do that," Tobin said. "I thought, overall, looking at our situation and what was happening in the draft, it was appropriate. Sometimes you have to do it, but I never like losing picks."

What had happened as the Bengals watched from No. 63 was that four cornerbacks, six wide receivers and four defensive ends had gone in the second round. As the pickings grew slimmer, their grade on Taylor-Britt stuck out.

With the 49ers, at 61, looking for defense, and the Chiefs, at No. 62, still smarting from Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase even though they traded up to get a cornerback in the first round, the Bengals didn't want to chance it and sent their sixth-rounder to the Bills to get No. 60.

"It's somewhat the player, somewhat what is happening around you. And somewhat the analysis about what might happen before you pick," Tobin said. "There are a lot factors that go into that. When you trade up, you have a guy in mind."

And they absolutely love the guy they had in mind. Taylor-Britt seems to have come right out of one of head coach Zac Taylor's beloved old-school notebooks, right down to the Nebraska pedigree: Productive, physical, fast and, a favorite Taylor-Made Take, brings a lot of energy.

Then, as the fifth round rolled on, the tight ends and wide receivers kept going. Even two punters were gone. But with his 4.36-second speed in the 40-yard dash and crushing special teams tape, Anderson beckoned and they gave up the highest of their two seventh-rounders.

One of the benefits of being deep.

"That's a factor that goes into it," Tobin said. "The draft itself. What's on your team and what you need. And who you like and where you think their end point is in the draft. All that goes into that analysis and you have to go as fast as you can and see what options there are to move."

Some teams rolled out ways to get picks in the 2023 draft, thought to be stronger than this one. But the Bengals were looking for some more help now to get to back-to-back Super Bowls.

"That came up. We're always open to stuff like that," Tobin said of '23. "But we only ended up taking six guys. That's about as small a class as I want to have."

The biggest difference for Tobin picking so late in each round came at No. 31, their latest first-round pick ever.

"You focus in on a very small universe of players," said Tobin of the higher picks, "but in the first round the universe is larger."

But they got help from the elite grades they put on Michigan safety Dax Hill and the steady stream of phone calls from teams looking to trade back into the first round. One team told the Bengals they were looking for a quarterback. The Bengals weren't buying it or budging. Their board told them they were probably coming up to get Hill.

How good were Hill's grades? In the five previous drafts, Tobin traded down four times in the second round, which is basically where the guy who loves picks was picking Thursday night. It was the first time the Bengals took a safety with their first pick. In 1992 they took Darryl Williams with the last pick in a first round they took David Klingler with the sixth pick.

"We gelt great about Dax being available," Tobin said. "It really was a welcome plus. I think everybody in the room felt that way."

More Duke-isms:

The Bengals are viewing their third-round pick, Florida defensive tackle Zachary Carter, and fourth-round pick, North Dakota State guard Cordell Volson, as particularly good value picks.

On Carter and his 17 SEC career sacks:

"He's played a lot of good football in a big level of competition. He's played against a lot of really good players and has produced. He has versatility (he can play on the edge, too) and those are things that we like."

On Volson and his small-school pedigree:

"He's got a lot of things we look for in players. Both intangibly and tangibly. We had a lot of different looks at him. We thought at the time of the draft it was very good value. He got to play in an all-star game against different guys. It might be a quote, small school, but it is really good football. They've had people from every position almost play in the league. They have a wonderful program, they're super well-coached and they develop players at a high rate and the guys that come out of there are ready for the rigors of the NFL. It's a top quality program, so we never worry about that with that school.

On if the Bengals are going to look for veteran depth at wide receiver, tight end and punter after not drafting those spots:

"We'll look at it … We talked about every position. It's hard to go through a seven-round draft and not talk about every position … We feel good about how (college free agency) is shaping up. (Veterans) will be something we talk about as the offseason tumbles on. But as our roster sits right now, I feel pretty darn good about it."

Another first. The Bengals didn't draft one player that touches the ball.

"We hope the DBs we drafted touch it a lot," Tobin said.

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