Bengals Have A Road Map In Murky Draft After Back-to-Back Gold Rushes

Wyoming's Logan Wilson, one of many captains the Bengals have called in the last two drafts.
Wyoming's Logan Wilson, one of many captains the Bengals have called in the last two drafts.

It's to the point now in this grab-bag of an NFL Draft where even Brooks Taylor can't get a handle on this year's class and his dad is the head coach of the AFC champion Bengals.

"Brooks has a lot of questions and a lot of opinions. I'm not going there. He's a locked vault. He's into mock drafts. I don't hear the end of it," said head coach Zac Taylor Monday in his last press briefing before Thursday night's first round.

"It's 20 a night," said Taylor with a father's bemusement of the number of his son's mocks. "He was really mad at me that immediately after the Super Bowl I didn't have all the information on all the players because the year before I did."

That Super Bowl appearance is why the Bengals have the murky next-to-last pick in the round at No. 31 and why no one inside or outside Paul Brown Stadium knows who the next Bengal is going to be.

It's the exact opposite of the draft of two years ago, when everyone in the nation knew the Bengals were picking LSU quarterback Joe Burrow at No. 1. In the 11 drafts he's scouted college players, Taylor says Burrow is the best prospect he's seen on tape.

"Hundred percent. The guy never lost. Shattered every record known to man," Taylor said. "Easiest decision we ever made. I think you'd all agree."

It's not even close to last year, either, when there were just three names buzzing around the Bengals' fifth pick before they took what turned out to be the greatest rookie wider receiver in history in LSU's Ja'Marr Chase. Oregon tackle Penei Sewell and Florida tight end Kyle Pitts were also in the mix, although their guy for the last month was pretty much Chase.

But this year, Taylor acknowledged when the Bengals get their turn near midnight, the clock could strike for a lot more than the usual handful of prospects the Bengals group at a pick.

"I'd say it's probably a bigger range than five, to be honest with you," Taylor said. "You can pick a guy that you think is going later in the second round and have a great shot of getting him at 31. But it's probably a bigger pool than five, I would say."

But one thing we do know is that in the last two Aprils the Bengals have put together the greatest back-to-back drafts in franchise history. Two of the principal themes of both were selecting players from big schools who were considered team leaders by captaincy or their multiple seasons of experience.

Of the 17 players drafted in 2020 and 2021, a total of 13 players were from Power Five schools. And the four that weren't, Wyoming linebacker Logan Wilson (52 starts), Appalachian State linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (55 games), Tulane defensive lineman Cam Sample (38 starts in 46 games) and East Carolina defensive tackle D'Ante Smith (30 starts in 33 games) played "a lot of ball," as Taylor likes to say.

"I think it's been a recipe for success, and it is something you always consider," Taylor said of the college captains.

"(Big schools) does not hurt because there's been a standard there. They've played in big games before, been a part of big moments. I think that really helped us this year. Now we've got a team of guys who have all been in those big moments so I don't have to reference it anymore. Players that fight on other playoff teams, players, that played for winning teams, it's always part of the equation. You want winners as part of your team."

Taylor's fourth draft coincides with the fourth draft since director of player personnel Duke Tobin re-shuffled his department. About six months before Taylor was hired, Tobin split up college and pro scouting when he made Steven Radicevic director of pro scouting and Mike Potts director of college scouting. The continuity of the same scouts in the same format working with the same head coach and coordinators has been a major strength.

"It's not my draft room. I sit where Duke tells me to sit," said Taylor, who works with a department he admires. "I think there are no egos, so you're able to have conversations that see both sides of the ball as it goes to a player. I think it's always productive conversations. I think it's always important to have everyone feel comfortable speaking their opinion and throwing scenarios out that maybe someone else hasn't thought of how they fit our team.

"They're always very productive conversations. You don't necessarily have to see in that moment eye to eye with somebody else on a prospect or the direction that we should go. It's just good healthy conversation. I've got a lot respect for all of the scouts we've got in there."

Taylor has seen plenty of action. In his three drafts, Tobin has pulled off five trades both up and down the board as the clock ticks. He compares it to what he has to do when he calls a play on the sidelines.

"I think that's where the experience upstairs really comes into play," Taylor said. "The number of drafts Mike Brown, Duke Tobin, everyone's been involved in and the experience they have of trading of when for what value, why, way more so than what I bring to the table. So that's a fun process to be involved in for me, to watch them work with the patience and just the calmness. Similar to what we have to deal with in games. This is their game and it's fun to watch them work there."

More Taylor-Made Takes:

_It now seems to be the Tyler Linderbaum Question. Linderbaum, the gifted center from Iowa who has blown up the Pro Football Focus grades at his position in historic fashion, has arms that are reportedly 31.125 inches long. Not ideal for NFL trenches.

On Monday, Taylor kept the question about the importance of measurables at arm's length.

"It's always part of the discussion. It's one of the variables at your disposal and then you marry that with other qualities they have," Taylor said. "Those are just discussions you always have about prospects whether it is speed or height or weight or size or what the arm length is. That can come up a lot of different ways. That's part of the draft process is figuring out what you are willing to take at that spot on that day and who fits your team. Weaknesses, how you can minimize that as best you can. Or if it is a fatal flaw. That can come in a lot of ways. We just talk through all that stuff."

_Asked how the burgeoning salaries for wide receivers is going to impact their draft value, Taylor sounded like it's not going to have an effect on the Bengals, flush with three stars.

"(If) you're thinking about the future of the receiver market and you're going to leave a huge hole there at the three technique, then it's hard to win games," Taylor said.

_Neither Tobin or Taylor have offered any news on the impending decision on left tackle Jonah Williams and his potential option year in 2023.

"I think Jonah is an ascending player," Taylor said. "I thought he got better every week. Happy to have him."

_After playing the latest game in NFL history in the Jan. 13 Super Bowl, Taylor pushed back his offseason program to Monday.

"That was a decision we made as a coaching staff. Just felt it was best for everyone involved. Coaches. Players," Taylor said. "Our coaches do go on the road and put in some good work. You just want them to be focused on player acquisition and helping our scouting department as best we can and then once the draft ends the players will be here and we can start that process."

He also plans six voluntary on-field sessions compared to the pre-COVID 13, three of which were in a mandatory minicamp that has been scrapped. After the grind of three preseason games, 17 in the regular season and four in the postseason, you don't have to ask.

The players appreciate it.

"The players I've talked to, the feedback's been really good," Taylor said. "We've always had great attendance from our players. I think they're about the right things. I still expect we'll have a good turnout for the six OTAs that we actually have."

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