For the first time since 2003 the Bengals took offense with their first three picks in the NFL Draft when they selected Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft with their first pick in the third round. Then they finished off the draft for everyone Friday night when they took TCU linebacker Paul Dawson, a guy that can project to both outside and inside.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock called Dawson the most instincitve linebacker he saw on tape all year. After leading the Big 12 in tackles this season, one of Mayock's colleagues tweeted he was a clone of Bengals Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict.
"I know me, Rey (Maualuga) and Vontaze will be a great, awesome linebacker corps," Dawson said. "Probably one of the best in the NFL."
The Bengals, who also had the final pick in the third round as compensation for losing defensive end Michael Johnson last season, saw one of their coveted linebackers swiped off the board right before they picked Kroft when the Eagles took Jordan Hicks of Texas, a Cincinnati high school product from Lakota West High School. So they took Dawson at No. 99
The Bengals seem to think the 6-5, 240-pound Kroft is talented enough to pair with Tyler Eifert in a two tight-end set and keep Ryan Hewitt as the fullback. Kroft had an advocate pushing for the Bengals to draft him within the walls of Paul Brown Stadium.
"Mo Sanu came up to my room on Thursday and said, 'Coach – let's add another Scarlet Knight to our team,'" said tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes.
"We crossed paths a lot at Rutgers," said Kroft. "We were always doing drills and stuff after practice – catching drills and all that. We were pretty close before he left."
But the campaigning by his former college teammate wasn't necessary.
Following Jermaine Gresham's likely departure as a free agent, the Bengals were clearly in the market for a tight end and they selected Kroft with the first of their two third-round draft picks at 85th overall. The Bengals figure to be in the hunt for another tight end Saturday with one of their five final picks in rounds four through seven during a day that starts at noon as the Gresham Era appears to be closing.
"(Kroft) was a guy that we targeted as a good fit for what we were looking for in this draft – literally the best of the tight end prospects," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "We feel really good about him and his ability to be an all-around tight end."
"My agent said to make sure I had my TV on when the Bengals were on the clock," said Kroft.
After leading Rutgers in receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) as a sophomore, Kroft saw his numbers drop to 24 catches for 269 yards as a junior when the Scarlet Knights emphasized the run under new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen.
"I knew going into the year that my role was going to shift and I was going to have to take on more of a blocking role," said Kroft. "So I didn't let it affect me too much. Obviously it was frustrating not being a playmaker like I usually was, but ultimately I think I played hard and that's what I can hang my hat on."
"You could see him make several outstanding catches if you watch enough of his tape," said NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock. "They just didn't go to him all that often."
Ironically, having fewer passes thrown in his direction might have boosted Kroft's draft stock.
"That helped him for people evaluating because we don't get to see (in-line blocking) very much anymore in college football with a lot of the tight ends," said Hayes. "He made the change and did a great job so it was a blessing in disguise."
Kroft is 6-6, 245 pounds and ran 4.67 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. With Eifert expected to make a full recovery from his season-ending elbow injury, Kroft figures to make an immediate contribution as the Bengals number two tight end.
"I know in the past that the Bengals have always wanted a more complete guy as a tight end," said Kroft. "They don't traditionally want someone that's just a run blocker or someone that's just a pass catcher. I think I'll fit that role well. I'm a willing blocker and I just want to continue to progress with that."
"He's going to make us a lot better on the offensive side of the ball," said Hayes. "He's got a big catch radius, he's an elusive runner, and he's an effective and willing blocker. He's got a frame where he will get stronger and put more weight on.
"He's going to come early, leave late, and he's not scared of hard work."
Kroft said he heard that he could be picked anywhere between the second and fifth round and was relieved to be a Day 2 selection.
"It's a big weight off of my shoulders," he said. "I was glued to the TV all night so it was awesome to finally hear my name called."
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