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After Grabbing AFC Title, Bengals Let Draft Board Come To Them Fast And Furious

Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor and Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo speak to the media during the 2022 NFL Draft.
Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor and Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo speak to the media during the 2022 NFL Draft.

If last year was the BMG (Big Man's Game) Draft, then what transpired this weekend at Paul Brown Stadium is the Fast and Furious Draft.

As in speed and defense rules The Jungle. Matching this draft's theme, Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin had the quick trigger finger and raced up the draft board to trade up in two different rounds, a Bengals' first.

The Bengals don't like giving up picks. But in a thin draft with a fat roster, it was the best of years to trade up. This was an odd draft where there weren't many players with similar grades. So the higher graded players looked like strobe lights on this board.

That's why they went three spots up and grabbed Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt and his 4.38 40 at No. 60 in the second round and eight spots up to secure Toledo safety Tycen Anderson and his 4.36 at No. 166 in the fifth.

"That was somebody we identified we wanted," said Taylor of taking his Cornhuskers descendant, "and we didn't want to risk it there with maybe team or two in front of us that could take him, or someone could jump in front of us and take him. I felt like we needed to do that."   

When Taylor holds his first team meeting Monday since the Bengals came within 39 seconds of winning the Super Bowl, the 2022 NFL Draft is stunning proof of its depth as it eyes unfinished business.

More proof? Taylor getting texted on the podium during Saturday's draft wrap-up from a potential undrafted free agent in a suddenly expanding class made possible by a draft of just six players.

 That's their smallest draft class in 20 years and for the first time in their history the franchise of Paul Brown, Mike Brown, Bill Walsh, Sam Wyche and Joe Burrow didn't draft a guy who'll touch the ball. Five of the players play defense and the offensive player is North Dakota State tackle-turned guard Cordell Volson.

Who could believe it in the 21st century?

Taylor could after back-to-back drafts of Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase.

"If you told me it's only six picks, the chances become higher," Taylor said. "We didn't have starter needs there. You're always looking for competition at depth, and guys who can rise in the future. If you're talking about a lack of an immediate need, I think the offensive skill is certainly one that doesn't jump out at you as something you have to immediately address."

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo could in a division with Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson at quarterback, Mark Andrews at tight end and a rookie wide receiver in Pittsburgh named "Pickens."

Throw in first-round pick Dax Hill's 4.38 40 at safety and nickel and three of the first five selections were defensive backs with sub 4.4-second 40-yard dash times.

"It was a component that came with these players. There's always a fine line of what's fast enough, as long as the play speed shows to a degree," Anarumo said. "But these guys had kind of all of those things — height, weight, speed and the length part — which is important to me back there (in the secondary). It was a great part of it."

After watching the first two rounds of each of his three drafts as Bengals defensive coordinator, Anarumo celebrated the evolution of his hybrid 3-4 in his fourth with the kind of speed that brings the versatility that makes his defense go.

And to top it off, he's got the veterans that can slow the young men in a hurry. None of them have to start. Anarumo could glimpse this year's secondary even as he spoke Saturday.

"I think we're set up the right way. We have veteran leadership now," Anarumo said. "I mentioned it the other day, Cam is going to come in and sit there, and Mike Hilton is going to sit here and Chido's (Awuzie) going to sit there. He's going to turn left and right, and he's going to have two great veteran players to learn from.

"Who could have two better guys than that? Along with Vonn (Bell) and Jessie (Bates III) and Eli (Apple) and the rest of the group. All the positions have those type of guys. With (third-round defensive lineman) Zach Carter, here's Sam Hubbard, here's Trey Hendrickson, and here's D.J. Reader. And then Coach Hob (defensive line coach Marion Hobby) up in the front. We're very fortunate, and so are the players."

The Bengals go quietly about their business. With the draft hype machine foaming at the mouth with each ebb and flow of the rookie and veteran wide receivers, they countered with speed and makeup on defense.

"We value smart players, for sure. And we feel like on our defense we have the talent to compete for championships. But just the overall football intelligence of our group," Taylor said. "We value that. We think that matters. It matters just getting to the line pre-snap and making the right adjustments post-snap. So when you're combating that with the talent that's on the other side of the ball, you've got guys that can play fast and confidently and communicate."

There is work to be done. Because the Bengals didn't have to reach to get a wide receiver or a tight end, they're going to have to find some in rookie free agency and maybe go back on the veteran market. But it's not urgent.

"OK, you don't get it done in college free agency, so you evaluate what's out there so that we have our number that we want to carry in camp," Taylor said. "It's not something that you immediately overreact to one day after the draft. We'll talk through it. We don't get on the grass with our players for another two weeks, and even then it's not what it was 10 years ago with some of the 11-on-11 stuff we're doing. So it's not quite the rush to make sure that you've got all those positions filled. We'll take our time and make sure we're adding the right people."

There's also the matter of a punter. The Bengals didn't get a chance to draft one, but with incumbent Kevin Huber unsigned, rookie free agency looks like an option.

"That's something we'll continue to discuss these next couple of days," Taylor said. "Now that the dust has settled from the draft, we'll revisit that and see where we're at."

After grabbing the AFC title, the Bengals could let the board come to them, and they embraced it Fast and Furious.

"You always hear people ask are you taking the best player available or you take it for a need? Well, we thought the combination was there," Taylor said. "That really hit us at the right spots over the course of the draft … If you told me there have been more offensive players taken it wouldn't surprise me because there were some good ones there. But ultimately, there was the right defensive players there that we really liked and had good grades on and felt like they were a good fit for us."

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