Mike Potts, the director of college scouting, is looking at the Bengals list of drafted players in Monday's refracted light of 48 hours and his computer mouse is scurrying like one of prized rookie defensive backs through the three-cone drill.
First round, Michigan safety Dax Hill. Second round, Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt. Third round, Florida defensive tackle Zachary Carter. Fourth round, North Dakota State guard Cordell Volson. Fifth round, Toledo cornerback Tycen Anderson. Seventh round, Coastal Carolina edge rusher Jeffrey Gunter.
"If you get an injury at end, you can kick Zach Carter out there," Potts says. "An injury at safety, Cam Taylor-Britt can play there. Dax Hill's first position (is) safety or nickel (cornerback), but if you need him for two weeks, maybe he can go to outside corner.
"Volson starts out at guard and if we're dinged at right tackle, he can go out there. Tycen Anderson, he may start out at safety, but look at Tre Flowers. He can cover tight ends and he can probably play some outside corner. This guy (Gunter) could be a 3-4 outside backer or could drop in space or he could play in a tighter alignment if you got dinged up in certain spots."
The user name of this Bengals draft is "Defense2022," and the password is "Versatility," and Potts, director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic and the rest of director of player personnel Duke Tobin's staff have heartily signed on to what happened over the weekend despite picking so deeply in spots reserved for the AFC champion.
"We didn't have a ton of glaring needs and we were able to sit back and take guys that we like," Potts says. "And when there were guys that we really liked, we were aggressive. Your needs right now aren't necessarily going to be your needs four months from now. That's why you take the best player available. We got good depth. We're more athletic and a lot faster. And the versatility is huge."
That didn't mean there wasn't some frustration picking at the end of each round. Their board, as they say, would get picked over time and again. It got to the point in rounds two (Taylor-Britt) and five (Anderson) that they traded up to target players they believed were the last in the round to give them value as well as a need.
Strangely, the round that seemed to be the least picked over was the first.
"The first round, maybe unexpectedly, had multiple guys where we felt had value there," Potts says. "Dax was clearly the best player at No. 31, but there were others there we also felt were worthy of the pick. Later, maybe there were just one or two. We thought Anderson could have gone a round earlier. Gunter was the best player (left) when we thought he fell to us."
We visit with some of Potts' area scouts to see how it came together, keeping in mind that Tobin and head coach Zac Taylor stress by time a player is acquired, they've been vetted by several scouts and coaches. It's not one person's pick, they say, but the Bengals' pick.
ALL THE WAY BACK: Trey Brown, who scours the south in the East and the Atlantic, just got through his first draft with the Bengals but it's far from his first rodeo. He was one of four guys in the Bengals draft room that had run his own draft but the only one to do it in two different leagues. Tobin, his dad Bill, now a Bengals scout, and Bengals president Mike Brown have all done it in the NFL. Trey Brown did it in the AAF and XFL.
"Very clean, very efficient," Trey Brown says. "Mike did a great job setting the table on what they're looking for in terms of procedure and how we communicate. Everybody has their opinion, but what fits the Cincinnati Bengals best? I think we did a good job of that. Duke does a good job listening to opinions and they pay us for our opinions. We've got a tight-knit staff, we've got each other's backs."
It is Trey Brown's opinion that the Bengals got value at pretty much every level.
"There's two parts to it," Brown says. "You have to evaluate it and then have a plan to acquire it. Is it after the draft? The last round? Trade up? Trade back and get a similar guy? There are different avenues, but there is value in every round and free agency and I thought we did a good job finding it at every level."
They feel like they got value all the way back at 252 in Coastal's Gunter. Potts takes a look at the 6-4, 260-pound of granite and concludes, "He's shredded."
"The thing I like about him he is he did everything he was asked to do," Brown says. "He was asked to rush, he was asked to drop, he was asked to play inside and on the edge. He has experience doing a lot of the things we ask our defensive linemen to do and he's been productive throughout his career at Coastal. He's a guy that could set the edge. He was a well-rounded player who did a little bit of everything and has a lot of upside as a pass rusher. You have to get value in the entire draft."
MOVING UP: Trey Brown says there's only one reason to trade up in a round and that's to target a player that has earned the team's trust when it comes to playing the scheme and fitting into the building. So there were plenty of reasons why Taylor-Britt became the object of their earliest draft trade-up since they moved to No. 1 overall 27 years ago
"Out of all the practices I went to this fall, he was the most energetic player I saw," says Christian Sarkisian, who scouts from the Great Plains to the Rio Grande. "He was coaching up guys, he was cheering guys on, talking smack to the offense, calling guys out. The coaches loved him."
It also helped that one of the Bengals' big culture guys and one of their best special teams players, wide receiver Stanley Morgan, Jr., is a college teammate and close friend. And Bengals wide receivers coach Troy Walters coached in Lincoln when Taylor-Britt was breaking in.
"Troy loved him. Stanley says they consider each other brothers," Sarkisian says. "He says he's tough, hard-working and was always a dog on special teams from his first day. And he's always in Stanley's ear asking about the league and how he can get better."
Sarkisian walked away from the Senior Bowl extremely impressed. Taylor-Britt left the first practice early and then came back for the second and third days.
"I interviewed him that third night and he was in a lot of pain," Sarkisian says. "He went up in contested situation and chipped a tooth down to the nerve. He was rushed to the hospital and told his week was over. He said no way, and came back to practice and played in the game. I had to send an intern back to his hotel room because he forgot his pain reliever and was struggling."
Because the coaches were busy winning the AFC title that week, they didn't get a chance to see that interview. And Taylor-Britt wasn't one of the Bengals' 45 formal interviews at the NFL scouting combine, where the Bengals had scheduled offensive linemen for nearly half the slots.
With Taylor-Britt so high on the scouts' radar, they scheduled a Paul Brown Stadium visit for him so he could meet with the coaches.
"That's a big part of it. Making sure the coaches are comfortable with a guy and we're all on the same page," Potts says. "He's the kind of guy when he walks into a room, he's impressive."
THIRD TIME's THE CHARM: Potts says it seems like Sarkisian has been talking to him about Cordell Volson for years. It's because he has. Sarkisian first wrote him up for the 2020 draft after his junior year. Then, when COVID hit, it looked like he may be one of the guys to play the spring season and then go to the 2021 draft the next week. But he opted for the sixth year, giving him an astounding 65 college games.
"And he stayed there to help them coach this spring. He just loves the game," says Sarkisian, flipping through the quotes he compiled from different sources. "Ultimate alpha leader on the team. Tone-setter. Gets in guys' faces if they don' match his intensity."
Volson cross-trained so he could always be on the field. He's played all four spots and snapped at center in some practices. He played right tackle this past season, the blind-side for a lefty quarterback.
Sarkisian particularly loves why he prefers guard to tackle.
"He like the physicality on the inside," Sarkisian says. "But feels lazy being on an island."
CAN'T HAVE TOO MANY: This is why you can't rely on the pundits' boards. The Bengals were all over Florida's Carter and his 17 career SEC sacks. Those sacks and pressures are not to be trifled with in the room.
"The guy's been a really productive rusher. He's been outside, inside. He's been very consistent putting pressure on the quarterback and that's a premium in this league. That stood out when he we watched his film," Trey Brown says.
FIRST ONE: Andrew Johnson, who covers the Northeast and parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, has been grinding it for seven drafts here and for the first time on Thursday night he had player from his area taken in the first round.
A big moment made bigger by that moment 11 months ago. It was only mid-May, but Johnson asked Duke Tobin to watch some quick cutups of this Michigan nickel safety that could absolutely fly.
"To see it come full circle," Johnson says. "Just to see how he was still the same at every exposure. He's the same guy … a great human being … Always as cool, as collected, as calm as you could want. Never too high, never too low."
Michigan's game against Wisconsin game, game four, stands out.
"He gave up a couple of completions at the end of the first half. One was for a touchdown. He was in position to make a play and the receiver made a play," Johnson says. "Dax came back in the second half and (injured) the quarterback's ribs and knocked him out of the game on a nickel blitz and then he had an interception that helped seal the game. Nothing rattles him."
Hill is just one of three rookie nickel cornerbacks they drafted to back up Mike Hilton after a season they never really had a backup. That's why Hilton played a relentless 803 snaps. Johnson flicked around the Bengals draft web site and surmised that Hill's 6.57-second three-cone time and Anderson's 6.64 were the second and third fastest of anyone at the combine.
"Anything under 6.8 is really elite," Johnson says.
Put them in the slot? Outside? Safety?
"How many players can you carry for a game?" asks Potts, who knows. "If you want to wear a helmet and you're not a quarterback, you better play more than one position."