Hobson's Choice: Bengals Playing Chess On A Draft Board

Dax Hill: Vicar of Versatility.
Dax Hill: Vicar of Versatility.

Will the Bengals consider Pooka Williams for either a punt/kickoff return role or as the Wide Receiver #4 (or #5)? He has the explosive playmaking ability that could change a game on a dime....seems like something this team could use. Yes? Rodger Dodger, West Lafayette, IN

DODGE: Per Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons at a news conference earlier this week regarding punt returns: "Pooka is somebody that is going to be an intriguing guy to see how his development has gone from year one to year two."

But he's going to have plenty of company, including an old Kansas teammate. Reportedly, Jayhawks wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter II has signed as an undrafted free agent. The Bengals don't release the names of their college free agents (CFAs) until they sign a contract pending a physical before the May 13 rookie minicamp. But it's believed they signed four CFA wide receivers that are also going to get a look on punt returns.

The Bengals see what you see in Pooka. Unusual athleticism and big play ability. But will he be disciplined enough to grab a starting position on special teams and advance up the depth chart at wide receiver? The Bengals rely heavily on the reliability and experience of their backup receivers, Mike Thomas and special teams maven Stanley Morgan Jr., as Williams continues to make the transition from running back and the college game. The ball is in Pooka's court. Training camp will be fun and all eyes will be on whether he can beat out incumbent punt returner Trent Taylor to make it.

Hi Mr. Hobson, now that Ogunjobi failed his physical a month or so ago, do you think there is any interest with either parter to resign him here if he is healthy? Also, what about Adkins? James Miller, Bethel, OH

JAMES: There is high regard for Larry Ogunjobi around these parts both as a player and person and there's always interest in good players. I would imagine there is some mutual interest given he's not signed yet, but so much depends on the status of his broken foot. They've obviously got high hopes for third-rounder Zachary Carter, but wouldn't Ogunjobi be a great guy to mentor him? Something to keep an eye on.

I assume you're talking about the great Geno Atkins. Since the Bengals made inquiries in the wake of Ogunjobi's injury in the Wild Card and discovered Atkins was still dealing with his shoulder issues, haven't heard his name except in relation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's been two years since he played, he's 34 and the Bengals have a ton of young talent to extend. It doesn't seem like that's likely.

Geoff, Hello again! A big part of our success last year was team chemistry, especially on defense. With Jesse Bate's contract in limbo and players advocating for him. Could his lame duck status hurt the chemistry on this team? Maan Aboulhosn, Titusville, FL

MAAN: Good to hear from you again. There's no question that free safety Jessie Bates III is one of the most popular players inside and outside the locker room and he's a key leader. But I don't see his contract situation harming chemistry.

Bates is one of the many ultimate pros on this team and as pros the first thing they know is that this is a business. Cornerback Mike Hilton is one of them and he said it better than I ever could:

"Everybody knows the business side of the NFL. And nobody would be upset or pissed at him if he didn't show up or he ended up going somewhere else. It's just part of the game."

That would suggest, no, it doesn't impact chemistry. And no matter what, Bates and the Bengals are all better off with Bates having a great season.

Where does #30 fit into the box. Will he get a longer contract from Katie or just the large contract that is offered for his final season where the Bengals franchise tag which means one year, alot of money and he walks away in 2023 ? Andrew Dohme, Dayton, OH

ANDREW: It's one or the other, right? They've got until July 15 to get a long-term deal. That's when we'll have the answer. The Bengals have made various runs at him to secure a long-term deal, starting in training camp last year and most recently at the NFL scouting combine a few weeks before free agency.

After July 15, it starts to get complicated. At the end of the season, Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins and Logan Wilson are eligible for extensions. They could franchise Bates again, but hard to see them doing it in that environment. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, deals are elusive. The Bengals feel like they have tried repeatedly, which shows their regard for Bates.

Hello Geoff, it looks like we drafted long term replacements for Eli Apple (Cam Britt), and Vonn Bell (Ty Anderson)..but where do you think Dax will end up? Is he Jessie Bates (FS) replacement, or Mike Hilton's (slot CB)? Ben Slaughter, Hamilton, OH

BEN: NFL teams draft talent. They don't draft replacements. The Bengals didn't expect Dax Hill to be on the board at 31 and when he was, they swooped him up based on talent.

So I hear you to some degree, but let's let the kids play and see what they've got. And, why do they have to replace cornerbacks? Keep as many good ones as you can. Kids and vets. Remember when this defense was top ten from 2011-213? They routinely had three and four first-round cornerbacks.

And let's not jump the gun on safety Vonn Bell. The man was one of their best players down the stretch last year when the chips were down and is a locker room statesman and won't turn 28 until December. The Bengals like both Bates AND Bell. And, yes, some in their draft room had Toledo safety Tyrece Anderson rated as a third-round pick before they traded up to get him in the fifth round.

But the reality is in the previous seven drafts (not counting Evan McPherson) the last fifth-rounder to start regularly was 2015 tight end C.J. Uzomah and that didn't happen until his fourth season. So, it's hard to pump out absolutes with fifth-rounders.

The beauty of Dax Hill is no one knows where he's going to end up or who he's going to replace. Heck, they might make a new position for him. I think that's the point of defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's versatile looks. It's not who they replace, it's who they cover or what they do. It's all about matchups.

Against some teams, Mike Hilton may be a better fit in the slot. Against other teams, maybe it's Dax. Or maybe against one team Dax is a better matchup against the tight end while Hilton stays in the slot. In order to stay flexible, it's not about replacing people but finding their roles in different games and matchups.

The natural inclination, of course, is to plug Hill into Bates' spot, but that's putting unnecessary limits on Hill. Why not play both Hill and Bates? Plus, Hill could end up being a regular outside cornerback for all we know.

So let's let the kids play.

Focusing on the draft alone, I think the Bengals had a good draft in that they filled needs. However, with the Chiefs, Bills, possibly the Chargers, and definitely the Ravens having seemingly better drafts, do you feel they did enough? Andrew S., Lancaster, PA

ANDREW: I think you're assuming the guts of this draft was in the fourth round, but I'm not sure that was the feeling in the Bengals draft room. They did last year, when they traded down to get two extra fourth-rounders. But you didn't see that this year. You saw the opposite. They jumped up in two different rounds, a sign they didn't see the same depth.

We'll see how good those drafts were, but take Buffalo. The Bengals didn't need a running back, linebacker or wideout where Buffalo took them.

What more could they have done with eight picks? And they still traded up twice. What they needed, they got. Three defensive backs that run under 4.4 for their thinnest position group. Another offensive lineman to compete at left guard. A back-up three technique and a back-up edger. Maybe those teams had better drafts than the Bengals. All I know is the Bengals are better, deeper and faster today than they were last week. And much deeper when you add in free agency.

And they've got all their picks for a better draft in 2023.

Are the Bengals finished signing undrafted free agents or are they still looking? Has the name Britain Covey came up in any chatter? He's a little guy but an electrifying punt returner from Utah. Special teams gets overlooked a lot. Steve Laub, Liberty Township, OH

STEVE: I think they're done. As I'm sure you saw after you sent this in, Covey signed with the Eagles. I think his size (5-8, 170 pounds) was probably a tough fit in the Bengals receiver room. Special teams may get overlooked, but not in Cincinnati. Not when you take the only kicker in the draft, which the Bengals did last year. And not when you value the extraordinary good play by Tre Flowers last postseason on teams and sign him up again. I would say the Bengals have shown over and over they do value special teams.

Love your reporting and writing style. Thanks for all the stories where we really get to know the players. I love the draft as well. Nice job all around. Would like some competition for TE and WR. What are we doing about punting? John Dahlgren, Clinton, MI

JOHN: Thank you for your very kind words. The Bengals are hoping they can find some receiver and tight end depth in college free agency and veteran free agency isn't dead. After you sent this in, I'm sure you saw Darrin Simmons declare a training camp punting derby between Kevin Huber and Drue Chrisman.

Does Lou have a new(er) defense in mind? I saw a lot of speed in their DB picks (4.38) and the announcer is talking about Anderson as a linebacker after he ran a 4.36. Tom Lambe, Fairborn, OH

TOM: Like I say, you can't think about Anarumo's defense in terms of positions. It's about the matchup and a specific opponent. It's not a "newer," defense. It's still a hybrid 3-4 defense. It just got more multiple. The Bengals are focused on having good space athletes to give "multiple multiples" as they contend with today's NFL and mobile quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and company. Flexibility and speed.

Geoff, not the person, buy why a CB when need to u\ptrad the edge, the LBs, and More upgrade to OL. Glenn Groh, Cincinnati, OH

GLENN: Given the time you sent this in, you're referring to the pick of Michigan safety-cornerback Dax Hill in the first round. First of all, it was a best-player-on-the-board pick. Not only that, it fit their biggest need of the draft, which was depth at defensive back and they got two in one at No. 31 in a guy ranked in the teens on their board.

So they stuck to their grades. Best player. And they knew they would attack the other spots later and they did. Except linebacker, where they don't need an upgrade and like the guys in the current room.

Why did the Bengals concentrate on DBs so heavily when Super Bowl showed weakness in offensive line men to protect the QB? And also showed need for more penetration from defensive line. Robert Van Nortwick, Broken Arrow, OK

ROBERT: A month before the draft, the Bengals spent about $30 million in cash and committed nearly $75 million on three starting offensive linemen, according to overthecap.com In the last draft they chose three offensive linemen and one this year. Meanwhile, before the draft they had no safety under contract beyond 2022 and four cornerbacks with experience.

And penetration from their defensive line was a major strength. Look how nose tackle D.J. Reader Kinged Derrick Henry in the AFC Divisional and how the line made the Rams one-dimensional in the Super Bowl, holding them to 1.9 yards per their 23 runs.

So with all due respect, they did address offensive line. They just did it in March and not April.

With all of the outstanding offensive playmakers the Bengals now have, would you envision them adopting a more wide-open playbook similar to what KC does with their playmakers, thus giving defenses more to prepare for and to defend? Chris Ramsey, Lebanon, OH

CHRIS: It seems to me the Bengals are pretty wide open already, certainly right there with teams like the Chiefs. According to Sharp Football Analysis, no team ran a higher percentage of three-receiver sets than the Bengals. They were at 77 percent (Washington was at 75 percent) while the Chiefs were at 67 percent. The Bengals went with four receivers 23 times, the Chiefs seven. The Bengals' 16 passes of at least 40 yards beat everybody but the Rams' 18. KC had 11.

Can they get much more wide open? The harder question is going to be as defenses back up to protect against the Bengals passing attack, do the Bengals run the ball more and take advantage of smaller boxes? Remember that chess board at Joe Burrow's locker last season? The chess game within the chess game never stops.

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