Skip to main content

Hobson's Choice: Is Bengals' Draft Headed For A Return To Defense?

Don't forget last year's third-round pick Joseph Ossai, seen here in last year's minicamp.
Don't forget last year's third-round pick Joseph Ossai, seen here in last year's minicamp.

Do you think we are going defense at No. 31? Daniel Gioia, Sao Paulo, Brazil

DANIEL: You'd say they're probably due. In head coach Zac Taylor's three drafts, they've never taken a defensive player before the third round and they've got more needs on defense than offense heading into the April 28-30 draft. 

There are depth needs, but needs just the same, at cornerback and edge and they could probably use a young, athletic three technique in the Larry Ogunjobi mold. Last year's massive fourth-rounder, Tyler Shelvin, seems to be more suited for the run game.

Part of the analysis is how they view last year's haul up front in edge Joseph Ossai and edge/DT Cam Sample. Both have arrows up. And maybe their best new defensive player is already on the roster in Ossai, the third-rounder out of Texas. Before he got hurt late in his first NFL game in the preseason opener, the film and Pro Football Focus grades were robust to say the least. Regardless, defense gets its due respect this year.

Geoff thank you so much for taking the time to answer fans questions. My question is if the Bengals decide to go CB at number 31 who could be there that would be intriguing? Greg Luther, Cincinnati, OH

GREG: Thank you for taking the time to write in. 

What we need here is a Media Mock Draft. One is on the way after a supply train delay of a Super Bowl run and a dizzying free agency. 

There's going to be a good one, right? Look at the top ten Pro Football Focus cornerbacks who played at least 700 snaps last season. No. 3 Kendal Fuller was a third-round pick. No. 4 Darius Slay was the 36th pick in his draft. No. 5 Nate Hobbs was a fifth-round pick. No. 6 J.C. Jackson is famously an undrafted free agent. Go all the way back to even the Bengals' previous Super Bowl team and their two second-round cornerbacks, Eric Thomas and Louis Billups.  

This year, guys like Clemson's Andrew Booth, Jr., and Florida's Kaiir Elam are ranked in that edge of first-round territory and they've plucked Clemson guys in each of the last two second rounds.  

 A really intriguing guy, at least to me, is out of Baylor, the 6-0, 197-pound Jalen Pitre. The jury seems to be out among the draftnicks about his pure coverage skills, so he's listed at safety but he plays the slot and has really good film. He also seems to have the Zac Taylor intangibles for brains and locker room character (he played what Baylor called "The Star," position) and the Lou Anarumo litmus test for versatility.

Thanks for all the great work! Currently 3 position groups lack long term contracts, TE, S, CB. Your thoughts on the Bengals focusing on these spots at the draft. (Aside from a BPA at 3 technique that's too good to pass up). Cheers! Mark Krehbiel, Charlotte, NC

MARK: Thank you for your kindness. It's an excellent point, particularly at safety, where both starters, Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, are going into the last year of their deals, chief backup Ricardo Allen is now a special teams assistant coach in Miami and Brandon Wilson is going into his contract year coming off an ACL tear.

After last year's draft, the scouts were exulting about the BMG weekend. Big Man's Game and from the ten picks they had just drafted seven linemen. So it's going to be interesting to see if this year there's a balancing out and similar emphasis on safeties and cornerbacks. Maybe so.

Last year, after the Bengals signed three cornerbacks and a safety in free agency, they drafted three offensive linemen and four defensive linemen. Now after signing three offensive linemen and re-signing two defensive linemen, could we be looking at primarily a secondary draft?

Still thinking defense at No. 31, but certainly you have to feel as if they'll get a tight end before Saturday's last day of the draft. Everybody is raving about the depth of this class. But don't sell Hayden Hurst short just because he's on a one-year deal. He's what they're looking for in a tight end and he's still young, just three years removed from his first-round selection by the Ravens. But, yes, look for them to get a tight end they can develop quickly in what is going to amount to a major revamp in that room.

Hi Mr. Hobson, long time reader of your articles and have enjoyed them over the years. I was wondering in your opinion should the Bengals go with a DT or CB in the first round? I like Wyatt for DT and Booth for the CB. Your take? James Miller, Bethel, Ohio

JAMES: Thank you very much for your very kind words and for taking the time to reach out.

All I know is when the Bengals started drafting cornerbacks in the first round they started going to the playoffs and I don't think it's a coincidence. Before they drafted Johnathan Joseph at No. 24 in 2006, the only cornerback they had drafted in the first round was Rickey Dixon in 1988 and they made him a safety.

Joseph and Leon Hall, taken the next year at No. 18, were the co-MVPs of the 2009 AFC North sweep. They couldn't pay both, but Hall teamed with Dre Kirkpatrick, No. 17 in 2012, to play some solid cornerback for two more division champs. Darqueze Dennard in 2014 and William Jackson in 2016 didn't pan out as well.

But now it's been six years since they took a cornerback in the first round, the longest they've gone since Joseph arrived. It's time.

Of course, a defensive tackle going No. 1 is way more overdue than that. It's been exactly 28 years since they took Ohio State defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson No. 1 overall the last time they did that. And it's been 21 years since they took Missouri end Justin Smith with the fourth pick in 2001, the last time they took a defensive lineman in the first round.

That's a drought that could stand breaking, too.

What is the next move for the Bengals in free agency? Possibly going for Stephen Gilmore or Rob Gronkowski? Ethan Nguyen, West Chester, OH

ETHAN: Sounds like Gronk is going to back to Tampa Bay and Tom Brady despite his admiration of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. But he's in the same boat with Gilmore. This year's salary cap has already been spent on three starting offensive linemen, B.J. Hill, Eli Apple, Hayden Hurst, and another eight guys they brought back from the AFC champions to fill out the roster. Fans wanted money spent on the O-Line and it happened. Now the club is looking at next offseason and extending their top three players in the 2020 draft: Burrow, Tee Higgins and Logan Wilson. It looks like any remaining moves are for depth with manageable salaries.

Hey Butch, Tom from Boston, are you a Pizzeria Regina person or a Santarpios Pizza guy Second, what's your heart say about PBS and the City extending the lease. Indoor facility and closer ties with Hamilton county seem promising? Tom Leatherman, Boston, MA

TOM: Thank you for the question from the homeland. I have to go old school Route 9 on you because I've never had a better pizza than what Giovanni's rolled out across from Shopper's World in the '60s and '70s. Maybe because it was my first one.

As a former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter who covered the first lease negotiation in 1997 (yes, when Joe Burrow was not yet a year old), this sure seems less contentious. Nothing like a Super Bowl run to get everybody going in the same direction. Not exactly the case when the first papers were signed.

And, too, the politics have changed and the team has changed and, frankly, the riverfront has changed. The evidence the first deal has worked keeps sprouting between Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark. Anybody envision The Banks and OTR in 1997? It's hard not to say PBS started it all. Now that people have grown up with The Banks instead of a bleak riverfront, that makes it different, too. A lot more reason for both sides to be playing catch and it sounds like they are.

Hello mr Hobson . With the talk of a practice bubble on the agenda to be built . Which 1 would be cheaper to build it and put a retractable roof on PBS ? Dan Taleff, Cincinnati, OH

DAN: No question the way to go is the indoor facility. Not only would a retractable roof be cost prohibitive, but it would defeat the enormous architectural accomplishments of PBS. The view of downtown at one end and the river view at the other end, no matter the weather, is flat out spectacular.

A roof would destroy the signature feel of the place. But that's just one traditionalist's view. And there's that daunting cost.

Hey Geoff, I hope you and yours are healthy and always walking in the sunlight. Do you know if fans will be able to attend training camp and get autographs this year? Also, when will season tic holders be allowed to vote on the ROH? Brad Barnes, Hales Corners, WI

BRAD: Thank you and the same to you and yours.

Given that the NFL has dropped its COVID protocols in team facilities and the media is back in the locker room, those are encouraging signs for a back-to-normal training camp complete with autographs, but there has been no announcement yet.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn said this week they're preparing for a second Ring of Honor class this season. All indications are season ticket holders again are going to be involved in the selection. Nothing has been announced but last year is a good road map, when voting went from May 24-June 18.

Bengals policy targetting team leaders and players associated with a strong football pedigree is shining through. Has that extended to players with full beards? el C, Cappa, Karras & HH. Is Coach Taylor considering a beard? Aussie Bengal Steve Vuletas, Sydney, Australia

STEVE: Didn't even notice, but that's a great call. I don't think I've ever seen Zac with even a 5 o'clock shadow. Maybe a quarter of three, but, let's face it (pun intended) the guy should have been NFL Coach of the Year. He can go with any style he wants. And I for one am hoping he brings back the flannel.

Hi Geoff, Now I know that besides being a great name for your mailbag, "Hobson's Choice" essentially means a choice of take it or leave it. With the slower news season, how did you get your nickname "Butch" - from the Red Sox player? Peter Neefus, Virginia Beach, VA

PETER: Good to hear from you again and you are correct, sir.

Clell LaVerne Hobson, Jr., thankfully got the nickname "Butch," from his grandmother when he was little. An Alabama native, Butch was a backup quarterback for Bear Bryant in Tuscaloosa in the early '70s, 20 years after his dad quarterbacked the Crimson Tide.

When Butch was replacing Rico Petrocelli at third base for the Red Sox in the mid-70s, I was in high school on the outskirts of Boston, so it was a natural. But people didn't really hit me with the nickname until I went to Syracuse. One of my college buddies actually called me, "Clell."

It kind of died when he left the Sox in the early '80s. I covered a few Yankees games for the Binghamton, N.Y., newspapers when he was there and when I introduced myself to pitcher Rudy May he asked me, "Are you a kin to Butch?" No, Rudy. A few accents away.

But "Butch," became a staple when I came to Cincinnati. I was at the old Cincinnati Post covering the Bengals in 1991 when he became the manager of the Red Sox, and it would have been negligent if a boisterous sports office didn't call a guy with my accent who loved the Bosox "Butch." Todd Jones, Bill Koch and current Bengals PR director P.J. Combs didn't miss the opportunity. When I covered the Reds in 1993 and the legendary Hal McCoy used it and players such as Chris Sabo, Tom Browning, Tim Belcher and Joe Oliver followed suit, I've proudly answered to it ever since.

Why not? Butch had his best years in Boston and I've had mine in Cincinnati.

(The captains from Moeller, Barry Larkin and Sam Hubbard, have stuck with "Hobs.")