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NFL Draft Quick Hits: Bengals Rookie DTs Looking To Make Fast Impact On And Off Field; Jermaine Burton Catches Text From Joey B  

Texas A&M defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson (3) reacts after tackling Mississippi State quarterback Chris Parson during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Texas A&M defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson (3) reacts after tackling Mississippi State quarterback Chris Parson during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

It turned out to be an NFL Draft the Bengals used to KISS the AFC North with beefy and salty defensive linemen Kris Jenkins and McKinnley Jackson.

As in, Keep It Simple Stupid.

The Bengals didn't have to trade up in the second round with a 40-inch vertical to get one of the best defensive tackles in the draft in Michigan's Jenkins and lose a valuable pick in the process.

They didn't have to be gymnasts in the third round and backflip with a trade-down so they could make sure they got three instead of two potential starters in the first 120 picks, such as Texas A&M's Jackson.

And they didn't have to trade up in the fifth round to get a quality cornerback, which meant they had that 10th and last pick at No. 237 in the seventh round to make one of their best value selections of the day.

"They weren't guys that we felt like we reached on," said Bengals director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic. "We talked about the potential of (trading up in the second round), but it didn't work out in our favor. So we stayed put and ended up getting one of the guys we wanted."

That's how it appeared to go all day. It seemed to be the kind of rare, fortuitous draft where needs met grades for virtually all 10 picks. Each player they selected looked to be graded for that round or a round higher. So after 100 picks in the meat of the draft (Nos. 49-149), they walked out of it with five potential starters or regulars. Just pick the guy there that you had graded there or above.

Keep It Simple Stupid.

They didn't make a trade for the first time since 2020, but that didn't mean they didn't use their trade chart plenty while they fielded calls or put out feelers. But the computations just didn't spit out what was staring at them on the board.

So they stayed put and ended up with Jenkins at No. 49 and Jackson at No. 97, two known relentless run-stuffers who are officially joined at the hip for however long they're here. When they look back on this draft, it could very well be remembered as the McKinnley-Jenkins Act of 2024 because they bring as much attitude as aptitude to the middle of the defense.

It was a warning shot in a division the Bengals are trying to get back into the arms race. New Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith pounds the rock, Baltimore's Lamar Jackson runs it down your throat, and the Browns offensive line mashes all day.

With captain and nose tackle DJ Reader in Detroit, Jenkins and Jackson arrive looking to cultivate similar characteristics in a division they embrace. Of the ten guys, you have to figure those are the two that are going to get on the field soonest.

Jenkins: "That's the plan. We want to prove ourselves and earn our stripes, We'll be a rookie like everybody else. But we'll be dogs, for sure. We worked with each other at the combine. I'm excited to be in this division. I mean, this is the division."

Jenkins, the athletic three-technique and national champion captain, knows how to win. He talks about smelling the grass at the Rose Bowl and growing up on turf with his dad and uncle and their combined 292 NFL games. Andrew Johnson, who scouts Michigan for the Bengals, has now written up three straight first- or second-rounders from Ann Arbor.

Dax Hill. DJ Turner II. Now Jenkins, a guy you can see on what amounts to a billboard in the facility with an award basically named after his old coach, Jim Harbaugh. It's hanging in one of the stairwells. The "Enthusiasm Uknown to Mankind" poster.

"Kris has an aura about him," Johnson says. "He was a vocal leader of that team. Very athletic. High motor. Very tough, a violent run-stopper. His pass rush is ascending. He's an eventual three-down player for us who is still ascending. An outstanding person and leader who is NFL captain material.

"Michigan is a tough place to get in, a tough place to play, and a tough place to make it through and contribute. Never mind being a starter and captain. We've found the guys we've drafted out of there are far along in their football lives and come in ready to play."

Jackson: "I feel like (the AFC North) is a perfect fit for a guy like me. I'm tougher than most D-tackles in this draft class. I feel like I'm more dominant than most D-tackles in this draft class. It's not on me, it's in me. Doing more than expectations has always been my style. I'd rather have too much than not enough in anything in life."

Jackson, the 326-pound scheme-stuffing nose tackle and two-time captain, attracts ball carriers like he does coaches and teammates with the charisma of passion for the game. Christian Sarkisian, who scouts A&M for the Bengals, has had a handful of long conversations with Jackson, but he's also all over YouTube looking for other interviews his prospects conduct.

"Every interview he does, like at the SEC Media Day, he leaves you thinking he'd play for nothing. A throwback. He's got that old-school edge," Sarkisian says. "He's a real mature, grown man already. He plays the game with a level of physical effort you want the nose tackle position to play. He does the dirty work. He's a prideful dude. The respect his teammates and coaches have for him and the respect he has for the game, you see that when you go to College Station."

Jackson also senses the bond with Jenkins.

"We've been together during the process. He's the son of a legend," Jackson says. "I'm sure I can learn some things."

TIGHT QUARTERS: The Bengals hadn't drafted a tight end since position coach James Casey's first year in 2019 when they took Drew Sample. On Saturday night they were signing free agents for his room even though they took Iowa's Erick All in the fourth round and Arizona's Tanner McLachlan in the sixth round. Two more guys they didn't think would be there.

"(All) has every physical trait to be a starter in this league," says Sarkisian, who scouts Iowa and saw him for one year after he transferred from Michigan. "They were very impressed with how he came in with his work ethic and love of the game. Simply put, when he plays, it shows he loves it. He has the same traits as some of the big-name Iowa tight ends in the NFL."

Clearly he was there at No. 115 because the past two seasons crushed him with injuries. All is coming off an ACL tear after a herniated back disk wiped out much of 2022. He says he'll be ready for training camp, but even if he's not another drafted rookie is going to be out there in McLachlan.

"Good catch radius. I didn't see any drops on the season," Radicevic says of McLachlan. "He's got speed to separate on over routes One of the most impressive things is how explosive he is after the catch and ability to break through tackles. He'll be a good addition to the room. We had higher grades on him."

Even though All is from suburban Cincinnati and graduated from Fairfield High School, he didn't attend the local pro day of NFL prospects because he had gone to the scouting combine. But he got invited on his own and dropped by Paycor Stadium to visit Casey and the staff for the day. All was a captain at Michigan before he transferred to Iowa and we know how they feel about that.

Casey knows a tight end who played at Michigan and Iowa is coming in well-schooled in tight end play and is more well-rounded than most when it comes to blocking.

"I'm a big fan," Casey says. "Those are two notches on his belt that only make it more impressive. Two power programs. You know he's practicing 9-on-7 and blocking and not just running routes.

"Both guys are explosive. They can run. Good hands. Competitive pass catchers."

Casey is a big fan of McLachlan's, too. Like everyone else, he loves the story of his journey from his Canadian boyhood to Southern Utah to the past two seasons becoming Arizona's most prolific tight end since someone named Rob Gronkowski.

"He's a self-made guy. To do what he did to get drafted, he has to love football," says Casey, a self-made tight end himself who also had quite a journey to be a fifth-round pick for the 2009 Texans.

Casey can relate to both guys. He was also drafted by his hometown team and able to drive down the street to the facility for his rookie minicamp.

"I've been through some of the same things these guys have and I think that's going to help everyone," Casey says.

TEXAS LEGEND: Sarkisian also covers Texas Christian and at the beginning of the season he gave a starting grade to cornerback Josh Newton, just like he did for Jackson and All. And he didn't change them through the process. That means the guy is worthy of the first three rounds, so getting Newton in the fifth, Sarkisian believes, could be the best value pick of the value draft.

"Very versatile, high-floor corner. The kid played nearly 60 games with consistent production every year," Sarkisian says. "His instincts and eyes can line up in multiple places. They say he might not be the fastest guy on the team, but he'll find a way to beat the fastest guy on the team. He's a former receiver and that shows up at the catch point."

And he's not your average run-of the-mill captain. He drips with intangibles. After he transferred to TCU from his hometown of Louisiana-Monroe before the 2022 season, he became a part of TCU lore that first night of training camp when he delivered a memorable talk in front of his new teammates.

After enduring a winless season at Monroe, Newton wanted to let them know how grateful he was to get a shot at winning the big one and he wanted to remind them of the sacrifices they would have to make together. When TCU made it to the national title game that year with Newton paying off the charts and sniffing the early rounds, he opted to come back to try and get back.

"The kind of guy you want," Sarkisian says.

JOEY B HITS BURTON: Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton got the text at some point after the Bengals made him the 80th pick:

"It's Joey B. Whenever you're around, hit me up and we'll get some work."

Burton, going back to work some more with former Bengals Pro Bowler T.J. Houshmandzadeh in California, also can't wait to hook up with receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.

"I just like to play football and try to win," Burton says. "Unbelievable. I can't wait to build a relationship and learn from them."

Rest assured that Burrow knew before the draft that Burton wrecked the SEC during 50 games he averaged 18 yards per catch for Georgia and Alabama.

"We all were aware of him. A top, top player," says offensive coordinator Dan Pitcher. "We think he has ability to impact us right away. We'll coach him hard and try to put him in spots to let him go do what he naturally is able to do and that's play receiver at a high level. Joe has been looped into the process the whole way. His opinion was sought out on a number of different things."

Wide receivers coach Troy Walters was on the floor working with the receivers at Lucas Oil Stadium during the combine and got a dose of Burton's many skills and concluded "he's a first-round talent." He has no problem working with a guy who is known to be an emotional player.

"Explosive. Good hands. Someone you want to develop and work with," Walters says. "He'll be fine. He loves football. He's passionate. He cares about it. That's what you want as a coach. He's competitive. He has to channel it the right way. We've got the locker room that will help him reach his goals."

SLANTS AND SCREENS: The Bengals' version of Mr. Irrelevant, Miami center Matt Lee, their last pick at No. 237 of the seventh round, is getting rave reviews in and outside the building. With backup center Max Scharping still a free agent and Trey Hill looking to get a foothold in his fourth season, there's a roster spot to be had. And the fact they drafted Lee and all the other late-rounders, that means they believe he has a path to make the team.

He already is like starter Ted Karras in one area.

"Very similar personality to Ted. Outgoing. He's got the personality and demeanor you want in a center," Radicevic says. "As a player, athletic a really good technician as a pass protector. Good hands. He can re-direct. Scrappy in the run game. Really good get in the seventh." …

Jenkins' father, Kris Jenkins, was a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle during the first decade of the century. But the son models his game more after his uncle, the 6-2, 305-pound Cullen Jenkins who played 13 seasons.

"My dad, he was a 6-5, 330-pound maniac wreaking absolute havoc," Junior says. "I'm more like my uncle. Similar body. I talk to him and study him." …