Even before they draft a franchise mover and shaker in Thursday night's first round (pick one of LSU wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell), Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and his staff have already re-shaped the roster in their image.
Heading into the week of Taylor's third draft, more than 75 percent of the players have arrived since he got the job and barring a trade out of the fifth spot they'll add a top 11 pick to the offense's Opening Day starting lineup for the third straight year.
Taylor's looming starting 22 consists of 14 players acquired through free agency or the draft since 2019.
"It's exciting to go into year three with players you have a high comfort level with," said Taylor in Monday's pre-draft news conference via Zoom.
"There has always been an urgency from day one to add great players and to have success on the field immediately and that's our plan this year. We feel really good about where our roster is at. The character of the guys. The talent level of the guys."
There is, however, no urgency to tip their hand on which blue chip player they are assumed to be mulling at No. 5. And, really, no reason to be because they'd be delighted to walk out of a reduced draft with any of those thought to be three players, deemed to be the best position players on the board.
The draft pool is smaller this year because many prospects chose to go back to school after dealing with the pandemic. But Chase, Sewell and Pitts look like they'd be top five picks any year.
Which maybe is why there is no noise about the Bengals trading the fifth pick. Taylor and Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin keep talking about getting a premier player. That seems to be a list that begins and ends with Chase, Pitts and Sewell, if the dratnicks are correct.
"We feel like we're going to get a premier player that can really come in and help us immediately," Taylor said.
The Falcons, at No. 4 could spoil the block party on Fountain Square featuring Team Chase and Team Sewell, the names for the factions appearing on Bengaldom's Twitter feed. The team picking ahead of the Bengals has offered no clue on who they're taking, but with the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers apparently committed to quarterbacks at Nos. 1, 2 and 3, respectively, the Bengals look to be guaranteed a choice of at least two of the three.
With Team Sewell calling for the protection of quarterback Joe Burrow, Taylor said not picking an offensive lineman at the top of the draft doesn't mean they're not surrounding their future with elite talent.
"We're going to help our team win with whoever we take and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I'm thankful that I don't have to answer to everyone's opinion because I'd be here all day," Taylor said. "Because everyone's got one and its fun and there's nothing wrong with that, but we feel like we're going to make a really great addition to our team on Thursday night."
Certainly Team Chase also has a persuasive argument when it points to the devastation he and Burrow wrought during LSU's march to the 2019 national title that featured 20 touchdown connections.
Taylor said that on-field relationship has to be discussed, but not take precedence.
"It's one of the things that you weigh in. Certainly we take in a lot of factors. You know, their production on the field, their character, their football IQ," Taylor said. "Just what they bring to our locker room and what they bring to our team as a whole. Relationship with the quarterback certainly doesn't hurt. That's just one of the many things we bring in.
"It's not a negative, that's for sure. You get a chance to see at LSU in particular, they've had a lot of players come out the last two years. Some of them didn't play this year, some of them did. You get a chance to see an offense that is very similar to a lot of pro systems so there's not a lot of guess work in terms of how they're going to translate."
But Taylor indicted that while a skill player like Chase may be able to slide seamlessly into a new offense, few linemen are going to be eliminated because of scheme.
"There's certainly a balance there. There's guys that maybe don't fit entirely what you want to do, I wouldn't say there's a big bag of those guys," Taylor said. "There's not many of them, but some guys for one reason or another might be a great player on another team but doesn't necessarily fit how we want to play. I wouldn't say there's a big range of those guys."
Don't use a pro day map to make a guess, either. While Chase was tearing up Baton Rouge on March 31, Taylor was watching Pitts re-invent the tight end position in Gainesville. Taylor also accompanied Tobin to watch Sewell work at Oregon earlier this month. But you can bet Taylor has seen that Chase workout plenty while Zooming interviews with him.
"It's a chance to get eyes on the guy that you haven't seen in a long time," Taylor said of the campus workouts. "You obviously get Zoom calls and video of all the pro days and all that stuff.
"It's all information that you're going to get, but hey I got the day so I'm going to go out there and spend it, see the guys with my own two eyes and visit with the coaches and people around the facility. It's the same thing the scouts have done over and over, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to get that last little bit of information and talk in person with some people."
Even though the ability to put together a draft board has been inhibited by scouts unable to attend practices on campus last season, the NFL cancelling the scouting combine and access at pro days reduced, Taylor says January's trip to Senior Bowl practices won't overshadow other elements of the process. But it is the only place where club personnel got 15 minutes of face time with prospects.
"It's just another tool," Taylor said. "Sometimes you get a chance to see in person how they practice and interact with the coaches. How they break the huddle. How many guys get corrected from one play to the next cause you can watch the coaches and see their interaction with those guys but you don't hold it against somebody if they don't have that tape available. It's just another resource for us."
The biggest challenges for Taylor seem to be evaluating the players that chose to opt out of their last season before going into the draft and getting complete medical information in a year only 150 prospects were able to given physicals by NFL teams.
"There are 32 teams all in the same boat. There's nothing to complain about," Taylor said. "Guys opted out for a variety of reasons. As you hear all their stories one by one, in some instances you can't fault a guy for the information they had at the time. They did it. They felt like that was the best decision for them. A lot of guys will probably be high picks that decided not to play last year."