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Somewhere around 10:30 pm on Thursday night, Roger Goodell will step up to the podium and announce the 21st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. This used to be—and maybe still is—a nervous, unsettling moment. For years, the Bengals and owner/de facto GM Mike Brown seemed to find the most agonizing/cursed picks possible. The names read like a horror movie script for Bengals fans. Ki-Jana Carter. Akili Smith. Peter Warrick. Chris Perry. (Ed’s note: AHHHH!!!)
But in recent years, Brown’s luck has turned around, particularly in the first round. Since the unlucky selection of David Pollack in 2005, the Bengals have not completely whiffed on a first round pick. (That may sound backhanded, but I swear it came from a good place.) There have been three Pro Bowlers (Johnathan Joseph, Jermaine Gresham, and A.J. Green), two solid, above-average starters (Leon Hall, Andre Smith) and a to-be-determined cornerback in Dre Kirkpatrick. The only real dud was picking Keith Rivers ninth overall in 2008, though that misfire can probably be blamed more on Hines Ward than Rivers.
It seems strange to say, but Brown and his staff has been a fairly good talent evaluator in the first round, leaving the Bengals with a rare luxury: being able to choose the best player available (BPA).
I’ve always championed the philosophy of choosing the BPA in the first round. Drafting for need leads teams to filling positions with less talented players instead of finding a way to incorporate the more talented player on the roster. Super Bowl winning teams are not built overnight. (Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles.) They are built through sound drafting with a first-round emphasis that always prioritizes value over need.
So I wanted to take a look at the ideal (within reason, of course) scenario for the Bengals in each round of the 2013 NFL Draft. (One other note before beginning: this will not reflect any possible trades, but I do not think that the Bengals will be, or should be, active in talks to trade up. If they are blown away by an offer to trade down a few spots, they should consider it. But as it stands now, the Bengals are in a great position to add some quality talent.)
ROUND 1, PICK NO. 21—TYLER EIFERT, TE, NOTRE DAME
The NFL has become so reliant on the tight end position that I don’t view it as crazy to add to a position of relative strength for the Bengals. Bookending Gresham with Eifert, and not to mention Green, should make the Bengals lethal in the red zone immediately. The first-round wide receivers in this class have me skittish—particularly Cordarrelle Patterson, who many experts have slotted to the Bengals in the first round. But as I said, I am all about value, and I’ve talked with more than one NFL Draft expert that told me Tyler Eifert is the best offensive skill player in the draft.
If Eifert is unavailable, however, then the Bengals should grab the next best player regardless of position. Maybe that’s someone like Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, or Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree.
ROUND 2, PICK NO. 37—MENELIK WATSON, OT, FLORIDA ST.
I wrestled with whether or not it would be bending the rules of reality too much to have Alabama running back Eddie Lacy still available at this point. But while I realize that most talent evaluators have slotted him as a second-round talent, it is hard for me to believe that no team will draft a running back in the first round.
So with that in mind, the Bengals should go with Watson, a former basketball player with limited football experience that could be groomed over a few years to eventually replace Andrew Whitworth at left tackle. (Not to mention how much fun it would be to have an offensive lineman with a British accent.) And if Andre Smith does not end up resigning, though I suspect he will, offensive tackle suddenly becomes a need.
If Watson is off the board, I wouldn’t mind seeing the team take an edge pass rusher who slipped. Maybe someone like Datone Jones or Margus Hunt. (Opposing offenses would shudder if Mike Zimmer were able to help Hunt realize his enormous potential.)
ROUND 2, PICK NO. 53—MATT ELAM, S, FLORIDA
After Vaccaro, there does not seem to be a consensus among NFL experts about which safety should go next. Some have FIU’s Johnathan Cyprien over Elam; others have LSU’s Eric Reid and South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger in the mix as well. But I think this is the spot where the Bengals can grab their safety. One of the aforementioned names will be available at this point, and I’m not sure that anyone other than Vaccaro warrants a top-40 pick. So if I’m the Bengals, I’m content to wait until it’s my turn and choose from who is available.
ROUND 3, PICK NO. 84—JAMIE COLLINS, OLB, SOUTHERN MISS
Whether or not this pick is an outside or inside linebacker depends on how the team plans to use Burfict going forward. James Harrison is not the long-term answer at outside linebacker, and ultimately I think the Bengals want to put Burfict in the middle. Adding a versatile linebacker like Collins, who has the size to play outside and inside, would be a great way for the team to inject more youth into the linebacking corps.
The Bengals could also go running back in this round and take a flyer on Marcus Lattimore or possibly a second-round faller like Christine Michael or Mike Gillislee.
Now for a quick word on the later rounds...
ROUND 4, PICK NO. 118—DA’RICK ROGERS, WR, TENNESSEE TECH
Arrested after a bar fight. Reportedly failed multiple drug tests while at Tennessee. Suspended from the team and decided to transfer. Very talented, reclamation project. Sounds like a Bengal to me.
ROUND 5, PICK NO. 156—DEVIN TAYLOR, DE, SOUTH CAROLINA
It’d be fun to have a 6-7 guy opposite 6-6 Carlos Dunlap. And he’s got the whole Jadeveon-Clowney-inferiority-complex (which I just made up) motivating him.
ROUND 6, PICKS 190, 196
KNILE DAVIS, RB, ARKANSAS and RYAN GRIFFIN, QB, TULANE
Davis ran a great 40-yard dash at the combine (sub 4.4) and he couldn’t have been on a more dysfunctional team at Arkansas. And Griffin could provide a little insurance in case new backup Josh Johnson can’t hack it.
ROUND 7, PICKS 227, 240, 251
JOSH JOHNSON, CB, PURDUE
Because of the awesome possibility of having a player with his full name on the back of a jersey.
DAMION SQUARE, DE, ALABAMA
Because I’m pretty sure an Alabama player can’t be that bad, right?
ERIC HERMAN, G, OHIO
Because GO BOBCATS!
Adam Flango is a video producer at CBSsports.com and likely to be an undrafted free agent after this weekend. But he will stay by the phone, just in case.