The Cincinnati Bengals find themselves in an undesirable position in this year’s draft. The 2015 draft class is generally regarded as a weaker first round class, with only 15-20 true first round players. Cincinnati, sitting right at pick number 21, is just outside the cusp of top players. They may get lucky and have a top player fall to them, but the overall trend of draft buzz suggests otherwise.
It’s no secret that the Bengals are aiming for an offensive tackle with their first selection. There are many offensive tackles with late first round grades, so the team may want (and attempt) to trade back. They could still potentially get their guy—whoever that is—if they traded back to, say, pick no. 26 (Baltimore) or pick no. 27 (Dallas). Both of these teams may be trying to trade up ahead of pick no. 24 (Arizona) to take Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.
With a broad selection of players to choose from and that possibility of dropping back a few spots, the first round is very difficult to summarize in a few sentences. To help explain the situation that the Bengals are in, take a look at this chart:
The players in the gray rectangle are almost assuredly going to be off the board by the time the Bengals pick at no. 21. However, if any of them were to somehow fall (especially Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker, Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, or LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins), the Bengals would sprint to the podium to take them. Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat, the player most frequently picked for the Bengals in mock drafts, is a more recent addition to the gray zone. Peat is regarded as “the most NFL ready left tackle prospect,” and has even been linked to several teams in the top ten: the New York Jets, New York Giants, and St. Louis Rams.
The pink column is for players that don’t fit Cincinnati’s scheme or needs. The team probably isn’t looking for a cornerback, quarterback, running back, interior offensive lineman, or linebacker in the first round. They were originally in the market for an edge defender, but then they signed Michael Johnson. Now, with three players that could start at defensive end, and two early picks (Margus Hunt and Will Clarke) who coaches have stated they want to get on the field, it seems highly unlikely that the team uses their first rounder on an edge rusher. They might consider Bud Dupree if he fell, but he’s getting legitimate top ten buzz now. Shane Ray and Randy Gregory will probably fall to 21 due to their marijuana issues and small stature, but the Bengals are unlikely to risk their first pick on them. Lastly, Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead is listed in the pink column because he is a better fit for a 3-4 defense, not a 4-3. Plus, Armstead is the favorite to be picked by San Francisco at pick no. 15 anyway.
So let’s look at the ten most likely selections for the Bengals in the first round—the orange column. Half of the names on the list are offensive tackles: Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings, Florida’s D.J. Humphries, Oregon’s Jake Fisher, Miami’s Ereck Flowers, and Texas A&M’s Cedric Ogbuehi. The other half is made up of two wide receivers, two defensive tackles, and one safety: USC’s Nelson Agholor, Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham, Texas’ Malcom Brown, Florida State’s Eddie Goldman, and Alabama’s Landon Collins. Today, I’ll cover the non-offensive linemen; look for the OL breakdown tomorrow.
University of Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown (6’2, 319 pounds)
Strengths: Brown penetrates gaps very well and can often be found in the opponent’s backfield. He’s proficient at using his hands to disengage from blockers. He’s very quick and aggressive, moves well for a big man and has light feet. He’s versatile—Brown was used by the Longhorns at almost every position along the defensive front.
Weaknesses: His biggest issue is that he gets swallowed up by double teams. Brown can get washed away at the point of attack because he doesn’t anchor that well. He penetrates gaps so frequently that he’ll take himself out of position. He doesn’t have a counter move as a pass rusher, only seeking to win with quickness. Brown also gets turned by linemen and doesn’t stay square to the line of scrimmage.
Fit: Brown is a good disruptive player as a three-technique (this means he lines up in the gap between the guard and tackle), but would not be a good nose tackle. Brown is similar to Brandon Thompson in that both players penetrate too often and take themselves out of position. The Bengals already have their franchise three-technique defensive tackle in Geno Atkins, and their defensive ends can kick inside to the three-technique spot as well. They don’t need another one. The Bengals are more in need of a true nose tackle that can anchor against the double team and take some snaps away from Domata Peko.
Likelihood: Less than 5%. Brown just doesn’t fit what the Bengals need at the defensive tackle position. Brown is a good player who will go to a team in the late first round and become a disruptive defensive tackle.
Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman (6’4, 336 pounds)
Strengths: Goldman has impressive size and strength. He looks like a true nose tackle and anchors well, and his bullrush is very strong. He’s a stout run defender who uses his hands well to stack and shed. He has impressive lower strength and plays square to the line of scrimmage.
Weaknesses: Goldman’s biggest issue is his lack of consistent pass rush. He’s not a quick-twitch elite athlete, but just a big guy. When interior linemen can sit on his bull rush move, he doesn’t impact the game at all as a pass rusher. Goldman doesn’t penetrate gaps well and plays too tall.
Fit: Goldman fits what the Bengals need as a nose tackle, but he’s a limited player. He’s similar to Pat Sims in that he can anchor well and defend the run, but provide very little as a pass rusher and penetrator other than a bull rush.
Likelihood: Less than 2%. Goldman provides little value at pick 21; he could be taken at the very end of the first round or the early-to-middle second round. Goldman fits what the Bengals need better than Malcom Brown, but Goldman isn’t as talented or disruptive.
USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor (6’0, 198 pounds)
Strengths: Agholor is a great route runner and smooth athlete. He’s a coaches dream because he is a very hard worker, a student of the game, and is ready to play immediately. He has very natural hands and also provides value as a punt returner. He comes back to the football well. Agholor played in a pro-style offense and can line up anywhere on the field—he could be a great no. 2 receiver or slot receiver. He tracks the ball well and is dangerous after the catch.
Weaknesses: Although he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, his play speed doesn’t match it. He doesn’t consistently threaten cornerbacks deep down the field. Agholor is a little on the smaller side as well. It’s possible that his skills are maxed out and may not develop much further. His smaller frame could take punishing shots when crossing the middle, and his lack of long speed on tape may hurt him on the outside.
Fit: Agholor would fit the Bengals needs perfectly as a playmaking wide receiver that can contribute on special teams. He’s a dangerous punt returner and has returned kicks as well, making him an ideal candidate to replace Brandon Tate. Looking ahead to 2016, the Bengals are expected to choose between re-signing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Jones is the favorite to stay, so the Bengals would need to replace Sanu as a slot man, and Agholor fits the bill extremely well to replace Tate this year and Sanu in the future. He’s actually a little reminiscent of Chad Johnson. Both have smooth strides, precise routes, lanky bodies, and natural hands.
Likelihood: Less than 5%. The Bengals would need to trade down to take Agholor and get good value on him. His perceived value is similar to Goldman’s, very late first and early-to-middle second. However, the fact that Agholor fits the Bengals needs so perfectly means he is a legitimate possibility if the Bengals were to trade back.
University of Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (6’5, 237 pounds)
Strengths: Green-Beckham’s size is imposing. He’s a monster of a wide receiver that takes smooth long strides. He would immediately create nightmare mismatches the moment he steps on the field. He has a ridiculous catch radius and impressive body control. He’s a solid blocker due to his size and gets decent yards after the catch.
Weaknesses: Green-Beckham is the biggest boom-or-bust player in this draft (other than Jameis Winston). His off-the-field concerns are massive. He has been arrested twice for marijuana related incidents and was kicked off the team at Missouri for a domestic violence case where he allegedly pushed a female down a flight of stairs. On top of the character concerns, DGB is incredibly raw as a receiver and route runner. It’s easy to get enamored with Green-Beckham’s size and speed, but he’s fool’s gold. He only ran four types of routes at Missouri, and they were all sloppy and rounded. He struggles to separate from physical, technically sound cornerbacks and doesn’t have good play strength. He also doesn’t win as many jump balls as he should. He’s a project who comes with perhaps the most risk in the draft.
Fit: Green-Beckham would have a nice situation in Cincinnati where he doesn’t have to play right away and can learn behind veteran receivers. His height and size fit the Bengals passing offense well, because Andy Dalton tends to throw high (and there is statisical evidence to prove it). However, choosing DGB would cut against the grain of the Bengals recent organizational philosophy. Over the last four years, they have avoided taking players with character concerns in the draft.
Likelihood: Less than 5%. There are reports from a legitimate source that the Bengals are interested in Dorial Green-Beckham at pick no. 21, but it just doesn’t make sense due to the massive character issues. The team has made a strong stance against these types of players in recent years. Adding on the fact that Green-Beckham hasn’t played football in a year, and he was a very raw route-runner anyway, there’s too much risk involved to take him in the first round. The Bengals will let him pass to another team.
University of Alabama safety Landon Collins (6’0, 228 pounds)
Strengths: Collins is a thick, hard-hitting safety who plays as if he’s another linebacker. Collins is an excellent technical tackler and a force defending the run. He plays downhill and is often around the ball. He takes great angles to the ball and cuts the ballcarrier off. He is a very physical player who can stack up blockers and sift through trash to make the tackle. Also a good special teams player.
Weaknesses: Collins doesn’t have great range as a free safety due to his lack of top-end speed. He can be beaten over the top and doesn’t have great route recognition. He is not impressive in man coverage and shows a little bit of stiffness because he is so heavy. He also dropped some easy interceptions due to his bad hands.
Fit: Both of Cincinnati’s starting safeties are in the final year of their contract. The team will surely make a strong push to extend the young, rising George Iloka. They may let Reggie Nelson, in his thirties, walk in free agency after this season. Collins would fit in as the Bengals starting strong safety in 2016, replacing Nelson. Collins would be a weapon as a run defender, but he may get exposed when he rotates back to the deep end of the field. The Bengals ask their safeties to rotate more than most teams, but they may change this philosophy if they were to draft Collins at 21.
Likelihood: About 20%. The Bengals reportedly like Landon Collins and were “very high on him at the combine.” If the Bengals don’t take an offensive lineman in the first round, their pick will probably be Collins. He could challenge to start right away, and would certainly be starting in 2016. Collins also provides the best value when compared to the other four prospects in this article. He might even be off the board already—pick no. 20 to Philadelphia is a possible landing spot.