Mock drafts are a notoriously fickle business. I noted as much in my preamble to the second annual version of the 100CEUPA mock draft. Peter King noted as much in this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback column, where he, a man who has spent far more time covering the league than you or I have, predicted seven correct first round picks over the last two years. That’s a hair under 11 percent, and probably better than anyone else.
Last year, the laws that governed this annual exercise were steeped in a ruthless practicality that zapped this space of the whimsy upon which it was built. Those strict laws eliminated any spontaneity and hopefulness from the draft. It instead became an exercise in pragmatism, and thinking pragmatically tends to yield uninteresting, if not disappointing, results. Allow me to illustrate this with a story from my youth…
Growing up on the mean streets of Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, my summer mornings were spent shooting hoops in the driveway. I grew up with three sisters that had little to no interest in playing sports and no brothers, so I was left to my own devices to create a worthy adversary. Of course, I would pretend to be Michael Jordan. My opponents tended to be one of two teams: the Charles Barkley-led Phoenix Suns or the Stockton-Malone Jazz teams of the mid-1990s. One day, MJ, played by myself, and Sir Charles (also played by myself), were in a hotly contested battle, until MJ, the good guy, sank a baseline jumper with just a fraction of a second remaining. But in my effort to adhere to the rules of basketball/my own imaginary game clock, Barkley had to inbound the ball and attempt a final shot. So Charles Barkley inbounded the ball to Charles Barkley, who dismissively slung the ball over his shoulder as the imaginary buzzer rang. MJ was supposed to then take his victory lap, as he always did.
Except, Barkley’s shot went in. I lost an imaginary game of basketball to myself. This is basically what happens when keeping it real goes wrong.
So this year, I’ve decided to live by the same principles that led me correctly predict the Bengals selection of Tyler Eifert, known to 96 percent of Cincinnati’s female clientele at the city’s Podrick Payne. Last year, instead of embracing my love of Tyler Lockett and slotting him to the Bengals in the third round, I decided to eschew my heart’s desire in favor of sensibly selecting Tre McBride in the third round. Now Lockett was not available when the Bengals picked (something I did point out as a reason for not putting him in that slot) but screw pragmatism and logic. We live in a land built on dreams, and today, we embrace those dreams for the pursuit of mock draft glory.
Now this doesn’t mean we’ll tumble from stark reality to absurdist comedy this year. I won’t have the Bengals waiting six rounds and drafting Jalen Ramsey or something. It’s not complete anarchy here, people. This year, though, we’re listening to our hearts more than our minds.
Round 1—24th overall
Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
The sheer volume of NFL draft coverage swirling around the media landscape is overwhelming and creates this strange effect. It is impossible to establish an opinion that has not in some way already been duplicated or contradicted by others. Add to that the fact that qualifiers are slapped on to every evaluation in attempts to show that an evaluation was correct on some level. This guy was a great college player, quick-twitch athlete with a high motor. He could be a great pro, but I worry about his knee-bend and he has to be in the right situation. Cover-your-ass evaluations are commonplace and annoying.
Lee is a player that is regarded as either one of the 15 best prospects in the draft, or a player whose 40 time artificially inflated his value. I suppose the smart money would be to place him somewhere in between. In reality, I’ve never talked to Lee and I’ve watched mayyybe 10 Ohio State games over the past few seasons. I saw him make bunches of tackles, which is typically a good sign in football. I know Ohio State produced a player with similar measurables in Ryan Shazier, and he’s been pretty good. I have no clue if Lee is going to be particularly good in the NFL. Seems like he has a shot though. But this is less about Lee and more about the Bengals strategy with this pick.
Most have the Bengals selecting one of the top receivers in the draft: Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, and Will Fuller. I understand the instinct to jump on the need position with Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones departing in the offseason, but over the last few years, the Bengals have stopped drafting for immediate need in the first round. This is a positive thing, Bengals fans. In most cases, good teams do not draft for an immediate need in the first round. Instead, they look ahead to where the roster could stand to be upgraded in a year or two. When Tyler Eifert was drafted, Jermaine Gresham was still the starter. When Darqueze Dennard was drafted, cornerback was hardly a position of need. Same with offensive tackle last year, yet the team drafted Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first two rounds. Those two made a combined one start last year. The first round is about taking the most talented player available at a position that will eventually need some new blood. If the Bengals think one of the above wide receivers is the most talented player available, then go for it. But don’t just draft the guy out of need, especially when there are other wide receiver options I believe in that can be found in the later rounds.
Other players considered: if only I hadn’t besmirched the cover-your-ass evaluations above, then I could totally make myself seem smart by listing a half dozen players here. Alas.
Round 2—55th overall
Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Rest easy, Bengals fans. Here’s your wide receiver. He’s not big (5-10, 194) but that’s basically the same size as Corey Coleman, the player most mocks have the Bengals taking in round one. Quarterback Baker Mayfield made Oklahoma a fun team to watch, but each time I turned one of their games, Shepard blew me away. He never seemed to drop a pass (which is backed up by the fact that he dropped four passes over his last three seasons). He’s quick and strong. I knew his late father played in the NFL, but I wanted to learn more about him, so I did some digging and found an article from his senior year in high school. In it, I learned the following things:
- He went to the same high school as Barry Sanders’s son, who was the star recruit from their team
- He dropped 360 dunks on fools for kicks, then shrugged it off
- He once helped a classmate that was having a seizure…and didn’t even bother to tell his mother about it
I’m all in. Sterling Shepard is the hero you need, Cincinnati. He’s been overshadowed since high school, including during the evaluation process leading up to this draft, giving him that all-important chip on his shoulder. He’s clearly a gifted athlete. And when I was in high school, I’d have on idea what to do if a classmate was having a seizure. But on the off chance I accidentally helped, I would be telling that story to every person I walked by. It didn’t even register for Sterling Shepard, the greatest of human beings.
Round 3—87th overall
Sean Davis, S, Maryland
Davis played safety and cornerback in college and the Bengals could use some depth in the secondary, particularly because the secondary is a bit unstable with the exits of Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall. Davis is one of several defensive backs that the Bengals brought in for a visit, and that tends to be a decent indicator of who the team might draft. (Recent mid-round draft picks that visited with the team beforehand include Gio Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Jake Fisher, and Paul Dawson.)
More importantly than all of that is that Davis has my favorite scouting note of this year. Typically, these are just silly, useless pieces of trivia or strange-bordering-on disturbing characterizations. Things like, “Enjoys yo-yos” or sometimes even creepy shit like, “Big time, vertical daddy,” the latter of which is the first line in Will Fuller’s strengths category on NFL.com. Here is Davis’s line: “David speaks English, French, Chinese … and the language of pain.” FOH with these descriptions. That being said, the comedy of Davis speaking to Vontaze Burfict or Adam Jones in Chinese would be amazing.
Round 4—122nd overall
Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State
Another player the Bengals brought in for a visit, Washington could fill the Domata Peko role once his contract is up. Now sure, he reportedly asked an undercover officer posing as a prostitute for change while soliciting sex, but at least he was trying to watch his spending? Nope, still stupid and immature no matter what way you look at it. But the Bengals have vetted him, so they know what they are getting. This spot could also be used on a pass-rushing specialist.
Round 5—161st overall
Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan
At 5-10, 177 pounds, Braverman is similar in size to the greatest human being alive, Sterling Shepard, but gets lumped into the shifty slot receiver bubble more than Shepard does. It’s not innacurate though. Braverman is less of a downfield threat, in part because of the difference in vertical leaps (Braverman’s: 28.5 inches, Shepard’s: 41 inches). Sure, he played in the MAC (which also produced multiple Cincinnati Magazine staffers, we’ll have you know), but he stepped up against the big schools. In four games against Purdue, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, and Ohio State over the last two years, Braverman had 41 catches for 462 yards and a touchdown. Also, in high school, his favorite show was Spongebob Squarepants. So there’s that.
Round 6—199th overall
David Onyemata DT, University of Manitoba
Round 7—245th overall
Stephane Nembot, OT, Colorado
The Bengals have drafted at least one offensive lineman in every draft since 2000. Nembot plays offensive line, so that sure seems like a fit. Also, he speaks French too, and I want Sean Davis to have someone on the team to talk to over a plate of croque-monsieurs and pain au chocolat.