Bengals Hope Athletic Draft Class Gets (Super) Results Quickly
By Jason Henry
It is often said that teams can’t win the Super Bowl on draft day, but the Bengals took a giant leap forward toward making it there this past week.
Cincinnati’s largest need heading into the NFL Draft was at safety. They took former Georgia standout Shawn Williams in the third round, and his selection isn’t what made draft news for the Bengals.
The Bengals selected former Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert in the first round to give QB Andy Dalton another receiving threat and to boost a sometimes-lackluster offense. Cincinnati didn’t have a need at tight end as it employs the services of Pro Bowl TE Jermaine Gresham. But Gresham’s deal is up after the 2014 season and the team is notorious for keeping its checkbooks close to the vest.
So while Dalton, Gresham and WR A.J. Green are smiling from ear to ear at the addition of Eifert, there were others who were added to push the Bengals closer to a Super Bowl berth.
Here is a brief breakdown for all 10 of the Bengals draft picks:
TE Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (1st round, 21st pick)
Sometimes, the NFL is all about matchups. It seems that the Bengals chose Eifert because he was the best player available and could turn into a nightmare for opposing defenses. To take a page out of the New England Patriots’ book and their dynamic tight end duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, the Bengals – and the rest of the league – have noticed how effective the Patriots have their tight ends as primary receivers.
Pairing Gresham and Eifert together should open up more opportunities for Green and soften the middle of the field for Dalton and the running game.
RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (2nd round, 5th pick)
We’ve all heard that the Bengals took maybe the fourth or fifth best running back on the board with Bernard, but he has breakaway speed and amazing big play ability. With their first two picks, the Bengals trended toward adding more explosiveness to their offense. Bernard will add another dimension out of the backfield, one the team hopes can stretch the field like Chris Perry did in 2005.
Adding Eifert and Bernard will allow the Bengals to be more versatile offensively, something that will give them a better chance to convert on third down more often and potentially stop them from facing so many poor down-and-distance situations in the first place.
DE Margus Hunt, SMU (2nd round, 21st pick)
Picking Hunt was essentially playing with house money. They received a second-round pick when they traded away former QB Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders in 2012. So Hunt’s selection didn’t necessarily address a need for the Bengals, but it did add another layer to an already healthy defensive line.
The Bengals will not see an immediate return on Hunt as he’s still raw and will need a couple of seasons to fully develop. However, “The Eastern Bloc” is a great athlete with the potential to become a dangerous edge rusher. In the meantime, he should be a special-teams standout from the start: Hunt blocked an NCAA-record 17 kicks.
S Shawn Williams, Georgia (3rd round, 22nd pick)
The Bengals were in need of a safety heading into this draft, so it is a little surprising that they chose to wait until the third round to pick one. The first three players are all good athletes and wonderful additions to the team, but there were other safeties available when the Bengals sent their first two picks to the podium.
Williams wasn’t exactly a ball hawk (four interceptions in his college career), his hands are a little small for a safety and he will probably get pushed around in coverage by bigger tight ends. But even with those deficiencies, adding Williams is better than not taking a safety at all. While he may lack in coverage skills, he may have enough athletic ability to make up for it.
OLB Sean Porter, Texas A&M (4th round, 21st pick)
Porter will play behind the Bengals core group of linebackers that include Rey Maualuga and the newly-acquired James Harrison. He’ll need a little time to develop but is a pretty good pass rusher who can contribute immediately with his ability to blitz.
Porter will need to get better in coverage, but he’ll have to do that in a reserve role.
OT Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas (5th round, 23rd pick)
The Bengals re-signed tackle Andre Smith on Friday, so they will have their full offensive line from 2012 back this season. Adding Hawkinson gives the Bengals depth at the position and allows Hawkinson the needed time to get better at pass protection.
He’s a 300-pound wide-ranging tackle with great reaction time. He’ll need to improve his footwork and get stronger, but the Bengals should have a nice reserve tackle to call upon if needed with Hawkinson.
RB Rex Burkhead, Nebraska (6th round, 22nd pick)
Burkhead may not end up making the team as just an average running back with more toughness than ability. However, he is only one season removed from a 17-touchdown campaign and showed an ability to score in the red zone in 2011, so perhaps the Bengals are eyeing the eventual successor to BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Burkhead.
He’s not that great in pass protection and had trouble staying on the field in 2012. Special teams will be his likely starting point as new running backs coach Hue Jackson attempts to mazimize his ability.
WR Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas (6th round, 29th pick)
For the explosive talent that the Bengals have on their roster through smart drafting in recent years, Hamilton represents the type of player who can gain the tough, grind-it-out yards that the Bengals will need to keep a drive alive.
He’s a big receiver, standing 6’1” weighing just over 210 pounds. Hamilton isn’t the fastest guy (4.56-40), but his ability to catch tough passes over the middle and use his frame to drag defenders for an extra yard or two will be gold for the Bengals against teams like the Ravens and Steelers.
OT Reid Fragel, Ohio State (7th round, 34th pick)
Fragel is a former tight end who moved to tackle last season, so there is still a lot for him to learn. He needs improvement with his footwork and ability to recognize his blocking assignments.
He’s a project, along with some of the other Bengals draft picks, but he has tremendous upside if the Bengals are patient enough to walk with him through his development. At the very least, he’ll have a tremendous teacher in offensive line coach Paul Alexander.
C T.J. Johnson, South Carolina (7th round, 45th pick)
Johnson is a durable interior lineman that plays with the intelligence of an NFL veteran, but he tends to play with a pad level and struggles with sealing off the edge. Johnson does address a position of need, however, as three players struggled to maintain the pivot last season.