The Cincinnati Bengals have reached the playoffs the past three seasons, yet have nothing to show for it. It’s swell to win the division like they did in 2013 and get to post-season play, but eventually they’ll need to progress, or they’ll naturally regress. That’s the logical thinking, at least.
Andy Dalton might be part of the problem, but he’s also ironically currently why they’re as good as they are. For now, Cincy has to hope he keeps improving, while backing him up with an even better defense. That’s not too much to ask.
Let’s see how they can do that by taking a look at their biggest needs as they enter May’s NFL Draft:
Offensive needs: OL, QB, WR
Cincy brought in fresh talent in Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert last season, so the need for key players on offense is pretty minimal in 2014. However, the Bengals could use some real competition at center, as well as some depth across the rest of the offensive line. Don’t be too shocked if they spend an early pick on Colorado’s Weston Richburg, viewed by many as the draft’s top center.
Andy Dalton has gotten better in each season, while also leading the Bengals to the playoffs each year he’s been in the league, as well. However, he lacks elite arm strength and has never won a playoff game. At some point, the Bengals might have to realize he’s maxed out and can’t get them to the next level. This season could be a make or break year, which could prompt the Bengals to take a young signal caller in case The Red Rifle goes down in flames. It probably won’t happen before the third round, where the rising Tom Savage could still be available. In all likelihood, however, Cincy probably waits even longer and takes a project with a bigger arm like Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas.
Wide receiver is another need, as A.J. Green is elite and everyone else in Cincy is just meh. Marvin Jones displayed nice red-zone and play-making ability, but is still very raw and inconsistent. Mohamed Sanu also showed he can be a solid possession guy who can make plays with the ball in his hands, but both receivers have failed to truly separate from each other. With slot receiver Andrew Hawkins gone, Cincy may look to add more talent to the position. Don’t expect anything more than a middle round pick, though.
Defensive needs: DE, CB, LB, S
Michael Johnson is gone and Margus Hunt is a major question mark, so defensive end could be the direction Cincy goes early. It all depends on their comfort level with Hunt taking on a bigger role. Even if they like Hunt’s development, they’re likely to grab a defensive end within the first three rounds. If they like him with his hand in the dirt, they could grab the versatile Trent Murphy in round two, or even Trevor Reilly in round three.
Leon Hall just can’t stay healthy, while Pacman Jones and Terrance Newman are aging fast. The Bengals still have Dre Kirkpatrick, but suddenly could really use some fresh talent at corner. They could vie for a corner as early as round one, where they might consider Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby.
Linebacker is another problem area, as James Harrison didn’t really work out and will free up a spot. Ohio State product Ryan Shazier could be the ideal fit in the first round, providing solid size and freak athleticism on the outside.
Probably Cincy’s biggest need on defense, however, is at safety. They’ve had average play at both spots for years and need to make an effort to get better here. The Bengals brought Taylor Mays back, but they can do better. They could chase down Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor in round one, while reaching for the rising Jimmie Ward isn’t out of the question, either. They’ll need to grab one at some point, though, so if they don’t do it in round one, look for it to happen in rounds two or three.
*Photo credit – Navin75 via wiki commons.