As the NFL Draft rapidly approaches, our series of mock drafts continues, with an in-depth look at the AFC North’s Cincinnati Bengals. The team surpassed expectations in 2011, by improving its 4-12 record of 2010 by five games, and qualifying for the playoffs. While their foray into the postseason provided the team and its fan base with legitimate reason for optimism in 2012, there were unmistakable signs that further progress must be made before the Bengals can compete with the AFC’s heavyweights. Their 9-7 record was only third best in their own division, and a full three games behind both the Ravens and Steelers. And, a 31-10 loss to Houston in the Wild Card Round, exposed several weaknesses that must be addressed. Additional firepower is needed on offense, which ranked just 20th overall last year in yardage (319.9 YPG), and 18th in scoring (21.5 PPG). Particularly at WR, where Andy Dalton needs another legitimate target to complement A.J. Green, who attained Pro Bowl status in his rookie year. A further talent infusion at RB, and within the interior line, would also bolster last year’s 19th ranked rushing attack. The defense finished seventh overall, permitting just 316.2 YPG, and collecting a whopping 45 sacks. However, the team is in serious need of an upgrade at CB. The Bengals are one of only 10 NFL teams to reach the postseason in two of the last three seasons. As a result, simply qualifying for the playoffs will not signify progress this year.
1st Round (1.17): Stephon Gilmore (CB) – South Carolina
OG David DeCastro could also be the choice here, but it is increasingly doubtful that he will be available in the draft at #17. Which is fine, because the Bengals desperately need to improve the corner slot opposite Leon Hall, and Gilmore would be a superior option to incumbents Nate Clements, Adam Jones, Jason Allen, and newly signed Terence Newman. Gilmore possesses the size and speed that will enable the team to matchup better with dangerous wideouts. The need to focus upon this position is amplified, since Hall is currently less than 100% after returning from an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the team’s final seven games. Plus, Newman, Clements, and Jones are all in the final year of their contracts.
1st Round (1.21): Kendall Wright (WR) – Baylor
Wright will supply Dalton with a much needed option beyond Green, as the highly productive four year starter caught a pass during every game of his collegiate career, and earned All-American honors as a senior. He possesses good hands, and has displayed the ability to accelerate rapidly, before torching defenders. He will provide the Bengals with an explosive vertical weapon, as they continue to assemble excellent young talent in their passing attack.
2nd Round (2.21): David Wilson (RB) – Virginia Tech
Cincinnati is not finished addressing their running game with the signing of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, nor should they be. The former Patriot averaged 127 carries in four seasons, including the 181 that he garnered last season, giving the team no evidence that that he can handle an extensive workload similar to Cedric Benson, who averaged 277 attempts during his tenure in Bengal stripes. However, the durable Wilson collected 312 touches last year, and has the speed, vision, and determination, to succeed in a time share with Green-Ellis.
3rd Round (3.20): Brandon Washington (OG) – Miami
The Bengals should not wait any longer to supplement their offensive line, and Washington’s size (6’ 4’, 320 pounds) and strength will be too enticing to ignore. Although he is leaving after his junior year, Washington was a two year starter for the Hurricanes, and performed well enough at guard. He was moved to LT as a senior, but was less ineffective. However, he should be athletic enough to handle responsibilities if he is utilized inside.
4th Round (4.21): George Iloka (S) – Boise State
After releasing Chris Crocker, Cincinnati is suddenly thin at this position, with only Reggie Nelson, Taylor Mays and Robert Sands currently on the roster. But not only will the 6’3” Iloka provide the team with sorely needed depth, but his size and speed will enable him to further upgrade the secondary. He is physical enough to make plays, plus he has the potential to matchup with opposing TEs.
5th Round (5.21): Trevor Guyton (DE) – California
The defensive line lost much needed depth when Jonathan Fanene (Patriots) and Frostee Rucker (Browns) both departed via free agency. And newly signed acquisitions Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey alone will not fully restore the unit to its desired talent level. But Guyton would enable the team to employ a deep rotation. He will likely be more effective against the run, although he manufactured seven sacks as a senior, and has the strength to pursue QBs.
5th Round (5.31): A.J. Jenkins, (WR) – Illinois
It will be wise to invest another selection on a WR, and Jenkins supplies the potential to succeed in the slot. He collected 146 passes, generated over 2,000 yards, and scored 15 TDs in his final two collegiate seasons. Plus, he has the size and speed to remain productive for the Bengals. While he may not last quite this long, he is the perfect complement to Cincinnati’s other WRs if he does.
5th Round (5.32): Miles Burris (OLB) – San Diego State
His versatility, combined with his non-stop motor, makes him an intriguing prospect. His selection would allow the Bengals to enhance their linebacking unit, while adding another pass rusher. Burris has a decent burst, and performs relentlessly, which should enable him to be an effective blitzer. His aggressive nature helped him lead the Mountain West in sacks, and tackles for losses. He is instinctive, and very coachable.
6th Round (6.21): Julian Miller (DE) – West Virginia
Cincinnati might decide to draft a second CB such as Keith Tandy with this selection, but his college teammate will allow the team to secure another edge rusher, and bolster the defensive line even further. Miller possesses a good motor. And at 6’4”, and 268 pounds, has the size and length to contribute. Miller has demonstrated that he is a hard worker, therefore it is realistic to believe that his skills will improve.