The Cincinnati Bengals compete in one of the NFL's toughest divisions, the AFC North. Battling the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and the improving Cleveland Browns requires skill, talent and most importantly, toughness. The Bengals looked to add a fresh shot of these characteristics by making good use of their allotment of 8 picks in last week's NFL Draft. Here's a quick recap and grade of how Cincinnati fared in the draft...
Darqueze Dennard has a bright future as a pro.
1st Round - Darqueze Dennard
The Bengals hit a home run with their first pick in selecting Michigan State Cornerback Darqueze Dennard 24th overall. Defense was a major strength for the team in 2013, and Dennard is a player that could become a key piece of many more viable defenses in cincy for years to come. Terrence Newman and Leon Hall are both still solid NFL starters, but Newman is about to turn 36 and Hall is coming off another serious injury. Dennard, the 2013 Thorpe award winner, figures to see plenty of action from the get-go, and could work his way into the starting lineup by year's end. Dennard is the complete package at corner. Fast, explosive, physical and with coverage skills to boot, the former Spartan should have a long, successful career in front of him. He was our personal favorite prospect at the corner position in this draft. Not only did the Bengals select an absolute stud who helps fill a need, they got excellent value from the pick at 24th overall.
Grade - A+
2nd Round - Jeremy Hill
We profiled Hill in the build-up to the draft, and in our opinion, he was easily capable of being the first back off the board. Washington's Bishop Sankey going first was a mild suprise, but once that happened, the floodgates opened for the rest of the 2014 draft's stable of runners, and Hill fell into the Bengals' lap at the 55th pick. Some local fans may have preferred Ohio State's Carlos Hyde who came off the board two picks after Hill, but not much separates the two powerful backs. Hill has all the tools and skills to succeed at the next level, and comes with less tred on the tires than Hyde, as he was often part of a committee approach at LSU. This shoud help enhance his transition to the next level as he shares snaps with talented 2nd year pro Giovani Bernard. Even if the Bengals elect to keep BenJarvus Green-Ellis on board, Hill's talent will still get him on the field for his share of reps. He runs hard with deceptive straight-line speed, and is not afraid to initiate contact with defenders at the point of attack, making him a nice complement to Bernard. There may not have been a pressing need here, but Hill was likely the top prospect on the team's board at 55.
3rd Round - Will Clarke
The former West Virginia Mountaineer enters the league with tremendous upside. Clarke lived in opponents' backfields during his senior season in Morgantown, racking up 6 sacks to go along with 17 tackles for loss. Should he find consistency as his responsibilities increase, Clarke could prove to be another great value selection for Cincinnati. He will be eased in as a rotational pass rusher at first, which should help his development as a rookie. He will be able to learn the tricks of the trade from the likes of Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry and Carlos Dunlap. There was a need for another pass rusher after the team saw Michael Johnson sign for Tampa Bay in free agency. Other teams may have had different prospects with better grades, but the Bengals clearly like Clarke, and he should have a chance to develop into a formidable rush end.
Round 4- Russell Bodine
The Bengals moved up in the 4th round to grab North Carolina's Russell Bodine. The former Tar Heel brings a toughness and attitude that the team likes to see from its offensive linemen. At just 21, he has plenty of room to continue to develop. This was a bold move by cincy, and once again, they addressed a need by bringing in a player whose tenacity jumps off the tape.
With 4 picks remaining, the Bengals cherry-picked players they felt could have a chance to make their mark on the team in some fashion. While they may not have found an alternative or possible successor to Andy Dalton, the team gets a winner in A.J. McCarron. They may have had their eye on Georgia's Aaron Murray, who was plucked by the Chiefs just before the Bengals went back on the clock.
They used their next pick on tackling machine Marquis Flowers out of Arizona, as the team looked to bring in more talent to its already capable defense. With a pair of seventh rounders to play with, Cincinnati selected LSU's James Wright and Georgia Southern's Lavelle Westbrooks. Wright is an athletic receiver who was simply buried on the depth chart behind players such as Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. who were both high picks in this year's draft. However, he excelled as a cover man on special teams, and was one of the Tigers' better perimeter blockers. Westbrooks is a versatile defensive back, having played both corner and Safety in college. Both of these players will look to make an impact on special teams.
Grades- McCarron (C+), Flowers (B), Wright (B-), Westbrooks (B-)
Overall Grade- B
The Cincinnati Bengals are hoping to get over the first round exit hump that has hindered them in their recent postseason forays. Like all NFL franchises, they have put their faith in the months of due-diligence and research by their personnel department. hoping their hard work comes to fruition and pays dividends. As this talented group of draftees prepares to embark on the Queen city, that hope is reciprocated by Bengals fans, eager to see their team take the next step towards getting back to the Super Bowl.