Cinicinnati experienced success in the earlier part of last decade, appearing in the playoffs in six of seven years from 2009 to 2015. They have not had a winning season since and hit bottom at 2-14 last year. Poor drafts in recent years have contributed to this and the Bengals have long had a reputation for being cheap – this may be changing with free-agent signings they’ve made the last few weeks.
At this point, the Bengals have each of their draft picks – a total of seven.
I list the needs below, including major, for depth, and areas they are unlikely to look at. I may add categories for a particular situation.
Major Needs (No Particular Order):
Quarterback: Unless something drastic happens, the Bengals will select LSU’s Joe Burrow with the first pick of the draft. He will replace Andy Dalton no later than 2021’s first game and Dalton could be gone by opening day in September. Dalton has had a solid career, but his time with the Bengals is coming to a close. Ryan Finley was a fourth round pick last year and started three games.
Offensive Line: This unit has never recovered from the losses of both Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler after the 2016 season and help is needed. Last year’s first-round pick, Jonah Williams, missed the season with a shoulder injury and is penciled in as the starting left tackle, where four players started. Trey Hopkins returns at center, grading out as their best lineman, according to Pro Football Focus. Right tackle needs major improvement, as Bobby Hart is the incumbent and Giant fans remember how bad he was with them. He will be challenged this year by second-year man Fred Johnson, who started one game at left tackle and possibly a rookie. At guard, 2018 #1 pick Billy Price and last year’s fourth rounder, Michael Jordan, started some games, as Jordan ended the season with strong performances. Xavier Sua’Filo signed in free agency from Dallas and has a good chance to start. Last year’s starter, John Miller, moved on in free agency. Expect at least one pick at either right tackle or guard, maybe both.
Wide Receiver: This is a position that has a good chance of being addressed in the second or third round. AJ Green missed last year with an injury, will be 32 on opening day, and has the franchise tag on him this year. 2017 first-round pick John Ross has tremendous speed, but has disappointed, facing a put-up-or-shut-up year. Tyler Boyd has 166 receptions for just over 2,000 yards the last two years, including 90 receptions and 1,046 yards last year. Auden Tate was solid in his second season. Alex Erickson has backed up and been a main return man. Michael Thomas was signed after playing with the Rams for five years. Others on the roster were rookie free agents.
Linebacker: This is another area that can use an upgrade. The Bengals run a 4-3, but there are less than three on the field much of the time. Nick Vigil was productive, but left for the LA Chargers in free agency. He has been replaced by Josh Bynes, a free agent signee who started for Baltimore last year. Germaine Pratt was last year’s third round choice and started nine games. The only other players on the roster at this point are Jordan Evans and Brady Sheldon. I would be surprised if a linebacker or two was not chosen.
Cornerback: There have been changes here, with Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, and LeShaun Sims signing as free agents. William Jackson, a first-round pick from 2016 returns, while Dre Kirkpatrick was recently a cap casualty. Jackson starts on one side, with Waynes probably manning the other. Also in the picture will be Darius Phillips, Torry McTyer, and Greg Mabin; Phillips intercepted four passes in limited time. Help from the draft is possible, especially since Jackson could be a free agent next year and free agent signings don’t always work out.
Running Back – Joe Mixon has rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last two years. Giovani Bernard has spent seven years in Cincinnati and his production has dipped after some solid years. Trayveon WIlliams and Rodney Anderson were both chosen in the sixth round of last year’s draft. A mid-to-late-round pick could happen here.
Tight End: CJ Uzomah has started the last two years and Tyler Eifert split for Jacksonville via free agency. Drew Sample was last year’s second round pick and saw limited action. Others on the roster are Cethan Carter and Mason Schreck. I don’t see an urgent need, but a mid-to-late pick may be used.
Defensive Line: This is probably the strongest unit on the team and the signing of free agent DJ Reader from Houston strengthens them in the middle. He will team with Geno Atkins, who enters his eleventh season in Cincinnati. Another eleventh year Bengal, Carlos Dunlap, is one end, while Sam Hubbard enters his third year opposite him, as they had 9.0 and 8.5 sacks, respectively. Expected to see more action at tackle and giving Atkins a rest is Renell Wren, another fourth-round pick. Josh Tupou had some starts at tackle and Graham Glasgow has battled knee problems the last two years after a promising rookie year in 2017. Carl Lawson had five sacks in a backup role and Andrew Brown enters his second season.
Safety: This looks to be solid after signing Vonn Bell in free agency after four years in New Orleans. Shawn Williams returns at strong safety and will be a free agent next year. Jesse Bates is the free safety entering his third year and a second-round pick. Also on the roster is Trayvon Henderson. A pick could be spent here for depth purposes.
*Information from various sources, including Pro-Football Reference, Sportac, and ESPN.