The Bengals struggled offensively in the playoffs last season, particularly second-year quarterback Andy Dalton. Recognizing this, Cincinnati drafted him some help with their first two picks, taking two skill players who should aid in Dalton’s development and give him playmakers not named A.J. Green. The excuses are running out for Dalton heading into year three and he will be expected to take a big step forward this season. His performance this season will determine if the Bengals can challenge the Super Bowl champion Ravens in the AFC North.
Tyler Eifert/TE/Notre Dame (Round 1/Pick #21): Draft Insider’s 21st ranked player in the 2013 draft, Eifert lands in an interesting situation after being taken 21st overall by Cincinnati. The Bengals already have an established tight end in Jermaine Gresham, who was drafted with the 21st pick himself back in 2010 and has made two consecutive Pro Bowls. The team would not have spent a first-round pick on Eifert if they didn’t plan to utilize him in the offense right away, so it seems likely the Bengals will run many double-tight end sets to mask their lack of wide receiver depth behind A.J. Green. Second-year receiver Mohamed Sanu broke out as a red zone threat towards the end of last season before getting hurt and the addition of the 6-5 Eifert will give Andy Dalton another big target to throw to. Eifert is a complete tight end who can open up holes in the running game as well, which will be important to the team’s second-round pick.
Giovani Bernard/RB/North Carolina (Round 2/Pick #37): It was a slight upset to see Bernard come off the board as the first running back taken, but his landing spot shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Bernard had been linked to the Bengals by many experts who felt he would be a great complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I won’t disagree and neither did the Bengals, as the size and durability questions about Bernard should be mitigated by Green-Ellis’ power running game, which will allow Bernard to show off his big-play ability with the ball in his hands and off the edge. Bernard should see 10-15 touches per game on offense and play in situations where he can break a game open, including kick returns. His receiving ability as a safety valve out of the backfield should help keep Andy Dalton from feeling like he has to force passes downfield if receivers aren’t open.
Margus Hunt/DE/SMU (Round 2/Pick #53): As a good team with an extra second-round pick thanks to the Carson Palmer trade back in 2011, Cincinnati had the luxury of drafting for upside with their third pick. Hunt was discussed as a potential late-first round pick before the draft and is the quintessential high-risk, high-reward pick. A former track and field star and 2006 Gold medalist in the shot-put and discus throw, Hunt has only played a few years of football in the United States after coming over from Estonia. At 6-8, 275 pounds, Hunt should be an immediate asset blocking kicks and has good explosive ability on the inside and 4.6 speed around the edge. He needs to develop more moves rushing the passer and his height is viewed as a potential liability in the run game since he plays too upright at times, but if Hunt refines his game he can provide a very nice return on investment in the late second round.
Shawn Williams/S/Georgia (Round 3/Pick #84): The Bengals have struggled to find a complement to free safety Reggie Nelson in recent years and while we had Williams rated as a fourth-round prospect, he’s a hard hitter who fits well next to a center fielder like Nelson. Williams has good recognition skills in coverage and great speed for a safety that allows him to quickly get to the sideline. While competent in pass coverage, his strength is playing up in the box as a run defender and if he can transfer his abilities from the SEC to the NFL, this will turn out to be a good pick for the Bengals even if it looks like a slight reach on paper.
Sean Porter/OLB/Texas A&M (Round 4/Pick #118): A prospect Draft Insider felt was underrated heading into the draft, the Bengals had a similar opinion of Porter and drafted him for depth at outside linebacker behind Vontaze Burfict and James Harrison. A lack of size (6-1, 230) is the major knock on Porter but he’s a complete linebacker who delivers hard hits and shows solid ability in coverage. Porter’s size makes it difficult for him to shed blocks and while he’s smart and instinctive, he could benefit from the extra reps at the professional level to work on his angles of pursuit. The Bengals likely want him to start when Harrison moves on, as the veteran signed a 2-year deal a few weeks ago. Porter will also provide insurance for Burfict, who wouldn’t surprise anybody by finding his way into trouble after good behavior as a rookie.
Tanner Hawkinson/T/Kansas (Round 5/Pick #156): This is the first pick Cincinnati made that can really be considered a reach but once you get this deep in the draft, it’s tough to judge any pick too harshly. Draft Insider gave Hawkinson a 7th-round grade after two All-Conference seasons at Kansas, but he lacks the athletic ability to become a starter at left tackle. Hawkinson is a smart player who gets the most out of his talent and could have a nice career as an NFL backup while providing the Bengals with offensive line depth at multiple positions.
Rex Burkhead/RB/Nebraska (Round 6/Pick #190): After a great junior season where he rushed for 1,406 yards and 15 touchdowns, Burkhead missed time with a knee injury as a senior and didn’t come anywhere near his junior totals. Burkhead runs hard and despite average speed, shows good agility and quickness along with receiving skills out of the backfield. Nothing stands out about his game though, which makes him little more than depth behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. With Bernard Scott and Cedric Peerman also re-signing with the team, Burkhead may start 2013 on the practice squad unless injuries hit in training camp.
Cobi Hamilton/WR/Arkansas (Round 6/Pick #197): Stuck behind NFL-caliber receivers Jairus Wright, Greg Childs and Joe Adams until his senior season, Hamilton never had much of a chance to shine with the Razorbacks. Hamilton turned into Tyler Wilson’s favorite target this season with 90 receptions for 1,335 yards. As nice as that production was, he brings no distinguishing traits to the table at the pro level as a one-speed receiver who runs average routes. Measurables aside, it’s difficult to deny his level of production when SEC defenses were focused on stopping him. Hamilton projects as a solid future third receiver down the line who could be a good value pick this late, as Draft Insider had him rated as a third-round prospect.
Reid Fragel/T/Ohio State (Round 7/Pick #240): Looking at our draft board, Fragel was a 3rd or 4th round prospect who almost fell out of the top 250 picks. He’s a project who moved from tight end to right tackle as a senior, started every game and has impressive size at 6-7, 308 pounds with room to grow. Our projection is based on his footwork and awareness improving as he gains experience playing the tackle position, but this is the type of player teams should be targeting in the seventh round. It’s hard to tell what Fragel’s true upside is at this point but at a no-risk price, the Bengals could be reaping the rewards of this pick in a few seasons.
T.J. Johnson/C/South Carolina (Round 7/Pick #251): Apparently uncomfortable with their depth along the offensive line, the Bengals used three of their final five picks on lineman. While Fragel was an upside play for the future, both Johnson and Tanner Hawkinson were productive senior lineman who lack upside but play smart football and project to back up multiple positions on the line. Johnson began his Gamecocks career as a guard before starting the last three seasons at center and should help solidify the interior of the Bengals’ second unit if he makes the roster.
Grade: B+. The Bengals have risen from the bottom of the AFC North over the past few seasons thanks to solid draft strategy and this year was no different. Cincinnati’s picks struck a great balance between value, need and complementing their current roster. They made a few good value picks late who could become contributors in the future and their 10 picks gave them the opportunity to add depth at a few positions, particularly on the offensive line. While Cincinnati didn’t draft as well as Baltimore did, they certainly improved their team heading into next season and should be in contention again in the AFC North.