The expected loss of franchise-tagged defensive end Michael Johnson to free agency in 2013 was addressed when the Cincinnati Bengals chose DE project Margus Hunt in the second round of last year’s draft. Now that Hunt has shown he belongs in the NFL as a 4-3 base DE, the Bengals will be able to absorb the loss of Johnson with a rotation of Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers and Hunt.
But if the best available player available to the Bengals in the first round at pick #24 happens to be perhaps the best 4-3 pass rushing DE in the entire draft, the Bengals may not take much time to make their decision.
NFL teams will study the video of the SEC championship game between Missouri and Auburn fascinated by the matchup between Missouri DE Kony Ealy and Auburn tackle Greg Robinson, who had his share of problems contending with the quick twitch of Ealy off the snap.
Draft Case for Ealy
The Bengals wouldn’t need Ealy to start and star for them right away, unless injury impacted current personnel.
But Ealy’s presence would immediately provide a third-down pass rush that is quicker than any the Bengals’ other DEs can muster. The 6-4, 273-pound Ealy didn’t post jaw-dropping numbers in the skills measurables at the NFL Scouting Combine except for one — 6.83 seconds in the three-cone drill, which was tops among defensive linemen at the combine.
Marcus Smith Instead
If a first-round draft pick is too steep a price for the Bengals to pay to add Ealy to the roster, then the Bengals could use the second round to target former Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith, who likely did more to boost his draft stock at the Senior Bowl than any other senior at the showcase.
Smith will be more coveted by teams with a 3-4 base as an outside linebacker, but a team with a 4-3 base like the Bengals could use the versatility of Smith at the strongside spot, as well as at end as a third-down pass rusher.
As the quickest twitched 4-3 DE available in the draft, Ealy may actually find himself ahead of former UCLA standout Anthony Barr as the best available pass rusher at the position.
Ealy has an additional intrigue as a potential 3-4 outside backer due to his freakish movement skills. Ultimately, this ability and upside should prompt a NFL team to pluck Ealy from the pool before the Bengals pick at #24.