After making three consecutive one-and-done playoff appearances, the Cincinnati Bengals are facing a lot of pressure to mount a deeper run in 2014. The Bengals have thus far abstained from the free agency arms race taking place between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, which means that Cincinnati will have to hit a home run in the draft to compete in the AFC.
Here are four positions of need for the Bengals, and the potential prospects who could fill them.
1. DEFENSIVE END
Michael Johnson, who started 15 games for Cincinnati last season, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. The Bengals do have some young talent at the position, but I could see them taking another end in the early rounds. Missouri’s Kony Ealy and Auburn’s Dee Ford both stand out as players who could give new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s unit a reliable edge presence. Ealy has the versatility to play multiple positions along the line, while Ford’s burst would make him a nice complement to All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
With Leon Hall returning from a torn Achilles suffered in October, former first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick still a question mark and Adam “Pacman” Jones turning 31 in September, Cincinnati certainly has need at cornerback. If Darqueze Dennard out of Michigan State is available when the Bengals select at No. 24 overall, he would be tough to pass up. If he is off the board, the Bengals could opt for either Bradley Roby(Ohio State) or Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech).
Cincinnati lacks a reliable playmaker in the back end of its defense. Starting free safety Reggie Nelson can make impact plays, but he’s inconsistent. The chance that either Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) or Calvin Pryor (Louisville) falls to the Bengals in Round 1 is slim, so Cincinnati might look to address this position in the second round. Washington State product Deone Bucannon has outstanding size, brings a physical presence against the run and has a history of producing in the Pac 12. And he could still be on the board when the Bengals pick at No. 55 overall.
4. OFFENSIVE LINE
Andrew Whitworth will likely slide back out to left tackle now that Anthony Collins has joined Johnson in Tampa Bay. But Whitworth’s versatility affords the Bengals some flexibility along the O-line, so they could take an offensive tackle in the later rounds and maintain the option of playing Whitworth at guard. The big three, Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, and Taylor Lewan, will likely be off the board at No. 24. Rather than go with guys like Morgan Moses(Virginia) or Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) who have holes in their games, the Bengals could look for Ja’Wuan James (Tennessee) in the second round.
NFL DRAFT is tomorrow night at 8pm on ESPN.