Bengals add depth through draft, especially on defense

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor laughed at the realization the organization got through the NFL Draft without taking a single offensive skill position player. It’s unusual for a team to accomplish that and still feel good about the draft process, but Taylor left the draft room at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday satisfied with the additions.

The Bengals built their Super Bowl roster by focusing on offensive weapons in recent drafts, and that enabled them to use this one to help fill in depth at positions of need on defense.

Cincinnati used five of six picks on defense, including three speedy, lengthy additions to the secondary, and all of their draftees bring versatility that will help them find roles in a roster that doesn’t have a lot of starting vacancies.

“We don’t have the starter needs that maybe we felt like we’ve had in the past,” Taylor said. “You can find the right fits and you don’t feel like you have to reach (to fill) a huge hole there. It is different picking up the ends of the rounds, certainly, because you can see 20 picks above yeah, there are some players you got high grades on and they get snatched up where maybe in years past, you’ve got those guys. But again, we feel really good about the six that we’re adding there. And if you told me on Wednesday that this was how it’s going to shake out, I think that Duke (Tobin) and everybody upstairs would have been really happy with adding these six players to the mix.”

The Bengals used their first two picks on Michigan safety Dax Hill (No. 31 overall) and Nebraska cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt (No. 60 overall) to address their two biggest needs and added Toledo safety Tycen Andersen in the fifth round.

Safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell are only on guaranteed contracts through 2022, and Hill can step into three-safety packages and add depth to the slot cornerback role that has become more vital in the AFC. Taylor-Britt will compete with Eli Apple for the No. 2 outside cornerback role, opposite Chidobe Awuzie.

Florida defensive lineman Zach Carter, the team’s third-round pick, brings another interior pass rusher to the mix behind B.J. Hill, and he also can play outside if needed. Seventh-round pick Jeff Gunter, a linebacker and edge player out of Coastal Carolina, will step into a defensive pass rusher depth role.

The lone offensive player in the group is former North Dakota State right tackle and guard Cordell Volson, who the Bengals selected in the fourth round to kick off the third day of the draft for Cincinnati.

“(It) was just you know, the value that was there (on defense) and again, there is value with the players that were there (that) fit with the need,” Taylor said. “You always hear people ask are you taking the best player available or you take it for a need? Well, we thought the combination was there. That really hit us at the right spots over the course of the draft. So again, (we’re) really content with the players that were there when we took them and certainly could have gone into the draft and if you told me there have been more offensive players taken it wouldn’t surprise me because there were some good ones there. But ultimately, there was the right defensive players there that we really liked and had good grades on and felt like they were a good fit for us.”

With the elite wide receivers’ market value going up this offseason, it wasn’t surprising a lot of teams tried to do what the Bengals have in recent years – drafting top-end talent at that position. The Bengals have one of the best receiving corps in the league with Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase – the latter two they got in the first two rounds of the draft in 2020 and 2021.

So, while other teams were trying to stack their offenses, Cincinnati was busy finding players to help defend them – via pass rush or coverage. All three of the defensive backs the Bengals selected ran 40-yard dash times under 4.4 seconds.

Taylor said the measurables all added value to those picks, but another common thread among the Bengals’ 2022 draft class is the energy and intelligence they will bring.

“We value smart players, for sure, and we feel like on our defense we have the talent to compete for championships, but just the overall football intelligence of our group,” Taylor said. “… It’s a very smart group from top to bottom. And we value that. We think that matters. It matters just getting to the line pre-snap and making the right adjustments post-snap. So when you’re combating that with the talent that’s on the other side of the ball, you’ve got guys that can play fast and confidently and communicate. It gives you an added advantage there, and we place a lot of value on that. We’ve got those guys from top to bottom on our defensive roster.”

The tight end position was one area that seemed to be an unaddressed need, but Taylor said the Bengals felt good enough with Drew Sample and free agent addition Hayden Hurst that it wasn’t the biggest priority in the draft. Cincinnati is signing Springboro product Justin Rigg as an undrafted college free agent out of the University of Kentucky and could still bring in others through free agency if needed.

“It’s always good to add competition, especially at those third spots,” Taylor said. “We did feel really good about Drew and Hayden. There’s a reason we drafted Drew, and he’s played a lot for us these past couple years. And then adding Hayden — we’ve got high expectations for him. You’re always looking to add competition into the mix with that group. We didn’t happen to do it in this draft, so that’s just the way we went. We found value at other positions and selected those players.”

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