Bengals have needs but no ‘must-have’ positions to fill in first round

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

The Cincinnati Bengals can’t easily predict what players will be available to them by the time their first-round pick of the NFL Draft rolls around on Thursday, but director of player personnel Duke Tobin said those involved in making that decision will be prepared to make the best selection for the team.

That means the Bengals are going into the draft with a ranking of their top 28 prospects overall, including players at just about every position, to guarantee they are ready to make a choice when Cincinnati goes on the clock at No. 28.

Tobin said the roster is in a place where there aren’t positions the Bengals have to take in any certain round, and that flexibility should help them. This is the fifth draft with Taylor and his coordinators being together, so the consistency and understanding of one another makes reaching a consensus pick easier as well.

“We try to evaluate each individual player, rank them amongst the group and go off of our thoughts and try to get cohesion between the scouts, the coaches and ownership,” Tobin said Thursday in a pre-draft press conference at Paycor Stadium. “So, we feel like we’ve done that process. We feel like we’re in a good space to go forward. We feel like there’s good options, but we just don’t know what those options will be when we go.”

This year’s draft pool features a lot of really good players but not as many “blue chip” players that can easily be pegged going in the top 10 or beyond. Tobin said sometimes the early picks are easier to predict but that isn’t necessarily the case this year.

Cincinnati has needs to fill in the draft; however, the Bengals don’t seem to be locked in on one particular position to target in the first round like others might.

Mock drafts are all over the place with the Bengals taking a tight end, cornerback, offensive tackle, defensive lineman, wide receiver or even running back if the right one falls. The running back position doesn’t tend to be valued as highly in the first round, but the Bengals have a need there after Samaje Perine’s departure and with Joe Mixon’s future still in question. Tobin doesn’t rule out a first-round running back pick. The only positions he will eliminate are specialists and quarterbacks.

“Just in general, any position group is hard to eliminate,” Tobin said. “You start eliminating it, you can’t get to 28 (on your list). So, if you say we’re not going to take a running back or we’re not going to take a tight end and we’re not going to take a receiver or we’re not going to take — once you eliminate a position group or two, you can’t get to 28 anymore, and you end up with third- and fourth-round picks in your top 28. So we’re open to any position that presents itself is they’re the best player available. And if they’re clearly the best player and they will have a role on our team, we’ll certainly consider it.”

History shows the Bengals don’t usually take defensive linemen in the first round — the last one was Justin Smith in 2001 — but Tobin said that is “probably happenstance” and “maybe this will be the year” they do.

Adding two tight ends in free agency also doesn’t mean Cincinnati won’t take one in the early rounds, even though coach Zac Taylor said Irv Smith Jr. was signed in free agency to replace Hayden Hurst as the starter.

“We will assess it as it goes, but having those two tight ends on board is great,” Tobin said on the topic. “… If we get an opportunity to add a young guy, we’re not going to turn it down. … We’re gonna look at every position and what’s available, and if the best guy available is a tight end, we’ll probably go that route.”

Tobin said the Bengals don’t go into the draft planning to double-dip at a certain position, though it’s happened in the past. They just see what the draft board presents to them and if the best player available that they like is at a position already addressed, they are open to going that route.

Being a contender in the league and a team that has made two straight AFC championships also doesn’t impact strategy, Tobin said, except that there aren’t as many “must-have” needs to address in certain rounds. The Bengals are looking for players that can make an impact either as an immediate contributor or someone that can step in quickly if needed, and they are confident they can find those types of players in this draft.

“We’re never looking for guys that are going to take forever (to develop),” Tobin said. “You just don’t have... the nature of our league and the way it’s structured is you need to get performance out of your guys early in their careers and after four years they’re not yours anymore. And you have to decide whether to re-sign them or not. The days of long-term development and looking for guys to produce four, five, six years down the road, that doesn’t happen. We want all of our players to have a role when they come in the building and try to grow that role the best they can. You only have 53 and you only have 48 dressed on gam eday, so you want everybody that’s in that mix to have a role and be ready to go.”


Thursday, April 27: Round 1, 8 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network

Friday, April 28: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network

Saturday, April 29: Rounds 4-7, ABC, ESPN, NFL Network

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