Finding talent in the NFL Draft is easy, but Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said the difficult part is making sure the players they pick fit the culture coach Zac Taylor has worked to build in his locker room.
That continues to be an important piece to the puzzle because the organization credits that culture – built around good leaders and players that love football – for playing a key role in the Bengals’ run to the Super Bowl last season.
Cincinnati will again be looking for similar traits that made its recent draft picks successful when the NFL Draft gets underway Thursday. The Bengals have eight total picks, including the 31st pick in the first round.
“That’s one of the heaviest lifts we’ve got,” Tobin said last week regarding the importance of finding players that fit the culture. “Yeah, the tape’s important. We grind the tape as much as we can. But we also grind behind the scenes to talk to as many people who have been around that player as we can possibly talk to figure out what really makes him tick. And ultimately, the guys we’ve had success with over the years, and recently here, are the guys that love football, they love the camaraderie of football. They love the competition of football. They like being in the locker room. They like being engaged with their teammates. They’re playing because they love it.
“If there was no NFL, they’d still find a way to play football. The driving force behind them is not what football brings to them. That’s all great, everybody recognizes it. Everybody wants it. But the driving force behind it is actually the competition and lining up and playing the game. They love the game. So, if you can get to that, you can find a lot of really good fits for our team and every team.”
The Bengals also drafted a number of college captains and players from winning programs the past few years, and Taylor said “it’s been a recipe for success.”
For him, learning about the intangibles a player brings is the most enjoyable part of the scouting and interviewing process.
“Players that fight on other playoff teams, players that played for winning teams, it’s always part of the equation,” Taylor said. “You want winners as part of your team, so you have to intangibly kind of research players and what do they have that’s inside of them. But certainly, now we have a team of guys who have been on the big stage, been in the big moments and come out on top and so now that will always weigh into what we do but again, players that fit us and will make us better is what we’re going to take.”
Taylor said he can usually get a vibe about a player in the interview process, but if that doesn’t go well, he leans on information from others to determine if maybe it was just a bad day or if he truly might not be a good fit. Sometimes the coaches will do another two or three Zooms with a player to get a better feel for his personality and how he would mesh in the locker room.
Measurables do factor in as well, but Taylor pointed out there is no “Mr. Perfect,” so it just depends on the physical trait that might be considered inhibiting to a player’s role and whether the organization thinks he can continue to rise above that.
Arm length has come up as a potential trait the Bengals might be looking at more heavily than others when considering the cornerbacks and offensive linemen that are expected to be available in their draft position. In a drop-back passing offense, shorter arms potentially could put a lineman at a severe disadvantage, and the same goes for a cornerback trying to defend in pass coverage.
Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, a player some mock drafts project landing with the Bengals, has a lot of the traits that teams like Cincinnati will find attractive – a captain and quick, aggressive and intelligent player who helped the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten Championship game – but his arms are a couple inches shorter than most others at his position.
Taylor wasn’t asked specifically about Linderbaum’s arm length, but when asked if that is an important measurable for the Bengals when looking at the offensive line and cornerback positions, Taylor said “it’s always part of the discussion.”
“It’s one of the variables at your disposal and then you marry that with other qualities they have,” Taylor said. “Those are just discussions you always have about prospects whether it is speed or height or weight or size or what the arm length is. That can come up a lot of different ways. That’s part of the draft process is figuring out what you are willing to take at that spot on that day and who fits your team. Weaknesses, how you can minimize that as best you can or if it is a fatal flaw. That can come in a lot of ways. We just talk through all that stuff.”
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