The Cincinnati Bengals perplexed with their second-round pick, but as the rest of the draft unfolded, the team’s plan seemed to take shape.
With the emphasis shifting to the offense under new coach Zac Taylor, it’s not surprising they mainly added pieces to help Andy Dalton succeed. That begins with bolstering the running game, and that’s where the addition of tight end Drew Sample — a projected fourth-rounder who the Bengals took second at No. 52 – fits into the picture.
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Cincinnati also got two offensive linemen and two running backs, while even the defensive picks centered on padding up the spine.
“We are going to place a very strong focus on the run game, and it all plays off of that,” Taylor said. “If you can’t get the run game going, the rest of your offense really struggles. I think that providing some competition at offensive line, running back and tight end was important, not only competition but to build that depth.”
Here are five things to know about the Bengals’ 2019 draft:
1. A bit of a reach
Even though no one seemed to expect Sample to go that high, the Bengals of course don’t view their second-round pick as a reach. Only he can prove whether he was worthy.
The 6-foot-5, 251-pound tight end caught a career-high 25 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns last year at Washington, where he was mainly utilized in run protection, and Cincinnati didn’t see another guy meeting their needs better than Sample. The Bengals already have Tyler Eifert to catch passes, and Sample brings a different element to the group. He earned the highest run-blocking grade in the nation (82.3) among draft-eligible tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus.
“I don’t think we would have gotten him in the third round,” Taylor said. “The more you watch the tape on him, he is a physical, does it the way you want it. It’s hard to find tight ends that are that physical and hard-nosed in the run game right now. He’s 255 and doesn’t look it. He’s got a lot of power and grit.”
2. Beefing up the line
The Bengals caused even more head scratching this offseason when they brought back their entire offensive line, including re-signing right tackle Bobby Hart to a three-year deal, but that didn’t keep them from trying to make some upgrades through the draft.
Taking the top offensive lineman off the board with Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams at No. 11 was a solid move, even if it might have worked out to trade down and still get him or another top prospect at that position. He could play one of the tackle spots or at guard, and fourth-round addition Michael Jordan, the guard/center from Ohio State, bulked up the group even more.
That should provide Dalton more peace of mind, and as offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said, “Joe Mixon should be really happy.”
3. Two runners, no receivers
The Bengals already have two strong backs in Mixon and Giovani Bernard, so why take two more at that spot and no receivers, especially with John Ross a roll of the dice?
It seems to point back to the focus on adding to the running game, but Taylor said it just worked out that way because of where the staff and scouting department saw the value at the times Cincinnati picked. Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams and Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson both could have gone higher than the sixth round where the Bengals got them, but Williams is 5-foot-8 and Anderson has been unlucky with injuries.
“I think as the rounds unfolded, guys that you value that are there you take,” Taylor said. “There are some moments it could have gone a different way at different positions, so I don’t think that was the main focus to pack it inside. It’s just the way it shook out this year. We felt like for the value that was there for these guys we couldn’t pass it up, and we will provide some competition at some spots of need.”
The Bengals were able to add at least one agent free receiver through college free agency after the draft, picking up Nebraska’s Stanley Morgan, who some consider a steal after he was projected to potentially go as high as the fourth round.
4. Filling needs on defense
The linebacker spot was the biggest need of the defense, and the Bengals got two good ones.
Third-rounder Germaine Pratt, who began his career at N.C. State as a safety, can fill any of the three positions in the middle level of the defense, and Auburn’s Deshaun Davis was a guy some thought could go in the fourth round. Davis already was well-aware of the Bengals history with several Auburn connections he has, including current Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson and former Bengals Takeo Spikes and Willie Anderson.
Although the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Pratt didn’t carry the pedigree of first-rounders Devin White or Devin Bush, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo believes he brings some qualities those two wouldn’t have.
“They all bring certain skillsets,” Anarumo said. “This kid is bigger than those two guys. This kid has longer arms than those two guys. He’s about a 10th of a second slower (in the 40-yard dash). He’ll bring the same physical mindset that those two other players have. I think there are measurables, but this kid is bigger and longer, which aids to playing linebacker at this level. He may have a few more things than those other two guys.”
The other two defensive additions were former Arizona State tackle Renell Wren in the fourth round, which now gives the Bengals a lengthy interior guy, and former South Dakota State cornerback Jordan Brown, who went in the seventh round.
5. Quarterback competition
Even if former N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley was drafted as a backup to Dalton, the fact the Bengals brought in a mature guy that compares to Jared Goff should light a fire under the veteran starter.
That was probably part of the plan, and if it doesn’t work out with Dalton, the Bengals now have a 25-year-old ready to develop at the NFL level.
Finley at worst is an upgrade from Jeff Driskel, but the team needed a little competition at that position regardless.
“We felt like we had a very productive draft,” Taylor said. “…Everyone in this building walks away from the draft feeling really good about the positions we were able to pick and what we’re getting from all those guys.”
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