The Cincinnati Bengals spent last year’s draft seemingly preparing for expected future holes on the roster, particularly on defense, but now they may be preparing for needs at many of those same spots.
Free agency could open a few starting jobs in the secondary, and depth at cornerback and safety will be a concern this offseason. However, picking at No. 28 overall in this year’s draft, the Bengals might just be looking at best-available player.
This week at the NFL Combine, the organization has a chance to scout out and interview some of the talent available in this year’s draft. The Combine begins Tuesday at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium and continues through March 6.
Cincinnati’s biggest positions of need could change depending on how free agency goes, but as of now they appear to include cornerback, safety if the Bengals lose both Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell, offensive tackle and tight end.
Here is a look at some of the top prospects to watch at those positions the Bengals could consider for their first- and second-round picks, based on projections of where they will land in the draft.
ANTONIO JOHNSON, TEXAS A&M
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 23
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 32
At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, he’s a playmaker around the line of scrimmage, an instinctive defender that plays a physical style and fits the Bengals’ preference for versatile defensive backs. The Aggies lined Johnson up at slot corner, split-zone safety and even occasionally at linebacker. He recorded 71 tackles and three forced fumbles in nine games last season for the Aggies.
JORDAN BATTLE, ALABAMA
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 56
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 74
Battle is a high-upside safety who could be a plug-and-play starter from Day 1. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound athlete played more than 50 games for the Crimson Tide and emerged as a leader on a talented defense. He’s versatile, having played both strong and free safety, and was known for his high-IQ play and ability in both the run and pass game.
CHRISTOPHER SMITH II, GEORGIA
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 65
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 77
A jack-of-all-trades defender, Smith has seen time at free safety, in the box and in the slot. He’s considered one of the more instinctive defenders in the draft pool and fits the mold of being able to play multiple roles and bringing leadership traits as a multi-year captain. He had three interceptions this past year for the Bulldogs.
KELEE RINGO, GEORGIA
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 22
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 75
Draft analysts are all over the board on Ringo because of his elite physical profile but struggles anticipating, which means he will have some work to do to improve that skill against NFL-level receivers. He brings size, strength and reactive athleticism that enables him to make splash plays in coverage and could be a reason he goes in the first round.
DEVON WITHERSPOON, ILLINOIS
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 26
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 6
An aggressive, physical cornerback with man coverage skills, Witherspoon is a prospect who can serve in a high-impact role. He is combative at the catch point, has a nose for the football and has excellent recovery. While he is further down some lists, PFF.com has him as the top corner.
Credit: Paul Sancya
Credit: Paul Sancya
DEONTE BANKS, MARYLAND
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 64
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 23
Banks’ 2021 season ended early due to an injury, but he returned for the 2022 season as the starting corner and had his best season overall with 38 total tackles, eight pass break-ups and one interception. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, he profiles as “a big, physical corner who has surprisingly smooth transitions in and out of breaks to match and mirror wide receivers,” according to Draft Network.
LUKE MUSGRAVE, OREGON STATE
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 46
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 33
The 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end brings a big, athletic option in the passing game and he’s a competitive blocker in the run game. He is an adequate route-runner and has secure, reliable hands and tracks the ball well. Musgrave is at his best threatening vertically up the seams or across the field, and his speed can become a problem for linebackers.
DALTON KINCAID, UTAH
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 31
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 25
Kincaid is a strong pass-catching tight end with athleticism, strong route-running, hands and ball skills, and notably he’s been tasked with a fairly expansive route tree at Utah and can threaten all levels of the field. His proficiency at the catch points and ability to win through contact is appealing, and he’s a capable blocker, especially when working in space to seal linebackers and defensive backs.
BRODERICK JONES, GEORGIA
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 21
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 18
Jones was the starting left tackle for the back-to-back national champions and is an incredible athlete for an offensive lineman, which shows when he is hunting down second- and third-level defenders in space. He’s been reported to hit 19 mph on a GPS tracker and he has good lateral agility to protect inside and outside paths to the quarterback.
ANTON HARRISON, OKLAHOMA
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 28
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 30
Harrison has a long, athletic build with good arm length and can handle speed off the edge while showing the range needed as a run blocker. His nimble feet enable him to work laterally and get into space, and he has room to become a more effective blocker at the next level with more functional strength and executing with better leverage.
DAWAND JONES, OHIO STATE
TheAthletic.com’s Concensus Top 100: No. 33
PFF.com’s Big Board: No. 44
A mauler in the run game, Jones is a massive and powerful blocker who engulfs opponents, but he also uses his exceptional length effectively in pass protection. He is aggressive and tenacious but has ideal block temperament. Despite having somewhat heavy feet, he is a patient pass blocker that can stay square and his hands are not easily displaced while keeping rushers at bay.
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