The 2015 NFL Draft is agonizingly close. With a little over a week to go, the Last Word On Sports NFL department continues its preview series; next up, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals made the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, but that first victory in the postseason alluded signal caller Andy Dalton for another year. Cincinnati has the 21st overall pick in the draft and nine selections in total. After drafting well the previous four years, the pressure is on head coach Marvin Lewis. Lewis has stated that he does not want a first-round pick who will play right away. This philosophy was evident with last year’s first-round selection, cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who only played 58 defensive snaps all season. With this in mind, let us look at the top three draft needs of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati Bengals 2015 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
Left tackle Andrew Whitworth is coming off one of the strongest seasons in his career and while this fact would often diminish a team’s need at a position, Whitworth is 33 and entering his 10th season in the league. Fellow starting tackle Andre Smith missed seven games last year due to injury and his replacement, Eric Winston, is 31. Adding to this, all three players are in contract years, meaning an heir apparent is the order of the day. The Bengals are in a good position to draft a tackle that needs a year to develop at their current position of 21st overall, allowing the player to become accustomed to their blocking scheme and, if needed, develop the body strength and muscle mass required for a top level NFL tackle.
The Bengals went from 43 sacks in 2013 to only 20 in 2014, which stemmed from a large drop in production from their defensive line. This was enough to see them become one of the weakest pass rushing units in the league, as they finished last in sacks. The NFL increasingly favors the passing game and, therefore, the ability to get to the quarterback is necessary. Simply put, these numbers aren’t good enough going forward.
The Bengals took strides to address this issue in the offseason, bringing back Michael Johnson after a poor season in Tampa and Pat Sims after two seasons with the Raiders. They even get a compensatory draft pick for Johnson because he left last offseason. While these reacquisitions will help shore up their depth, Geno Atkins has not been the same player since he tore his ACL in 2013 and Sims is not seen by many as more than a rotational depth player. Furthermore, nose tackle Domata Peko has become a liability in run defense and he was never been much of a pass rusher during his nine years with the Bengals, as he has never recorded more than three sacks in a season.
The casual NFL fan would be forgiven for looking at the Bengals roster and thinking the position of receiver was of little concern, as they boast names like A.J. Green, Brandon Tate, Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones. Additionally, they even added Denarius Moore to the mix this offseason. The reason it is actually a need is that this entire unit is as injury-prone as they come. To highlight this point, the Bengals were forced to play backup running back Rex Burkhead at receiver during their playoff appearance. Understandably, the coaching staff vowed to never let conditions at the position get that bad again. Lastly, the reason for a need at receiver relates to the aforementioned coaching philosophy of allowing players to develop before starting them. All five of the listed receivers are free agents in 2016 and the team probably won’t re-sign many of them.
Moore adds needed depth at the position, but many draft analysts have them taking multiple receivers during draft weekend. There is a need for another deep threat along with a need for a smaller slot receiver, especially considering most of their starting wide receivers last year were above six feet tall. Sometimes, having too much height can be a problem.