And here it is, the best day of the year if you're an NFL fan. Well, maybe the best days (plural) of the year since hope springs eternal for all 32 NLF teams (though it doesn't seem like spring here in NW MN where we actually had a two hour late start due to snow and slippery road conditions).
For my beloved Bengals, this is an absolutely vital draft.
From 2011-2015, the Bengals made the playoffs, winning the division twice (2013 and 2015). The main cause of this was because they hit home runs in rounds 4-7.
Some of the hits that fueled depth on those teams
2009 - The Bengals landed Pro Bowl punter Kyle Huber (how is the only remaining player from this draft) and a solid running back in Bernard Scott.
2010- Geno Atkins (Pro Bowler)
2011 - Clint Boling (starter at guard since the 2012 season)
2012 - Marvin Jones and George Iloka
2013 - none
2014 - Russel Bodine and AJ McCarron
2015 - Josh Shaw
2016 - none
Once the Bengals stopped hitting in the third day of the draft, their depth really began to dwindle. In 2015, the Bengals were an incredibly deep team. But they have suffered major losses the past two years. They need to hit on rounds 4-7.
Luckily, for them, they have 8 picks in those rounds thanks to their free agent losses. Of those 8 picks, they have to hit on at least two solid starters. I'm not saying they have to be of Geno Atkins' caliber where they develop into one of the best players in the league at their position, but they need to be solid starters (see Cling Boling or George Iloka).
There is still some hope for the classes of '15 and '16 (DT's Marcus Hardison and Andrew Billings, WR Cody Core), but what compounds the problem is that their first round picks haven't panned out much either.
Here is a list of the first rounders and whether they were hits or misses -
2009 - Andre Smith (very solid at RT and now RG) HIT
2010- Jermaine Gresham (solid start at TE and two time Pro Bowler) Hit
2011 - AJ Green (the best receiver in Bengals' history. Six straight Pro Bowls). Massive HIT.
2012 - Dre Kirkpatrick (solid starter and just resigned to a huge contract) and Kevin Zeitler (solid guard who became the highest paid guard in NFL history thanks to the Browns). Massive HITS.
2013 - Tyler Eifert (Dynamic when healthy, Pro Bowler in 2015, but missed 42 games). HIT
2014 - Darqueze Denard (hasn't made much of an impact). MISS
2015 - Cedric Ogbeuhi (missed his rookie year and was very suspect as a starter last year). MISS
2016 - William Jackson III (missed his rookie year due to injury). Miss
The lack of contributions from the last three first rounders has really hurt the Bengals.
Hopefully, the Bengals can reverse their fortunes this year - as they did with a number of picks in 2012.
Here are my top three wishes for their first round pick at #9.
Wish #1 - OJ Howard - TE - I know they need help on the d line, but Howard would be a great addition to an offense that really missed Eifert last year.
Wish #2 - trade back and grab John Ross III, the fastest wide receiver in the history of the combine. Marvin Lewis has wanted a true speedster at WR to pair opposite with AJ Green. If the Bengals could trade back and grab an extra third or fourth round, it would be a win.
Wish #3 - Jonathan Allen. He was a terror at Alabama. He might slide a bit because is he a true DT or is he a DE? It doesn't matter for Cincy, who needs someone to develop opposite Carlos Dunlap and to pair with Geno Atkins now that Domata Peko is gone to Denver.
Here is my mock draft for the Bengals
1. O. J. Howard - TE Alabama. Eifert, Howard, Green, and Boyd would be formidable. Who doesn't like to watch touchdowns. Howard would be lethal for the Bengals.
2. T. J. Watt - DE Wisconsin. The Bengals need pass rush help. Watt could play outside some and then slip down to the DE position opposite Dunlap. I was hoping Mixon would fall here as Cincy has had great luck drafting RB's in the second round, but he is off the board in this mock.
3. Dorian Johnson - G Pitt. Cincy needs depth on the OL. They've had luck grabbing guards and centers in the mid rounds. This is insurance if Andre Smith doesn't make it through the season at right guard and if Christian Westerman can't step in at guard in his second season.
4. Elijah Lee - LB Kansas State. Cincy needs depth and youth at the LB position. They've had terrible luck trying to draft linebackers though.
4. B Ahkello Witherspoon - CB Colorado. Cincy loves their corners, and Witherspoon is a great value. There are so many talented DBs that a few might get pushed down.
5. Chad Hansen - WR California. The new Marvin Jones. I watched Cal games and Hansen was amazing.
5. B Avery Moss - DE Youngstown State. The Bengals went out to watch Youngstown State's pro day. Moss is a talent and could be developed. Bengals need pass rush help.
6. TJ Logan - RB North Carolina. The Bengals like their Tar Heels. He will help make life easier for Gio Bernard, another Tar Heel, who is coming off injury.
6. B. Aviante Collins - OT TCU. The Bengals need help at OT if their top two picks from 2015 don't pan out.
7. Channing Stribling - CB Michigan. Cincy loves big school products. It never hurts to go with LBs and DBs in late rounds as they can always contribute on special teams.
7. B Ukeme Eligwe - LB Georgia Southern. Another speedy backer to play on special teams.
My wish list -
OJ Howard (TE), Joe Mixon (RB), Demarcus Walker (DE), John Ross III (WR), Dalvin Cook (RB), Evan Engram (TE), Cam Robinson (OT/G), Forrest Lamp (G), Chidobe Awuzie (CB), Adoree' Jackson (CB), Tedric Thompson (S), Chad Hansen (WR), Takkarist McKinley (DE), Derek Rivers (DE), Jordan Willis (DE), Tanoh Kpassagnon (DE), Jarad Evans (LB) Hassan Redick (LB), Anthony Walker (LB), and Zane Gonzalez (K).