The Cincinnati Bengals addressed their biggest needs through free agency with the signing of three new offensive linemen, but now it seems time to lock in on a shutdown corner through the NFL Draft.
Last year’s draft focused on adding pieces to the offense, and this one has the makings of a defensive-heavy shopping list.
Picking late in the first round for the first time in years, the Bengals would have had the flexibility to go with the best available player. However, with the offensive line taken care of, the cornerback spot is the one glaring area of need and should be a priority. Cincinnati also could use a safety, interior defensive lineman and tight end for the future, and it never hurts to have another edge rusher.
Here is a seven-round mock draft, assuming no trades, of what the Bengals could be looking at about a month away from the NFL Draft.
NO. 31: KAIIR ELAM, CB, FLORIDA
Elam is widely considered among the top eight cornerbacks in this draft class and projects as a late first-round, early second-round pick, so if he’s available, he could be a solid choice for the Bengals. He played well to open the 2021 season, including an impressive performance against Alabama when he allowed just two catches for 36 yards on seven targets with two pass breakups. Elam totaled 27 tackles, three passes broken up and an interception. He is a long, physical corner who shut down some of the SEC’s best, allowing 19 catches from 36 targets for 191 yards this season. One concern is his seven penalties and some worried he might not be fastest enough to keep up with the top receivers in the NFL, but he helped squander the latter by running a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, which was faster than most of the cornerbacks expected to be drafted ahead of him.
Another cornerback option that might be available is Washington’s Kyler Gordon. If the Bengals don’t see the value in the cornerbacks at this spot could include Boston College guard Zion Johnson or Oklahoma edge rusher Nik Bonitto, though it seems the Bengals will lean on 2021 draft picks Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith or even a re-signing of Quinton Spain to fill the left guard spot.
NO. 63: KINGLSEY ENAGBARE, EDGE, SOUTH CAROLINA
There could be a few great edge rush options difficult to pass on late in the second round. The Bengals love taking guys they were able to watch at the Senior Bowl, and while there was a more limited staff at this year’s event because of the team’s Super Bowl run, that trend could continue with this pick. Enagbare seemed to have a great week at the Senior Bowl, finishing the game with one solo tackle and three total tackles, and reports from practices highlighted him pushing linemen into the backfield and constantly getting to the quarterback. During the 2021 season with the Gamecocks, he had at least one pressure in every game. Enagbare has been one of the highest-graded pass-rushers in the country over the past two seasons, recording an 89.2 pass-rushing grade in 2020 and a 92.5 in 2021, according to PFF.
Other possibilities at this spot could be San Diego State edge rusher Cameron Thomas or Illinois safety Kerby Joseph could be a great pick if available.
Credit: Michael Ainsworth
Credit: Michael Ainsworth
NO. 95: BRYAN COOK, SAFETY, CINCINNATI
With Vonn Bell entering the last year of his contract and Jessie Bates’ future uncertain, the Bengals need to address the safety position here if not earlier. WalterFootball.com ranks Cook as the fifth best safety on the board but as a late bloomer that could still be available in the third round. Things finally came together for Cook in his fifth season after transferring into the program from Howard in 2019. Cook is a tough safety, a solid run defender with the ability to tackle and his production was decent in the passing game in 2021 when he recorded 96 tackles, one sack, two interceptions and nine passes defended.
If the Bengals address the safety spot in the second round, look for a possible tight end selection or Memphis guard Dylan Parham here.
NO. 136: NEIL FARRELL, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, LSU
The Bengals seem to favor fourth-round defensive tackles, and it’s a good time to add depth. They took LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin in the fourth round last year and could end up with the guy that replaced him this past season. Farrell has shown his athletic ability with pass-rush potential and as a solid run defender. He recorded 45 tackles, two sacks and two passes batted in 2021.
Other defensive tackles projected to go off the board around this pick would be Ohio State’s Haskell Garrett. Otherwise, SMU tight end Grant Calcaterra might get a nod. He’s a feel-good story after medically retiring in 2019 and coming back to prove he can still play. He’s got run-blocking ability, but his biggest asset is as a pass-catcher, and he showcased that during Senior Bowl week when TheDraftNetwork.com labeled him one of the standouts on offense.
NO. 174: CHARLIE KOLAR, TIGHT END, IOWA STATE
The Bengals could be looking for their tight end of the future and might find a steal in Kolar here. PFF has him listed at No. 206 on its big board, but he earned a grade of 85.3 in 2021 after catching 63 passes for 764 yards and WalterFootball.com projects him going as high as the third round. He didn’t stand out at the Senior Bowl and didn’t run at the Combine, which could cost him to fall, but he was consistent the last three years. Kolar runs quality routes, shows yards-after-catch ability, has solid hands and an NFL build at 6-foot-6, 252 pounds. While the Bengals have Hayden Hurst and Drew Sample to lead the way this year, Kolar could develop into a starter down the road.
Another option if the Bengals take a tight end sooner and still need help on the interior defensive line would be UCLA’s Otito Ogbonnia, who shined at the Senior Bowl.
Credit: Charlie Neibergall
Credit: Charlie Neibergall
NO. 209: JEREMIAH MOON, LINEBACKER, FLORIDA
The Bengals could use another situational linebacker to shoot gaps in the passing game, and Moon was an edge/linebacker hybrid for the Gators with good length and quickness to make an impact. He also could develop into an asset on kick and punt coverage, which is something Cincinnati needs help with and would find value in at this spot. He needs to build up a little more mass and functional strength but has potential as a depth piece with a lot of upside.
Other options if the Bengals still want to address the interior offensive line, Boston College guard Alec Lindstrom would be a nice one to add to the mix at the left guard competition.
NO. 227: CHARLSTON RAMBO, WIDE RECEIVER, MIAMI
Cincinnati might want to attack the depth a wide receiver sooner in this draft but Rambo would be a good pickup here as someone who can return kicks as well. He caught 79 passes for 1,172 yards in 2021 with Miami, his first season there after three years playing for Oklahoma, where he flashed in a rotation with a lot of talented receivers.
NO. 252: TRE STERLING, SAFETY, OKLAHOMA STATE
Sterling suffered a wrist injury after just two games in 2021 but returned for the final three games and decided to declare for the draft rather than return to the Cowboys on a medical redshirt. In 2019 and 2020, Sterling had a combined 144 tackles with 19 for loss, two sacks, three interceptions and 12 pass breakups and was a big part in OSU’s improved defense the past few seasons. He’s also someone that can contribute on special teams.