Zac Taylor said the Cincinnati Bengals are exploring all options regarding how they will use the top pick in April’s NFL Draft, but coaching this week at the Senior Bowl is just one tool to help them make that decision.
The Bengals’ staff was selected to coach the South team at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which takes place Saturday in Mobile, Ala., featuring some of the top college seniors around the country.
Taylor and his assistants held their first practice of the week Tuesday and are using the experience to get an up-close look at some potential draft picks. The coaches of the NFL teams with the lowest winning percentage are usually selected to coach the Senior Bowl, so long as the majority of the staff remains intact.
“Our staff is excited,” Taylor said during a press conference. “It’s a great time for our staff here to get up close and personal with a lot of these players that you otherwise wouldn’t get that experience in this league, so we’re excited to take advantage of it and get through this week.”
Cincinnati finished 2-14 in Taylor’s first season and will have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. LSU quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow appears to be the favorite for that spot, coming off a national championship season in which he completed 76.3 percent of his passes for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns with just six interceptions; however, he chose not to play in the Senior Bowl and the Bengals were not able to convince him to make an appearance this week in Mobile.
Taylor said “it’s understandable” that Burrow decided not to come.
“The guy just played (the equivalent of) an NFL season, all those LSU guys did,” Taylor said. “We are always looking for any advantage we can get with any player in this process so any chance we get to be around him earlier in January as opposed to the combine is always great, but certainly we understand when some guys choose not to play.
“It’s just another opportunity to get face-to-face with these guys over a five-day week. There is still plenty of time to get to know all the players in the draft before April roles around. This is just a bonus for our staff this week.”
Asked of his first impressions of Burrow, Taylor said he is the type of player worthy of a high pick both character-wise and athletically.
“He certainly had a great season,” Taylor said. “We’re still going through the process of evaluating him and a lot of guys that are worthy of those high picks, but certainly to go undefeated, win the national championship, be the leader he is, that stuff is really impressive.”
Taylor has three quarterbacks on his South roster, including Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts, who also are among the nation’s top quarterback prospects. A quarterback has been selected No. 1 overall in four of the last five drafts and in eight of the last 11, but Taylor said the Bengals haven’t made a decision whether they will follow that trend. The Browns took defensive end Myles Garrett first in 2017, the Texans selected defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in 2014 and the Chiefs picked offensive tackle Eric Fisher in 2013.
Ohio State defensive end Chase Young declared for the draft earlier this month, deciding to forego his senior year, and he’s another possible candidate for a high pick. Asked to evaluate Young, Taylor said “he’s certainly an impact player, probably the day he gets selected.”
“He’s just another great defensive end that’s come out of that program,” Taylor said. “The guys before him had immediate success when they got into the league, they are ready to go and I would expect him to be no different.”
The Bengals haven’t ruled out the possibility of trading the No. 1 pick, Taylor confirmed.
“We are just starting the process of evaluating who is worthy of that pick,” he said. “No decision has been made on what we are going to do with it or how we are going to approach it. I certainly think you want to leave everything on the table. We’re still in January, so we have til April to figure it all out. We are just using this week as a tool to make sure we can make the right decisions going forward.”
Taylor hopes the experience helps pave the path for an improved 2020 season. The 49ers staff coached at the Senior Bowl last year and now are headed to the Super Bowl.
“We know we’ve got to improve in a lot of ways the next year, just like San Francisco did,” Taylor said. “It’s exciting to see a team follow that path, and of course, that’s the ultimate goal.”
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