Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has said the team will consider all positions except quarterback for the No. 9 draft pick, and the same is likely true of their selections in the second round (41st overall) and third round (73rd).
Over the next two weeks we’ll take a look at each position and its top five prospects.
We start at running back, where the Bengals will employ the tandem of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard for the fourth consecutive season, or at least that is the plan. Lewis said at the Combine that Bernard is doing great in his recovery from the season-ending ACL injury he suffered Nov. 20, but it’s still a thin backfield after losing fee agent Rex Burkhead to New England.
›› RELATED: 7 players the Bengals could draft at No. 9
And it could be even thinner if Hill is unable to regain his rookie form after a stellar rookie campaign, or if Bernard hits a snag in his rehab.
Hill is entering the final year of his contract, so all signs point to the Bengals targeting the position early, as they did when they took Bernard and Hill in the second round of the 2013 and 2014 drafts.
Here is a look at five of the top running backs in the draft, listed in alphabetic order:
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
An explosive home-run type of back, Cook topped 1,000 yards all three years at FSU, including 1,691 as a sophomore and 1,765 last year.
At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, there are questions about whether he can withstand the pounding of being an every-down back, and there also are some concerning red flags.
In addition to struggling with ball security with 13 career fumbles at FSU, Cook also has been arrested multiple times.
Leonard Fournette, LSU
At 6-feet, 240 pounds, Fournette is built like a linebacker but has sprinter speed. He’s so freakishly gifted it’s hard to find any recent NFL backs to compare him to.
Fournette led the SEC in all-purpose yards (137.4 per game) as a freshman and built on that performance with nearly 2,000 yards (1,953) and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore. A preseason ankle injury limited Fournette this season and forced him to sit out a handful of games. He also skipped the Tigers’ bowl game to focus on draft preparation.
Fournette overpowered defenders in college, often putting them on highlight reels with brutal stiff-arms. But that style could lead to durability issues at the next level.
Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
If he can navigate the perils of NFL defenses the way he sidestepped issues during his college career, he will be a quality pro.
The abridged version: Suspensions at Alabama, an offseason arrest in his hometown, one year at the community college level, followed by a return to the SEC at Tennessee, where he missed part of last season with a sprained knee.
Kamara had 23 touchdowns on just 284 touches at Tennessee while lining up in various spots and showing good receiving skills. He’s both shifty and tough, and he comes into the NFL with less wear and tear than many of the other backs in the class after being a full-time starter for just one, injury-shortened season.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
At 5-foot-11, 202 pounds, there are questions whether McCaffrey can make a living slamming between the tackles every down, but that’s not what the Bengals would be asking of him.
He has great hands and is an experienced route runner, and he has proven to be an electric kick and punt returner although, again, that’s not something the Bengals likely would ask of a player they drafted as high as McCaffrey is expected to go.
What he lacks in speed he makes up for with vision, but he was used a lot at Stanford, with more than 300 touches each of the past two seasons.
Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
While others in this draft class – and this list of top running backs in particular – have had run-ins with the law, Mixon’s was not only of a brutal nature, punching a female college student and breaking bones in her face, it also was caught on tape.
If it weren’t for that one incident, Mixon might be a top-10, possibly top-5 prospect. His talent is unquestioned. At 6-foot-1, 226 pounds he’s as effective fighting through contact as he getting around the edge. One knock is the patience – or nonchalance, as some have alleged – he displays at the line of scrimmage. It works for Le’Veon Bell, but it’s not something coaches embrace.
The bigger issue, of course, is his character. Beyond the violent video, Mixon was suspended one game this year disrespecting a parking attendant after receiving a ticket.
Whichever team drafts him is going to have to decide whether it thinks Mixon is truly remoreseful for the devastating punch. And even if a team believes he is, it still is going to have to be willing to take the PR hit, which is something the Bengals have plenty of experience with and have shown it doesn’t bother them much.
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.