Zac Taylor can’t say for sure whether his eye for talent at a position like defensive tackle has improved since the former quarterback and wide receivers assistant stepped in a draft room for the first time in 2019 as the Cincinnati Bengals’ head coach.
However, he doesn’t doubt that he is better prepared to help make those draft-day decisions than he was three years ago.
Taylor said Monday he was ready to get started with the 2022 NFL Draft, but glad to have a few more days to run through the final details of the organization’s draft board. The draft begins with the first round Thursday at 8 p.m. and continues Friday with the second and third rounds, followed by the final four rounds Saturday afternoon.
“You’ve certainly got a better understanding of what we’re looking for on that side of the ball,” Taylor said of his eye for talent on defense now compared to 2019. “You can reference them against players that we’ve had or lost. You’ve got a better overall feel for the roster, so you know how guys are going to fit and how we utilize our defensive personnel better. The same goes for offense and special teams. I think in that way everybody has probably improved.”
The Bengals are in a much different position than Taylor’s first three years when they had top 11 picks, including the No. 1 spot in 2020 and No. 5 last year. Their Super Bowl run in 2021 put them in the No. 31 position, and the picture of who might land there is much less clear.
The team needs seem to indicate this could be a more defense-heavy draft for Cincinnati, especially in the early rounds. The Bengals selected offensive players with their first two picks each of Taylor’s first three drafts, but holes at cornerback and safety – either now or for the future – need filled and the defensive line can always use additional depth.
Taylor points out that it’s director of player personnel Duke Tobin’s draft room, so while he himself is still relatively new at the table, the Bengals have plenty of experience. His voice matters but isn’t the only one with a say.
“There are no egos, so you’re able to have conversations that see both sides of the ball as it goes to a player,” Taylor said of the strengths in Cincinnati’s draft room. “… I think it’s always important to have that everyone feels comfortable speaking their opinion and throwing scenarios out that maybe someone else hasn’t thought of how they fit our team. They’re always very productive conversations. You don’t necessarily have to see in that moment eye to eye with somebody else on a prospect or the direction that we should go. It’s just good healthy conversation.”
Taylor had been a position coach in the NFL up until the Bengals hired him – aside from a midseason interim offensive coordinator stint with Miami in 2015 – so he only participated in meetings to discuss individual players at either quarterback or wide receiver spots in his previous roles.
When going through the interview process, Taylor got a sense of how similar his vision would be to that of the front office, but it wasn’t important they align exactly on everything. The Bengals certainly have shifted their philosophy under Taylor, compared to the more defensive-minded Marvin Lewis.
“You certainly touch on that stuff to get an overall sense of philosophy,” Taylor said. “I came in really have been just a quarterback coach and a receiver coach, so the roster building I had done my best to give my opinions, but I’m sure they knew when I came in that it was going to be a work in progress as well. … We always knew it was going to be an evolution, and so far, I think it’s worked out well.”
The Bengals’ decision makers are never going to agree on every player that comes up on the draft board, but Taylor likes they can have a healthy dialogue and ultimately “get to a place where everybody feels good about bringing players in the building.” The Bengals take into consideration the input of their scouts and opinions of the assistant coaches.
Cincinnati sets up its draft room in the offices at Paul Brown Stadium, and while teams used to have magnets with the names of all the players on their boards, now it’s all done on computer. Taylor still prefers to use notebooks.
After the picks, Taylor is the one who makes the phone call to the players.
“It’s hard because it’s a phone call, and so when it goes quiet, what does that mean? Can they not hear you? Are they emotional?” Taylor said. “So I do enjoy watching the videos that we always have of the players receiving the call because it completes the puzzle for me. And so, it’s life changing. You know, it really is. It’s cool to be a part of, but I appreciate it more when I actually get to see physically what the reaction was because sometimes it always makes sense when I’m on the phone.”
Regardless of the direction the Bengals go with this draft, Taylor is confident he will be satisfied with the end results -- even if he has a less clear idea now who Cincinnati will land.
Thursday: Round 1, 8 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
Friday: Rounds 2-3, 7 p.m., ABC, ESPN, NFL Network
Saturday: Rounds 4-7, Noon, ABC, ESPN, NFL Network