Predicting this week’s NFL Draft is a little bit more of a guess across the board than in it has been in recent years, so the Cincinnati Bengals could go a number of different directions with their first pick.
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Even the top spot is still up for debate, though many project the Arizona Cardinals to take Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. The Bengals make their first pick at No. 11 and likely will be looking for an offensive or defensive lineman, linebacker or quarterback.
The draft begins at 8 p.m. Thursday in Nashville and resumes with the second and third rounds at 7 p.m. Friday. The fourth through seventh rounds are Saturday afternoon, starting at noon.
Here are five things to look for as the Bengals prepare for their turn on the clock.
1. High priority
It’s no secret the Bengals need offensive tackles. Even though they re-signed right tackle Bobby Hart and left tackle Cordy Glenn returns, they are thin at that spot and could always improve that area, particularly on the right side.
There is some depth at that position this draft class so if the Bengals feel the best valued guy is not available, they could wait until the next round and still have some quality options. Ideally, they would be looking at players who are versatile because they could use another guard too, but they might have to sacrifice some size to get more athleticism or vice versa.
Florida’s Jawaan Taylor, Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, Alabama’s Jonah Williams and Washington State’s Andre Dillard are widely viewed as the top tackles.
2. Need at linebacker
With Vontaze Burfict and Vinny Rey gone from a linebacker group that already was viewed as the weak spot of the team last year, the Bengals should be looking for someone in that position within the first three rounds.
There are two linebackers that are a level above the rest of the group, LSU’s Devin White and Michigan’s Devin Bush. White is less likely to be available at No. 11, but it’s possible Bush is and if he’s there it might be tough to pass on him knowing the dropoff after him.
There are still some linebackers that could probably step in as a starter right away, but they won’t be the elite talent of White and Bush, who are both known for speed and ability to play sideline to sideline.
3. Adding pass rushers
Don’t rule out the idea of the Bengals taking a defensive lineman first. Adding an elite pass rusher should be another high priority.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, who was a Heisman Trophy candidate before an injury sidelined him in Week 3, is considered the top edge rusher and almost certainly won’t be available. There are several other players highly regarded, including defensive tackles Ed Oliver (Houston) and Quinnen Williams (Alabama) and end Josh Allen (Kentucky), but the question is how many of the elite pass rushers will go in the first 10 picks.
4. Trade value
The Bengals have repeatedly insisted that they believe in quarterback Andy Dalton, but there are other teams that have a greater need for a viable starter, so that could lead to some interest in trading down a few spots for the right price.
Some mock drafts project the Bengals taking Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins, but the uncertainty of his ability to contribute right away – based on just one year of production at the college level – could be a deterrent.
Missouri’s Drew Lock is another well-regarded prospect, but it seems more likely Cincinnati would wait. CBSSports.com’s latest mock draft predicts West Virginia’s Will Grier falling to the Bengals in the third round.
5. Rounding things out
Tight end and wide receiver are two other positions the Bengals will be looking at, though probably after the third round.
The Bengals re-signed Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah but will still be looking to take another tight end and there are enough good ones that should be available any round. As for the wide receiver spot, the Bengals have plans, it seems, to extend A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd before their contracts expire, but John Ross still remains a big question mark and Cincinnati won’t risk waiting to see if he can take that big step in Year 3 that Boyd made.
Look for a running back to go in one of the late rounds, and if a decent cornerback is on the board, that could be an option as well but this draft class isn’t particularly strong at that position.
It doesn’t seem there will be a perfect option where the Bengals are picking, but there is enough talent at the positions they would be targeting.