For the first time in more than a month since coronavirus shutdowns began, the United States will have a live sporting event to watch over the next three days.
The Cincinnati Bengals will be front and center as the NFL Draft gets underway Thursday, holding the No. 1 pick for the first time since 2003.
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The draft originally was scheduled to take place in Las Vegas but the NFL moved it to a virtual format because of restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. Executives and coaches from all 32 teams will be operating out of their own homes, and Commissioner Roger Goodell is set to announce the picks from his New York home. The first round starts at 8 p.m. on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network, while the second and third rounds are Friday and the fourth through seventh rounds wrap up the event Saturday.
Here are five things to know as the Bengals head into the draft:
1. Submitting the picks
Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin will be in charge of sending the team’s picks throughout the draft, operating out of his home on the east side of Cincinnati. His setup includes two computers, one with a Microsoft app designed for submitting draft picks and the other for a Zoom conference with the coaching staff and other decision makers. A monitor above him in one corner will display the Bengals’ draft board, and to the side of that is a camera so the NFL can look in on the room.
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The NFL held a pre-scripted mock draft Monday for all 32 teams to practice going through the process and to make sure it would go as smoothly as possible during the actual event. In that mock draft, the teams practiced trades – the Bengals were scripted to trade the No. 1 pick with Dallas, which moved them down to No. 17. The first 16 picks were traded so all 32 teams were involved early in the process.
Bengals coach Zac Taylor said there was a “hiccup” at the beginning, but not on their end and it went well from there.
“Everybody had a chance to speak up and talk and make sure communication was up to par,” Taylor said. “I thought it went smoothly.”
2. Bungled for Burrow
The league’s scripted mock draft is not indicative of the Bengals’ plans. All signs still point to them selecting LSU quarterback Joe Burrow at No. 1, despite the possibility of a big-haul trade offer from Miami, which has three first-round picks and two more in the second round Friday.
Cincinnati is ready to move on from quarterback Andy Dalton after nine seasons, and the Heisman Trophy winner is expected to lead the Bengals into a new era under second-year coach Taylor.
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Burrow made it clear at the NFL Combine in February that he would play for whatever team drafts him, and there are no longer any concerns he might not want to join the Bengals.
3. Other positions of need
Cincinnati did well enough in free agency there should be some flexibility with picks on Day 2 and 3. The Bengals especially improved their defense, upgrading with five or six new starters, so in the second, third and fourth rounds they can make decisions based on a balance between best player available and biggest need.
“It’s a mixture,” Taylor said. “You go into the draft trying to balance positions of need and the right value at maybe other positions. We just want to continue to add guys that we know help us in some way, shape or form. The good news is that we’ll have some time to think through it before a couple of our picks. That’s a great way to go through the draft.”
The Bengals mostly need players at offensive line, wide receiver and linebacker positions but will always be looking to add edge rushers and depth anywhere they can. Asked specifically about whether he is comfortable enough with the offensive linemen he already has, Taylor said because teams carry eight or nine at that position, they will always be looking to add starters and depth there.
This particular draft pool is considered deep for offensive linemen and wide receivers. If a first-round prospect linebacker falls to Day 2, that could be enticing for the Bengals as well.
4. Trading up and down
The Bengals have a history of trading down in the second round and that No. 33 pick could be coveted by several teams depending on which projected first-rounders fall to Day 2.
Cincinnati could add extra second-round picks by making a trade, but it will depend on who is still on the board after Thursday and how the best available players fit the team’s needs.
It’s also possible the Bengals could trade up to get another first-round pick, which gives them another player with a fifth-year option on his contract, but Taylor did not want to disclose his line of thinking on what the best approach might be.
“You certainly have to be flexible whatever pick it is: 33 or the first pick in the seventh round,” Taylor said. “We’ve done a good job breaking the players down and we’ll react accordingly. We’re in a great position. The first day ends and you have 18 hours to sort it out how you want to approach the next day and the third round ends and you have another 12 hours to get ready for rounds 4-7. We’re in a good position this year.”
5. Locals in the mix
A couple of tight ends with local connections are on the Bengals’ radar and could be late-round additions.
They used one of their 48 prospect interviews at the NFL Combine to meet with University of Dayton product Adam Trautman, and the coaching staff worked with Cincinnati Bearcats standout Josiah Deguara at the Senior Bowl. Taylor was Deguara’s offensive coordinator in 2016.
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Former Wayne High School teammates Robert Landers, an interior defensive lineman at Ohio State, and Ahmad Wagner, a wide receiver at Kentucky, are potential late-round picks as well.
Looking beyond the draft, the Bengals can’t start negotiating with potential undrafted college free agents until after the event is completely over, even if their final pick is No. 215 to start off the seventh round. Rookies can begin joining virtual offseason meetings May 11.