What are the top 5 needs for Cincinnati Bengals in NFL Draft?

CINCINNATI ― Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said earlier this week he feels good about the state of the roster going into the draft.

The organization filled several holes through a productive free agency period, and the draft needs and positioning allow the Bengals flexibility to go a lot of different directions in the first round, depending on who is available.

Cincinnati has the 18th pick when the NFL Draft kicks off with the first round Thursday. The second and third rounds are Friday, and the fourth through seventh rounds are Saturday. The Bengals have 10 total picks.

Here is a look at their top five needs and why the Bengals need to address them in this draft:

1. Defensive tackle

Of the five biggest needs, this one is arguably the greatest in the short term, so it is at the top of the list. The Bengals allowed DJ Reader to walk in free agency, and although newcomer Sheldon Rankins has been a part of some decent run-stopping defenses, he’s not the immovable body that plugs up holes like Reader was. Rankins adds more interior pass rush while being decent against the run, but the Bengals also are missing Josh Tupou on a defensive line that lacked depth last year.

Many draft boards indicate Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton might be the best defensive tackle available to the Bengals in the first round, and there might be higher rated players at other positions that make more sense to select. However, if Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II falls, it would be tough not to go that route at No. 18. He’s a projected top 10 pick by many. The class isn’t very deep so the Bengals need to address the position early if possible.

2. Wide receiver

There are enough talented receivers in the draft pool the Bengals can wait until the second or third round to grab one, but they need a slot receiver to fill the void left by Tyler Boyd (he remains a free agent) and possibly someone that could eventually replace Tee Higgins if a long-term deal can’t be reached. Wide receiver has to be a top priority in this draft.

LSU product Brian Thomas Jr. would be the ideal fit if he’s available in the first round and the Bengals’ top prospects at other positions are gone. He’s a serious vertical threat both outside and in the slot and a yards-after-catch weapon. That versatility could be key, and he’s an explosive player for a 6-foot-4 receiver.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

3. Right tackle

The Bengals signed Trent Brown to a one-year deal, but director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the NFL Combine they would like a long-term option at the right tackle position, which has seen four different starters over the last four years. It seems like Brown is the plug-and-play guy that can help the team win now while also mentoring a draft pick Cincinnati could develop into a future starter.

This draft class is deep at the offensive tackle position, with as many as nine projected to land in the first round. A run on the position could lead to Cincinnati addressing this future need sooner than might be necessary, but with Brown in place for 2024, the Bengals could take a swing at other needs and come back to right tackle at a later round.

Even with the short-term covered, depth for ensuring Joe Burrow’s protection should be a priority.

4. Tight end

The Bengals signed free agent newcomer Mike Gesicki and re-signed Drew Sample and Tanner Hudson, but it’s been a while since they drafted a tight end (Sample was the last one in 2019), and now seems the time to do so. Like the right tackle position, there is coverage for the short term – Mitchell Wilcox also is still available – but there are some quality tight ends in this draft that could make a big difference for the Cincinnati offense.

If Georgia’s Brock Bowers is available, the tight end position possibly becomes a bigger priority. He’s the top tight end prospect in this class, and Bowers could make the offense more diverse. He is the SEC’s all-time leader for tight ends in catches (175), receiving years (2,538) and receiving touchdowns (26).

The tight end class isn’t particularly deep but there are still a lot of other talented options the Bengals could target in later rounds.

5. Cornerback

Cincinnati needs a third outside cornerback after Chidobe Awuzie signed with the Titans in free agency. DJ Turner slid into the No. 2 spot behind Cam Taylor-Britt last season but struggled in the second half of the season after a strong start. A rookie cornerback to compete or provide depth should be a priority, especially given some of the talent that could be available in the early rounds.

The Bengals could also be planning on Dax Hill moving to cornerback and potentially developing behind Mike Hilton as his possible future replacement, but there’s no guarantee he makes the leap needed in Year 3.

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