Free agency has come and gone for the Cincinnati Bengals, and from what all the experts are reporting, they have not put themselves in any better position to succeed. Cincinnati has lost both starting defensive end and offensive tackle, Michael Johnson and Anthony Collins to Tampa Bay; and allowed to quick footed wide receiver, Andrew Hawkins, to find his new home in Ohio with the Cleveland Browns. Maybe Cincy knows something the rest of us do not, as they approach their off season plans to the NFL Draft.
Coming into this, the NFL Draft Daily thought the biggest dire need for the Bengals was a new defensive back. With Johnson leaving huge hole at his defensive end position to fill, it has left our views somewhat side tracked. Cincinnati has great depth on their team, which makes it hard to judge whether if there is a real need for the position or the possibility of an unsung hero rising from the ashes to capture the position. The Bengals did lose defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, which may have an adverse affect on how the defense adapts in the coming season. Only time will but here at the NFL Draft Daily, it’s time to dive into the prospects.
Johnson leaves a gap to be filled for sure, but one that may not be hard to fill with the Bengals first round pick. Quite frankly, Johnson averaged around five to six sacks a season, and with their pick towards the end of the first round; Cincy may be able to find greater production out of a certain Missouri Tigers star. No, the NFL Draft Daily is not talking about Michael Sam. His quieter counterpart on the other side, Kony Ealy, is the prospect we are looking for. Ealy has a combination of great size, speed, and strength coming off the defensive end position. Ealy has great play awareness, and has shown great instincts with his batted balls in passing situations and when dropping back in coverage. The Missouri Tiger standout would provide the same intimidating presence Johnson did, standing at 6’5″, while possibly providing a better pass rush for the Bengals.
Not forgetting the need for corner, a few prospects stand out as the NFL Draft Daily’s dabbles through the defensive backs available. Missouri had such a great defense last year, it may even be worth taking a second look at another prospect for Cincinnati in the 2nd or 3rd round. E.J. Gaines comes to mind when talking about a corner for Cincy. Even though he is not the tallest corner in the draft (stands at 5’10”), he may have been one of the most productive last season. Gaines unfortunately missed two games last year, but still wound up intercepting five passes in 12 games. Another corner who has been rising as of late is Utah’s Keith McGill. McGill has not been quite as productive as others in college, but his size standing at 6’3″, provides an intriguing intangible that many teams are looking to add to their defenses. With the Bengals known for playing quite a bit of man coverage, a tall physical corner like McGill may fill a need in the later rounds.
After winning the AFC North Division Championship, Cincinnati must improve in clutch situations in order to move past the first round of the playoffs. Back to back first round exits does not sit very well with the fans and front office brass alike, and free agency has left many wanting more. The baby steps need to turn into leaps and bounds. Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals crew need to take off the training wheels and ride it out for the city of Cincinnati.
This article is one in a series, published daily, providing analysis, insight and predictions leading up to the NFL draft and beyond.
Commentary by Justin Huffman