Sam Schneider | April 7th, 2020
The Cincinnati Bengals caught some people sleeping in the 2020 offseason, bucking the no-spend narrative that has permeated the national media when owner Mike Brown opened the coffers for Zac Taylor, Katie Blackburn, and Duke Tobin to go after big free-agents which you can read about here. That spending has filled many gaps in a defense that was tossed around like a rag doll last season and enables the Bengals to draft for the best player available scenario in the upcoming draft.
There is still plenty of work to be done for a team which finished with two wins in 2019 but in addition to the draft picks they get back A.J. Green and last year’s first-round pick in Jonah Williams at left tackle. Gone are several staples of the starting lineup from the Marvin Lewis days. In are D.J. Reader, Mackensie Alexander, Trae Waynes, Josh Bynes, and others. The Bengals stand to net at least three day-one starters from this year’s draft, as well as several key depth players that could find themselves involved in heavy rotation or called upon due to injury in 2020. They have seven picks in the draft and here’s how I see it playing out.
I used the Fanspeak mock simulator for help with this mock.
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Round 1, Pick 1: Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
It’s “Burrow or Bust” for Cincinnati here. They’ll undoubtedly have offers on the table for the first overall pick, but they simply cannot entertain the idea. Brown needs asses in the seats, and you do that by drafting the guy coming off arguably the greatest college football season in history (and an Ohio guy with tons of swagger to boot). This is a win-win for Cincinnati from a perception angle.
As a good friend of mine put it: If you draft Burrow and he’s as great as you think, you’re a winner. If you take him and he doesn’t pan out, no one can blame you for making the pick. However, if you trade the pick and he turns into a superstar, the “same old Bengals” narrative will continue to haunt fans of the Orange-and-Black for years. Take your franchise quarterback and bring in some extra people to man the season-ticket phone line.
Round 2, Pick 33: Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
The Bengals are taking a linebacker with the first pick in round two. Mark it down in ink. Not only is it a position of great need but I think the talented linebacker group sees Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray leave the board between picks 25 and 30 which leaves Baun for the Bengals as the best choice in this spot. You could do worse; in Baun, they get an extremely versatile performer at 33 overall, one year removed from watching the Pittsburgh Steelers snag Devin Bush Jr. just before them in the 2019 draft.
Baun has the motor to play all over the field and has an explosive move especially tantalizing for delayed blitzes. More important for the Bengals fans, he has the adaptability to move positions depending on personnel and has shown an ability to cover both running backs and tight ends in the open field.
Round 3, Pick 65: Lucas Niang, OT, TCU
With Tobin heading up the draft along with Lewis and now Taylor, one of the things the Bengals have always had tremendous luck with is getting that guy that slides for one reason or another. This year is no different, they snag Niang as an absolute gift at 65 overall. He is a huge 6’7”, 328 lbs offensive tackle who has primarily played on the right side. He can slide into the right tackle position as a first-year starter over Bobby Hart who has been the bane of the Bengals fans’ existence for longer than they’d care to admit.
Niang tore his hip labrum during last season but by all accounts, it’s an injury that does not typically lend itself to future complications and he also expected to be fully healed for training camp (whenever that may be). Prior to the injury, Niang was being projected as a first-round talent. The injury might be just enough to push him down draft boards. If he makes it to the top of round three, the Bengals need to grab him.
Round 4, Pick 107: James Lynch, IDL, Baylor
At the top of round four, Lynch is sitting there as the best physical talent available. The Bengals added Reader to combine with Geno Atkins in the middle of the line, but they get another defensive tackle in Lynch, who could find himself in the rotation more sooner than later. As Big 12 player of the year, he had 13.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, two blocked kicks and five pass breakups. He can get after the quarterback but understands audibles and coverage changes enabling him to drop and cover when necessary.
Round 5, Pick 147: Isaiah Coulter, WR, Rhode Island
In a deep wide receiver class, the Bengals get a talented “X receiver” in round five. Coulter needs some discipline on routes but has demonstrated the work ethic to improve in that respect. This is a guy who could learn a lot from Green this season as he shares the same traits and ability to switch directions after the catch despite his frame (6’2”, 198lbs). The Bengals are sitting pretty for 2020 between Green, Tyler Boyd, and Auden Tate but I could still see Coulter making the team over some of the other depth at the position.
Round 6, Pick 180: Trevis Gipson, EDGE, Tulsa
Again, the Bengals take the best athlete on the board in Gipson who needs practice squad development but is loaded with the tools and potential to make an impact in year two and three in the league. As a senior, he earned first-team All-AAC, finishing with eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
Round 7, Pick 215: Joe Bachie, LB, Michigan State
Another steal here. Bachie led MSU in tackles as a sophomore en route to All-Big 10 honors. He improved on those stats as a junior and was in line for a gigantic senior season (8.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks through just eight games) before losing his remaining eligibility due to a positive PED test. That test may give teams pause; was it the reason he performed so well? Might be enough to have him slide a little and a linebacker needy team like Cincinnati scoops up a player in the seventh round who is likely to make the roster.
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