CINCINNATI — The one thing the Bengals have to hope for is that their 2017 draft isn’t forever known as the Joe Mixon Draft.
The club took a huge risk by picking the most controversial player in the draft. If Mixon, who is best known for punching out a women, missteps, it will be a huge dose of bad publicity for the club.
The Mixon pick is, at best, another example of the franchise’s tendency for giving players second chances, but the pick is another example of the franchise’s habit of overlooking off-the-field trouble to get on-the-field talent.
(Side note: I’m not with the folks, including the wcpo.com editorial board, who said the Bengals should not draft Mixon.) He made a horrendous, inexcusable mistake as an 18-year-old. He’s shown remorse. He does not deserve a life sentence.
“I’ve learned a lot, a lot about being in situations, being in certain areas that you shouldn’t be around,” Mixon said. “Basically, I did a lot of community service, did a lot of counseling, and I’m still seeking it.”
But, again, for this draft to be what the club hopes, it has to get past being the Joe Mixon Draft.
That could happen a number of ways: If top pick John Ross becomes a star, or if the depth of the draft changes the fortunes of the franchise.
I think there’s a good chance of both of those things happening — particularly, the part about Ross becoming a star. When you’re the fastest guy in the draft and you’re playing on the other side from A.J. Green, it sets up for a good early NFL career.
Whether this a franchise-changing draft or not is harder to predict. By sheer numbers, it’s going to have a huge impact. The Bengals had 11 picks. That’s the most they’ve had since since 1992 when the draft was still 12 rounds. And the draft was deep.
“All three of us got exactly the guy we wanted,” offensive line coach Paul Alexander said as he sat with other assistants to talk about picks 5, 5B and 6A. “That happened with us the whole draft. There are a lot of happy coaches, a lot of happy management. The way this draft fell we got the guys we wanted. That’s great for the Bengals.”
That influx of talent is huge for the defense, which looked old at times last year.
“I felt as a defense we have to get faster on all three levels,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “Hopefully, not only does it help us get faster with the players we selected, it keeps our older guys fresh because we’re able to take some snaps off those guys. We’re getting a little faster on defense.”
The defensive ends the Bengals got with their third and fourth picks Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson ran 4.53 and 4.67 40s. (Lawson did the most bench press reps at the Combine). Brandon Wilsons, the team’s second pick in the sixth round, ran 4.36 40.
The Bengals added speed on offense as well and not just with Ross. Josh Malone, the wide receiver the Bengals picked in the fourth round, ran 4.40 and he’s 6-foot-3, 208 pounds.
The draft was deep in the middle round, so the Bengals got their players often on the draft’s third day.
“You kind of follow your board,” Guenther said. “On the defensive side, we rank our guys one to 100. We try to stay true to that, not make any rash decisions and jump ahead or jump behind. There were two players we pinpointed at that point in the draft, and they were staring up in the face. We jumped on them.”
We’ll see when the season starts how good the picks were.
But if this turns out to be a draft on par with the 2012 — when the Bengals got Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and George Iloka — maybe this won’t be remembered as the Joe Mixon Draft.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.