CINCINNATI – The Bengals addressed some obvious needs by drafting Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon and Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis Friday night.
“I’m so excited, I can hardly stand myself,” offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said about Mixon, the second-round pick. “This guy can flat go.”
Zampese described Mixon as a “strong, explosive” runner with good “change of direction, feel and instincts” and good hands for catching the ball.
“We can move him around on different places of the field,” Zampese said. “He interviewed football IQ-wise very well.
“I think he has a very, very bright future.”
Running backs coach Kyle Caskey seconded that.
“He’s dynamic. We can put him anywhere on the field,” Caskey said. “There’s a lot of things he can do that can help us, not only in the run game, but in the pass game. He brings an explosiveness to our offense that’s good to have.
"They used him a lot out of the backfield … He had a couple one-handed catches and different things like that that show off his ball skills.
“When he’s running the ball, he can make people miss in space. He can run people over. He’s 228 pounds, ran a mid-4.4, and has the agility and space of a smaller back,” Caskey said.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said Mixon returned kicks at Oklahoma and may fill that role here.
“I’m excited about that,” Lewis said.
The Bengals needed a running back after Rex Burkhead, who also was used as a slot receiver, left for New England. Plus, Giovani Bernard is recovering from a torn ACL, raising doubts about depth at the position.
Jeremy Hill returns as the starter, but he has fallen off considerably the past two years. His yards per carry has dropped from 5.1 to 3.8. Plus, his contract expires after 2017.
The running game has ranked in the middle of the pack each of the last two seasons after coming in at No. 6 in 2014.
The Bengals took offensive players in the first two rounds. They chose speedy Washington receiver John Ross with the ninth overall pick on Thursday night.
They got around to helping their pass rush in the third round by taking Willis, who was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and had 26 sacks in his college career.
Like Ross, Willis also brings speed. At 6-4 and 258, he ran the fastest 40 (4.53) of all defensive linemen at the Combine.
And how about this, Joe Mixon? Willis is also a model of character, according to his coach. Bill Snyder called Willis "the epitome of Kansas State football." High praise from a Hall of Fame coach.
The Bengals had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback last season and finished with their second-lowest sack total (33) in the last eight years. Willis will move into their line rotation.
The Bengals will have nine picks Saturday in the final four rounds. They got an extra fourth-rounder (128th overall) from the Vikings when they traded places in the second round.
The Bengals need to add depth at linebacker and on the offensive line, which is their biggest concern. They lost their top two linemen — left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler — in free agency.
The Bengals now have picks 116, 128, 138, 153, 176, 193, 217, 227 and 251.
The draft resumes at noon.
DENNARD EXTENDED: As the second round was starting, the Bengals exercised their fifth-year option on cornerback Darqueze Dennard through the 2018 season. Dennard was the 24th overall pick in 2014.