Analysis: Bengals draft for smash, not flash

Team improves strength, depth at key positions
Posted at 10:03 PM, Apr 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-27 22:07:49-04

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals had people scratching their heads the way they started the NFL Draft, but by the end of it, the decision-makers had addressed the team’s needs pretty well.

Cincinnati beefed up its offensive line, added two high-motor linebackers and a lengthy defensive tackle and traded up to get a quality quarterback to develop behind Andy Dalton – almost all within the first four rounds.

Although the Bengals drafters might not have started out looking that organized, they came out appearing to have added some quality building blocks. Cincinnati made 10 total picks.

SEE all of the Bengals' picks.

"We felt like we had a very productive draft,” new head coach Zac Taylor said after the completion of his first draft with the Bengals. “…Everyone in this building walks away from the draft feeling really good about the positions we were able to pick and what we're getting from all those guys."

The first two days didn’t originally leave the fans with that vibe, though.

WATCH Taylor's end-of-draft news conference.

The Bengals became the first to take an offensive lineman off the board when they selected Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams at No. 11 overall on Thursday, leaving some to believe they could have traded down and still gotten him or one of the other similarly-rated prospects at that position.

Taylor said they saw who they wanted and grabbed him. Williams was widely considered one of the best linemen in the draft and clearly fills a need on a line that required some upgrades, especially since he has the flexibility and size to play guard or tackle.

But then came the second round, when the Bengals even surprised their own pick, taking Washington tight end Drew Sample at No. 52 overall.

Cincinnati had traded back in the second round for a third straight year, allowing the Denver Broncos to take Missouri quarterback Drew Lock at No. 42 – a player some Bengals fans were hoping to get. Sample was the No. 10 tight end and No. 192 overall player on the Pro Football Focus Big Board. He was the third tight end taken, though his agent was prepping him more for a third- or fourth-round call.

"We got a guy we're excited about and made our team better, so that is going to come in all areas of football, we all know that,” Taylor added. “We can't get caught up in (what people say). That's the guy we identified we liked and we felt like we needed to go get.”

The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Sample was an honorable mention All-Pac 12 pick as a senior in 2018 when he caught a career-high 25 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns for the conference champion Huskies. He said he is capable of doing more in the passing game but that just wasn’t Washington’s system.

Sample earned the highest run-blocking grade in the nation (82.3) among draft-eligible tight ends, according to Pro Football Focus.

"I don't think we would have gotten him in the third round,” Taylor said. “The more you watch the tape on him, he is a physical, does it the way you want it. It's hard to find tight ends that are that physical and hard-nosed in the run game right now. He's 255 and doesn't look it. He's got a lot of power and grit.”

Those first two picks should have made quarterback Andy Dalton and running back Joe Mixon happy, but the positivity surrounding the Bengals’ draft didn’t start developing until Cincinnati took North Carolina State linebacker Germaine Pratt in the third round to address a big need on defense.

Some projected Pratt going in the second round, although the 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker started just one of his four seasons with the Wolfpack. After making the switch from safety as a junior, his production as a senior was off the charts, making him a good value pick in the third round.

“We're thrilled to get Germaine, a guy we were coveting earlier in the day and kind of kept tracking,” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. “As the draft goes, it seems like this year was even more so unpredictable, but we're happy, we're pleased we got him, a guy that had over 100 tackles last year, four interceptions in his career, six sacks last year, so he can kind of provide a little bit of ball disruption as well as being a really good linebacker.”

The Bengals grew a little more aggressive on Day 3, beginning with trading up to get North Carolina State quarterback Ryan Finley at No. 104 overall. But outside of that pick, they continued to build depth in the trenches and inside the box.

Cincinnati took Arizona State defensive tackle Renell Wren at No. 125, and then traded up to take Ohio State interior offensive lineman Michael Jordan at No. 136 to finish up the fourth round. Wren, at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, adds length at defensive tackle, which is something the Bengals lack with the current group, and the 6-foot-7, 312-pound Jordan has the versatility and length to play guard or fill in at tackle in a pinch.

The Bengals further solidified an emphasis on boosting the running game -- and thus opening up the passing game for Dalton -- when they added some competition to the backfield with a pair of sixth-round picks. Cincinnati took Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams at No. 182 overall and added Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson at No. 211.

The 5-foot-8, 208-pound Williams broke out as a junior in 2018, earning first-team All-SEC and second-team Associated Press All-American honors by finishing in the top five nationally with 1,524 rushing yards. He likely would have gone earlier with a little more height. Anderson (6-foot, 224 pounds) played just two games and has been limited throughout his career by injuries but was productive when healthy, rushing for 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017.

“That's the starting point for us,” Taylor said of the perceived emphasis on the running game. “We are going to place a very strong focus on the run game, and it all plays off of that. If you can't get the run game going, the rest of your offense really struggles. I think that providing some competition at offensive line, running back and tight end was important, not only for competition but to build that depth. We took players that we thought highly of and targeted, and if those players weren't there, maybe you take a different position, but we felt very strongly the guys at those positions would come in and help us.”

The Bengals surprisingly didn’t take a single wide receiver, but Taylor – who tends to value those types of players – said that had more to do with just taking value where they could find it.

Cincinnati rounded out the draft with Auburn linebacker Deshaun Davis at No. 210 and South Dakota State cornerback Jordan Brown in the seventh round.

“I think as the rounds unfolded, guys that you value that are there you take,” Taylor said. “There are some moments it could have gone a different way at different positions, so I don't think that was the main focus to pack it inside. It's just the way it shook out this year. We felt like for the value that was there for these guys we couldn't pass it up, and we will provide some competition at some spots of need.”

The Finley pick was one of those moves to add competition.

Callahan said the staff didn’t necessarily leave Paul Brown Stadium on Friday night planning to trade up to get him, but he was a guy they were targeting and decided not to wait. The Bengals were looking to add a quarterback to develop behind Dalton (Callahan and Taylor both stressed that Dalton is still their starter), and Finley was one of the only players at that position they brought in for a visit.

Finley, who began his college career at Boise State in 2013 and used two redshirts, was a first-team All-ACC selection in 2018 after completing 67.4 percent of his throws for 3,928 yards, 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Draft experts called him “a poor man’s Jared Goff,” so it’s no wonder Taylor, the former L.A. Rams quarterbacks coach, liked him.

Asked how he feels about the assumption he comes in to back up Dalton (which Callahan emphasized is still the plan), the 25-year-old Finley said he wasn’t worried about that.

"I'm ready to compete and ready to learn,” Finley said. “Obviously, I'm excited for the learning curve of the NFL, and obviously I've been in college for a long time now so I'm ready for that next step, that next town. Kind of whatever I need to do to help the team as early as I can, I'm going to do that."