This season brought some major change to the leadership of the Cincinnati Bengals. With eleven picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, new Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor has ample opportunity to put his stamp on the roster.
The last time Marvin Lewis wasn’t in the Cincinnati Bengals war room, George W. Bush was in his first term as president, Billy Ray Cyrus was more famous than his daughter Miley, and flip phones were still a thing. Though the arrival of Taylor means a new beginning in the Queen City, the team’s approach to building a roster remains the same.
Because of their “draft and develop” philosophy, and staunch allergy to free agency, perhaps no team relies more on the draft to build their roster than the Bengals. The team has eleven picks this year for Taylor to build a roster that he can begin calling his own. We break down all eleven picks in this mock draft, considering team needs and team philosophy.
This group could be considered a decent haul in Cincinnati. Though it’s nothing to write home about, the team ignored their typical approach of avoiding any signings that interfere with compensatory draft picks and filled some holes with somewhat serviceable veterans. Wynn signed a one-year deal and Miller and Webb signed three-year deals each, both with only the first year’s salary guaranteed.
Though Burfict has been the face of the defense since 2012, the team is wisely moving on from the talented yet troubled linebacker. The team opted for still-developing TE C.J. Uzomah over Kroft, but still needs an upgrade at the position.
Key Areas of Need
LB, TE, OL, DL, RB, QB, CB
Round 1, Pick 11: Devin White, LB, LSU
If White somehow falls out of the top ten, the Bengals would be wise to run to the podium with this pick. Burfict is gone and newly re-signed LB Preston Brown is not the tone-setter they need in the physical AFC North.
Even if Burfict were still with the team, this pick makes sense. White possesses an incredible combination of power and speed that sets him apart from other linebackers in this class. He’s a two-year starter in the SEC and arrives battle-tested without too much wear and tear.
Despite his pre-draft hype, it’s not impossible for White to make it to eleven. Tampa Bay at five and Denver at ten seem like the other logical landing spots come draft day. If White is gone, Cincinnati could look at one of the premier edge rushers here like Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat or Florida State’s Brian Burns.
Round 2, Pick 42: Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
To understand this pick you must remember that Cincinnati often uses draft picks as bargaining chips. Starting CB William Jackson is nearing the end of his rookie contract. You can believe the team is looking at that in terms of dollars as much as the on-field implications.
Mullen fits what Cincinnati likes in their CB’s. He has good size at 6’1” 195 lbs. and excels at man coverage. He’s a willing tackler and has the versatility to play all over the field. It’s a bit of a reach at 42, but they often stay put to grab the player they like rather than trade down and hope he’s available later. For what it’s worth, Mullen also brings a familiarity with the enemy as the cousin of Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Round 3, pick 72: Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M
Though oft-injured TE Tyler Eifert is back on a one-year deal, he’s a shadow of his former self. The team is still trying to replace him as a weapon. Sternberger fits the bill as a threat in the seam and red zone option, posting 10 TD’s in 2018 for the Aggies. Though he might be labeled as a “receiving” TE, Sternberger held his own as a blocker against some of the SEC’s best defenders.
Round 4, pick 110: Drue Tranquill, LB, Notre Dame
New defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is expected to run a 4-3 in Cincinnati and his linebacker cupboard is barren. Tranquill fits as a 4-3 WILL LB and brings grit and dedication coaches love. The former safety opted for a fifth year at Notre Dame to perfect his craft after the position switch. He also played through a broken hand and sprained an ankle in 2018. Tranquill immediately adds quality depth to a position group in desperate need of an upgrade.
Round 5, Pick 149: Isaiah Johnson, CB, Houston
Johnson is still learning the position as a converted wide receiver. Still, he has 22 starts under his belt and is one of the most physically impressive corners in this year’s group. At 6’2” and 210 lbs. he ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the combine. His wingspan and arm length are in the 93rd percentile of the position group. He is currently a better zone CB than man but given his physical makeup, he should develop into a scheme-versatile player with starting potential. He’s been climbing draft boards since his combine performance, but on draft day teams might hesitate to pull the trigger on such a raw prospect.
Round 6, Pick 183: Ryan Finley, QB, North Carolina State
Last year Andy Dalton missed five games with a thumb injury and backup Jeff Driskel didn’t do much in relief. Dalton has been named the starter for 2019 but the new coaching staff will no doubt want to begin reshaping this group in their own image. NC State quarterback Ryan Finley could easily step in as Dalton’s backup. He has a lengthy college resume that includes two years at Boise State and three at NC State. While Finley lacks elite physical traits, he played in a pro-style offense and has solid mechanics. Like former Zac Taylor protégés Ryan Tannehill and Jared Goff, Finley is a conservative passer with good anticipation.
Round 6, Pick 198: Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma
Backup running back Giovani Bernard is entering the final year of his contract and the team might want to use one of its five sixth-round picks on the position. The Joe Mixon gamble paid off for Cincinnati and the team should roll the dice on another Oklahoma back in the oft-injured Rodney Anderson if he’s still available here.
Despite his talent, he could fall this far simply due to medical concerns. A broken leg, fractured C-5 vertebrae, and torn ACL might take Anderson off some team boards completely. However, Cincinnati has proven they are not afraid to take a risk, medical or otherwise. Anderson is a similar back to Mixon with good vision and soft hands, and in his only healthy season (2017) he ran for 1,161 yards and scored 18 total TDs.
Round 6, Pick 210: Corbin Kaufusi, DE, BYU
Kaufusi is the kind of project team owner Mike Brown loves. He’s an impressive specimen at 6’9” and 285 lbs. and has the versatility to play all over the line. Kaufusi also sports a good bloodline. His father played for the Philadelphia Eagles and brother Bronson was a third-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. Kaufusi could be a solid rotational player on passing downs as he racked up 13.5 sacks over the past two seasons in Provo.
Round 6, Pick 211: Marquise Copeland, DT, Cincinnati
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins was named to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl in 2018 but he turned 31 years old last month. Cincinnati would be wise to start thinking of the future here. The answer may be right in their own backyard. University of Cincinnati’s Marquise Copeland is a consistent force in the middle, racking up at least 50 total tackles in each of his three years as a starter. He finished his Bearcats career with 8.5 sacks (including a career-high four in 2018) and 21 tackles for loss. Often unheralded on some subpar UC teams, Copeland’s NFL path may rival that of Atkins, who was also a mid-round selection (fourth round) in 2010.
Round 6, Pick 213: Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo
2017 first-round pick John Ross has not panned out and A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are both entering contract years. It’s a given that at some point Cincinnati will address the receiver position. Johnson is a big target at 6’2” and 210 lbs. and has a large catch radius. Despite only two seasons of FBS play, he racked up 25 TD’s and back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He is a prime candidate to sit and develop for a year and then step into a larger role in 2020.
Round 7, Pick 223: Jackson Barton, OT, Utah
Cincinnati’s starting five offensive linemen are in place, but the seventh-round is all about potential. Barton has good size at 6’7” and 310 lbs. and is a physical run blocker. His pass blocking skills, particularly against speedy edge rushers, needs a lot of refinement. As a project, Barton is built in the mold that the Bengals like in their OT’s.