Cincinnati Bengals NFL Draft Options: Who Could Be Some Mid-Round WR Targets?

The Cincinnati Bengals are expected to target a wide receiver early, but that won't preclude them from double-dipping in the middle rounds as well.

CINCINNATI – The speculation around Tee Higgins should mercifully come to an end by the time the first round of the NFL Draft ends. Or at least after the Cincinnati Bengals pick at No. 18.

The Bengals have no intention of trading Higgins, and it’s doubtful another team will offer a package enticing enough to make them change their mind.

Mid-Round WR Options for the Bengals

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say the Bengals trade Higgins. It would hardly alter the way they approach the wide receiver position in this draft.

It will be stunning if the Bengals don’t grab a receiver from one of the most talented classes in recent years on Day 1 or 2, and likely with one of their first three picks (18, 49, 80).

We already touched on some of the top options if they go after one early, so let’s look at who could be some top choices if they wait until Round 3 — or perhaps a little later if they elect to draft two.

Here are some of the best third- and fourth-round options, with insight from Pro Football Network’s Draft Analyst Ian Cummings.

Ricky Pearsall, Florida

Ricky Pearsall (6’1″, 191 pounds) is the oldest player among the early- to mid-round receiver prospects. He’ll be 24 on the first Monday of the season after playing five seasons in college — three at Arizona State and two at Florida.

He averaged barely more than one drop per season with just six in his college career, and he projects as either a slot or outside receiver who also can be a returner.

Cummings: “Non-elite athletic traits may dilute Pearsall’s ceiling, but he has the skills to be a valuable rotational presence. His best college football plays came as a result of his most marketable traits. To be sure, he’s a very nuanced separator with enough athleticism and fluidity to function at the NFL level.

“He makes his money with truly hyper-elite catching instincts and hands. Few receivers are better at the catch point than him when it comes to consistently adjusting for footballs, using late adjustments and patience to maintain control and securing passes through the catch process with hands of glue.”

Malachi Corley, Western Kentucky

The YAC King, Malachi Corley (5’11”, 205 pounds) feasted on taking bubble screens and turning them into big gains, which is why scouts see his route running as still needing work.

He could be a fun piece with which Zac Taylor and Dan Pitcher to dive more into motions, as well as jet sweeps and the quick screens Corley excelled on at WKU.

Cummings: “Corley is essentially a running back playing the WR position. That means exactly what you think — both good and bad. At around 5’10” and 215 pounds, Corley has an incredibly unique frame at WR, granting him hyper-elite contact balance and strength after the catch.

“What’s more, Corley weaponizes his frame with bristling speed and explosiveness, relentless physicality, and vision while engaging his blocks. At Western Kentucky, he was utilized in many different ways — on screens, swings, sweep motions, drag routes, slants, and even out of the backfield as an RB.

“The main drawback with Corley is this: He’s a weapon first and a wide receiver second.”

Troy Franklin, Oregon

Troy Franklin (6’2″, 176 pounds) is at the other end of the spectrum from Pearsall. He won’t turn 22 until a few weeks after Super Bowl 59.

In two seasons as a starter for the Ducks, Franklin caught 23 touchdowns. He was a second-team All-American in 2023, leading the Pac-12 with 14 scoring catches. He could use some more mass on his frame, but his height and speed would make him a field-stretching complement to Chase.

Cummings: “Franklin is a snappy, elastic long-strider with the speed and explosiveness to threaten defenses vertically. He can carve up seams and up the boundary, but he also has the lateral twitch and foot speed to offset DBs, the sink and flexibility to support a full route tree, and the agility and active feet to be a stubborn RAC threat.

“With his frame and vertical ability, Franklin also brings some boons of a larger receiver. He’s flashed the ability to wall off smaller DBs with his frame, and his length gives him a wide catch radius. To that end, he has excellent body control and contortion ability, and he can snare throws past his frame.”

Ja’Lynn Polk, Washington

Ja’Lynn Polk (6’1″, 203 pounds) landed with the Bengals in my second mock, and he did so again multiple times when we started with four different positions in our different mock scenarios episode of the PFN Bengals Podcast.

Polk has a limited ceiling but a high floor and the kind of versatility the Bengals are looking for to help move Chase around in formations. Among receivers with at least 100 receptions from 2022-23, Polk’s 16.9 average yards per reception ranks third behind Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr. and Central Florida’s Javon Baker.

Cummings: “Polk passes the desired athleticism threshold with excellent explosiveness, agility, and smooth fluidity in all phases. And while he’s not a burner, he has enough speed to stress vertically and create late-snap separation on tight throws.

“Polk’s fluidity as an athlete grants him all-encompassing versatility, both as a separator and an offensive weapon. He can be used on motions and on multiple planes, and when working against stems in off-man and zone, he has the angle IQ, deceptive intent, and throttle control to create space for himself.”

Xavier Legette, South Carolina

Perhaps it’s a pipe dream to think Xavier Legette (6’1″, 220 pounds) could still be available in the third round after NFL Networks’ Daniel Jeremiah mentioned him as a player who could sneak into the first round.

Even though he played five seasons with the Gamecocks, he’s sort of the receiver version of Amarius Mims, the offensive tackle from Georgia with freaky athleticism but only eight career starts. Legette made 32 starts, but he never had more than 170 yards in a season until 2023, when he caught 71 passes for 1,255 yards and seven touchdowns.

Cummings: “Size-speed profiles like Legette’s simply don’t come around often. He ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 220 pounds and also hit as fast as 22.3 MPH in the 2023 season. Not only is Legette’s top-end speed enthralling, but he reaches that speed almost instantly and can warp coverage and tackling angles as a result.

“Meanwhile, at the catch point, Legette is one of the most imposing receivers in the class with his quick reaction speed, 32″ arms and swarming catch radius, high-end contortion ability, adaptable tracking, and strong hands.”

Malik Washington, Virginia

Malik Washington (5’8″, 194 pounds) is short in stature and long(ish) in age as someone who will turn 24 during the 2024 season (October). He has the ability to step in as a rookie and be a real weapon in the slot, but that might be all he ever is.

He could be an interesting pick as the back end of a double dip, but it’s hard to imagine the Bengals targeting a player like Washington as their top receiver pick in this draft.

MORE: Who Could Be Some Early-Round TE Targets for Cincinnati?

Cummings: “Washington fits the three-level WR framework well. Before the catch, he’s an explosive yet fluid route runner with a solid route tree and usage versatility on designed catches and motions.

“After the catch, Washington combines his explosive, hyperactive athleticism and agility with a dense, compact frame that yields exceptional contact balance, and he’s also an urgent, physical run-after-catch (RAC) receiver who seeks out extra yardage by any means necessary.

“Washington excels at creating before and after the catch, but his skills at the catch point are just as compelling.”

Devontez Walker, North Carolina

Devontez Walker (6’1″, 193 pounds) played with likely top-3 pick Drake Maye as his quarterback at UNC. He also scored 18 touchdowns over the last two seasons.

Walker ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at the Combine, which would make him a vertical, big-play threat to complement Chase. On the downside, he had 12 drops over the last two seasons.

MORE: Could Tee Higgins Be Traded During the 2024 NFL Draft?

Cummings: “Walker has an elite three-trait foundation that elevates his grade: His speed, explosiveness, and high-level catching instincts on the vertical plane, to go along with excellent size at 6’2 1/2″ and 200 pounds.

“Once clocked at over 23 miles per hour in a game by Recruiting Analytics, there’s no disputing Walker’s long speed. When he has a runway, he can effortlessly stack defenders on the boundary and gain space. And once he has that space to control leverage, Walker’s incredibly effective at keeping the DB where he wants him and adjusting to the ball.”

Jermaine Burton, Alabama

Jermaine Burton (6’0″, 196 pounds) is one of the more intriguing receivers in the draft as one of the most gifted … and the most puzzling.

Maturity issues are a big part of his profile, and that usually doesn’t mesh with what the Bengals are looking for. But many scouts think he’ll be even better in the NFL than he was in college if he can keep the main thing the main thing.

He averaged 20.5 yards per catch last year for Alabama. His production could explode if he is paired with a more accurate quarterback in the NFL.

Cummings: “Purely off of film, Burton grades out as a top-64 prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft and one of the more underrated prospects in the class. Character evaluations will play a large role in solidifying Burton’s stock, but if he doesn’t hold himself back, there’s little preventing him from being a dynamic receiving weapon.

“Burton came into the 2022 season with high expectations after transferring from Georgia and initially failed to meet them. But he returned to school and made the most of his opportunity in Tuscaloosa, reinventing his game as a route runner and an RAC threat while maintaining his utility as a venerable deep threat.”

Brenden Rice, USC

The fact that he’s Jerry Rice’s son might be all you need to know about Brenden Rice (6’2″, 208 pounds).

But while the pedigree is there, he still is somewhat of a project, which could make him a fit for the Bengals as another back end of a double dip where they get one receiver to make an impact right away and someone like Rice, who can learn from some of the best in the game — Chase and Higgins as well as wide receivers coach Troy Walters — and grow into an eventual starter.

KEEP READING: Adam Caplan Has the Bengals Stepping Out of Comfort Zone in Latest Mock Draft

Cummings: “Rice already is a venerable vertical threat with an elite mix of size, length, and speed. He explodes upfield, has the reach and strength to pry through DB physicality, and has the wide catch radius and strong hands to snare passes in the intermediate and deep ranges.

“An underrated part of Rice’s profile, past his elite size-speed combination, is his reliability as an off-script outlet for QBs. Playing with Williams, he gained a sharp awareness in off-script situations. He routinely made himself available for Williams, shaking DBs with unpredictable movements, and attacked the football when it came his way.”

Jalen McMillan, Washington

A last-minute Top-30 visitor to Paycor Stadium, Jalen McMillan (6’1″, 197 pounds), is often seen as the “other” receiver on the Huskies behind Rome Odunze and Polk.

After putting up 1,098 yards and nine touchdowns in 2022, his production dipped (559 yards, five TDs) in 2023 due to missing four games with a knee injury. He’s in the Polk mold, meaning he can play inside or outside.

KEEP READING: Adam Caplan Has the Bengals Stepping Out of Comfort Zone in Latest Mock Draft

Cummings: “McMillan is a lean receiver with an exceptional athletic foundation. While he might not be the highest-mass target, he’s a gliding athlete with great vertical speed, great agility and fluidity, and a large enough catch radius to work beyond his frame.

“Ultimately, McMillan’s profile is best in the high-floor departments. NFL wideouts need to be able to separate and convert at the catch point, and McMillan does both at a high level. He’s a technician as a route runner with a nuanced route tree, exceptional spatial instincts and throttle control, and sharp cutting ability.”

Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here, boss. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s all-new Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls — lone wolf or with your friends!

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