Inside the Bengals’ Kris Jenkins, McKinnley Jackson Picks: Why Cincinnati Took DTs in Back-to-Back Rounds

DJ Reader was such a huge presence on the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive line that it took two draft picks to replace him.

CINCINNATI – For the second year in a row and the third time in the previous four drafts, the Cincinnati Bengals pulled off a double double-dip.

After selecting tackles Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith and defensive ends Joseph Ossai and Cam Sample in 2021, plus cornerbacks DJ Turner II and DJ Ivey IV and wide receivers Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas last year, the Bengals used all 10 of their 2024 NFL Draft picks to target two of their thinnest position groups.

Cincinnati Bengals Double Dip at Defensive Tackle

Cincinnati took defensive tackles Kris Jenkins and McKinnley Jackson in the second and third rounds, respectively. They later added tight ends Erick All (fourth) and Tanner McLachlan (sixth).

There was a lot written and spoken about this year’s defensive tackle class and how it was heavy on 3-technique pass rushers and light on run stoppers. Yet, the Bengals believe they got two of the top defenders for the ground attacks they face in the AFC North division.

“We like how well-rounded his game is,” Bengals director of college scouting Mike Potts said of Jenkins. “Really long arms, explosive athlete who can play the run and the pass. We think he even has some more untapped potential in his body and upside as a pass rusher.

“He ran a 40 time of 4.9 at that size,” Potts added. “And he can play stout at the point of attack if you ask him to, or you can ask him to pin his ears back and get up the field as a pass rusher and disrupt as a one-gap, penetrating type of defensive tackle.”

When the second round began, there were a handful of defensive tackles available in addition to Jenkins, but four were selected in a five-pick span, creating a level of tension in Cincinnati’s draft room.

Head coach Zac Taylor said each seven-minute round felt like 27 minutes.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said he spent the entire time squinting at Jenkins’ name on the board as if to will it to remain there until the Bengals picked at 49.

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“It’s always tense when you have guys that you target,” Potts said. “There was definitely conversations that we had in the second round — and really in every round — conversations about moving up, moving back.

“There was probably over 100, if I had to guess, phone calls and texts in regards to trades,” he continued. “But the way it worked out, we did a really good job of staying patient, and there was at least one or two guys there at each pick that we felt really good about. We were really happy to get Kris there.”

In addition to his explosive athleticism and versatility, the Bengals loved everything they learned about Jenkins in their meetings with him and those who were closest to him.

“He had a big personality, kind of lights up the room when he walks in,” Potts said. “The best thing is that aligned with how his coaches at Michigan talked about him. The strength coaches, his position coach, you talk to the trainers, the academic people, all of that. And they described that type of personality. Then when you see it for yourself face to face, you look him in the eye, and you feel his presence.”

If there is a knock on Jenkins, it’s his size (6’2 ½”, 299 pounds) and whether he can hold up physically, especially in the AFC North.

DJ Reader was the ideal defensive tackle for the division, but he suffered a quad injury in December and signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Lions in March.

So 48 picks after selecting Jenkins, the Bengals took Texas A&M’s Jackson, who packs more weight at 6’1”, 324 pounds, and a little more in the Reader mold.

“There was not a ton of those big, true nose tackles in this draft class like McKinnley Jackson,” Potts said. “That was one position that was a little bit thinner on the board. After losing DJ Reader, it’s something that we wanted to address, in terms of big, run-stopping defensive tackles.

“McKinnley is a guy that we had very strong grades on,” Potts continued. “I’m glad that we were able to work through the process and gain conviction on him as a person and a player. He’s a strong, physical, violent player who can really help us on the interior of the D-line.”

Even with Reader, the Bengals finished 26th in run defense in 2023, allowing 126.2 yards per game.

And against division opponents, that number swelled to 151.8 ypg, second-most allowed by any team against its own division, ahead of only the Arizona Cardinals (154.7).

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That’s why it took two draft picks to replace the loss of Reader.

And while Reader was one of the elite run stoppers in the league, he was a good pass rusher as well. Potts said he believes both Jenkins and Jackson can develop into a similar type of weapon.

“I think both of those guys have upside in the pass game,” he said. “I don’t want to just label them as run stuffers.”

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