Why Mel Kiper Has the Bengals Stepping Outside Their Comfort Zone To Draft Smaller WR

John Ross III and Jordan Shipley didn't work out for the Bengals, but Mel Kiper has the team going after another small receiver early in this year's draft.

CINCINNATI – When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted John Ross III with the No. 9 pick in 2017, it marked just the fourth time in franchise history the team had selected a wide receiver shorter than 6’0″ in the first three rounds.

And Ross was just the second on the list since 2001, joining Jordan Shipley.

But Mel Kiper has the Bengals selecting another in the second round of his final mock draft.

Mel Kiper Mocks 5’11” Roman Wilson to Cincinnati Bengals

Kiper tabbed Michigan’s Roman Wilson as the Cincinnati pick at No. 49.

He writes:

“Here’s a spot for Cincinnati to snag a No. 3 wideout. Wilson moved up in my rankings after he ran a 4.39-second 40 at the combine; he ran away from defenders on crossers on tape, but I wasn’t totally sure how he’d test. He had 12 touchdowns last season. He can be a movable playmaker in Zac Taylor’s offense.”

The Athletic’s Dan Brugler had 19 wide receivers with a third-round grade in this year’s draft class. Five of them are shorter than 6′.

If all five end up going in the first three rounds, it will continue the recent trend where teams are less concerned about the durability of smaller receivers and more enthralled with their explosiveness and ability to make plays in space.

From 2010-2020, there were never more than four receivers shorter than 6′ taken in the first three rounds of the draft. The average number was 2.9.

In 2021 there were seven, and in 2023 there were another seven.

Kiper held a conference call with media members on Thursday and was asked about the shift that has more teams willing to spend a premium pick on a playmaker of slighter stature.

He said it’s not as much about teams being less wary of injury risks but more so about the smaller receivers playing smarter.

“You’ve got to protect your body,” Kiper said. “You see these guys, and when they catch the ball, they’re going down. They’re not gonna try to power their way through tacklers in the NFL. You’ve got those safeties and linebackers who hit like that; you don’t want to do that.

“You have to live to fight another day,” Kiper continued. “And they learn that very quickly. How you handle the NFL, how you handle situations, is important. It’s not that you’re not going to be aggressive, but you have to pick your spots to do that when you’re that size in the National Football League. Roman Wilson understood situations at Michigan.”

Kiper said he loved what he saw from Wilson on tape even before he lit up the tests at the Combine.

“What a great kid he is,” Kiper said. “He was their go-to guy along with Colston Loveland for J.J. McCarthy, and you saw him running that 4.39[-second 40-yard dash]. That was an eye-opener right there. Heck of a football player, runs that well, tests that well.”

In addition to Ross, the other receivers shorter than 6′ whom the Bengals have drafted in the first round are Shipley (third round, 2011), Peter Warrick (first round, 2000), and Tim McGee (first round, 1986).

One of the reasons Kiper mocked the 5’10 1/2”, 180-pound Wilson was his versatility. The Bengals want to move Ja’Marr Chase around a lot more in 2024, and drafting a player with a similar ability to line up anywhere should keep defenses guessing.

If Wilson isn’t still available at No. 49, Kiper pointed to two other receivers he thinks could be fits for Taylor’s offense with that selection.

The first was Florida’s Ricky Pearsall, who is 6’1”. The second was Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley, who is 5’11”.

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“Ricky Pearsall tested great as well and was a really good player at Arizona State and then Florida,” Kiper said. “So I think Ricky Pearsall and another guy who can be a heck of a second-round pick is Malachi Corley from Western Kentucky. His tape is entertaining to watch.

“Those are the kind of guys when you get in the second-round area who would be guys to keep an eye on.”

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