Zac Taylor enters the 2021 season with his job on the line. The Cincinnati Bengals have Jessie Bates, Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins, and several other young assets. After two lost seasons under Taylor, it’s time for the franchise to become relevant in the AFC North again. Failure to at least go 8-9 should result in the firing of Taylor’s entire staff.
The Bengals added multiple impact players in each of the past two drafts. If that trend continues, Cincinnati could push the Pittsburgh Steelers and maybe even the Baltimore Ravens to their limits. However, the franchise has a habit of missing on its early selections under team President Mike Brown. That can’t happen at this critical stage of Cincinnati’s rebuild.
I used The Draft Network’s mock draft machine and Pro Football Focus’ mock draft simulator to justify each of my selections. At least one website had the chosen players available at their listed picks over several simulations. I didn’t create any trades and included an “ideal pick” after every selection for optimistic fans.
Even after adding right tackle Riley Reiff, the Bengals have some serious questions along the interior offensive line. They could draft Penei Sewell here and start him at guard or keep the Oregon product as a left tackle and move Jonah Williams inside. However, Sewell isn’t a foolproof prospect, and Chase is the more secure investment.
Burrow and Chase starred together at LSU during the team’s 2019 championship season. At the time, Chase set multiple single-season and single-game SEC records. He caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. That’s over 200 more yards than fellow LSU stud Justin Jefferson had and over 1,100 more yards than Terrace Marshall Jr. produced in his 12 appearances that year.
At 6-0, 201 lbs., Chase lacks prototypical height, but he plays much larger than his frame. The former Consensus All-American routinely won jump balls with his explosive vertical leaps and strong hands. Chase flashed that explosiveness at LSU’s pro day, running a 4.38 40-yard dash and finishing above the 95th percentile for wide receivers in the vertical jump, broad jump, bench press, and short shuttle.
Dickerson offers Cincinnati plenty of versatility, which is why he’s one of their preferred selections at this spot. The 2020 Dave Rimington Trophy winner spent time at Alabama and Florida St. during his collegiate career, deploying as a tackle, guard, and center. He doesn’t project favorably as a tackle in the NFL, but the Bengals could use him anywhere along their interior line.
Taylor’s team has a mixed bag of talent along the offensive line. Reiff and Williams are reliable tackles, but everything else raises questions. I’m not thrilled with Quinton Spain potentially having a starting spot, but the Bengals could do much worse. Actually, they have done much worse. Michael Jordan started ten games last year, and Xavier Su’a-Filo started roughly five.
Guard turned center Trey Hopkins is the most reliable member of Cincinnati’s interior line, but that isn’t saying much.
While Dickerson doesn’t have great footwork or agility in space, his sheer physicality and burst make him a force to be reckoned with. Dickerson has excellent hand placement and a burning motor that drives him to look for more work constantly during extended plays. His lengthy injury history is the only potential red flag for teams.
Ideal pick: Dickerson OR Alijah Vera-Tucker, IOL USC
Turner was a sneaky draft prospect that flew under the radar for months. He’s out in the open now after a stellar performance at Houston’s pro day. Turner measured in at 6-6, 268 lbs. with 35-inch arms and 10.5-inch hands. He also ran the three-cone in 6.70 seconds, which ranks in the 99th percentile among edge rushers.
Besides his physical traits, Turner flashes the raw athleticism to make a name for himself in the NFL. He’s twitchy, which is rare for a man his size. Turner engages offensive linemen in hand-to-hand combat and pursues ball carriers with a hot motor. He has good closing burst, and that length shows up when he’s chasing players from behind.
Surprisingly, Turner has plenty of bend and flexibility. Unlike Miami’s Gregory Rousseau, you can count on Turner consistently winning around a tackle’s outside shoulder.
Turner lacks advanced pass rushing skills. He doesn’t have the instinct of a first-round pick and needs to build counter moves into his game. Turner needs a more refined and planned approach to his attacks, rather than mainly relying on his length and athleticism.
Ideal pick: Alex Leatherwood, OT Alabama
The Bengals threw a lot of money at free agent corners over the past two years. They’ve added Chidobe Awuzie and Trae Waynes on lucrative three-year deals while also agreeing to terms with Eli Apple and Mike Hilton. Despite the outflow of cash, Cincinnati hasn’t gotten significantly better on the outside. Williams can at least bring some depth to a mediocre cornerback room.
Williams intercepted four passes and forced three fumbles during his final three years with Syracuse. While he spent some time in the slot, I’d love to move Williams outside permanently. At 6-2, 198 lbs., Williams has the prototypical build NFL teams covet. While he isn’t known for his deep speed, the Syracuse product has more juice than he’s given credit for.
Even though Cincinnati spent a lot of money on corners, they shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to get better. Williams has fluid hips, and his biggest issues are mostly mental. Taylor’s staff can smooth that part out and get an eventual big, aggressive starting corner.
Even the most pessimistic of projections for Williams have him breaking through as an eventual starting safety.
Ideal pick: Paulson Adebo, CB Stanford
After missing out on Leatherwood and Vera-Tucker in the earlier rounds, the Bengals grab their third lineman of the draft. At 321 lbs., Hutcherson packs a punch. He won’t fit every team’s scheme, and Cincinnati could opt for a more fleet of foot prospect. However, Hutcherson can create plenty of openings for Joe Mixon.
The former Gamecock is a traditional mauler, capable of wiping out defenders in the running game. Hutcherson also has a stout anchor that he can drop quickly in pass protection. His biggest flaw is a lack of athleticism and footwork in space. Hutcherson ran a 4.95 40-yard dash at South Carolina’s pro day, but that speed doesn’t show up on the gridiron.
The mauling guard also needs to improve his hand placement. His punches have tremendous power, but they aren’t consistent because of his hand usage.
Ideal pick: Tommy Tremble, TE Notre Dame
I’ll keep mocking Powell to teams in the sixth-round until his stock rises. The Clemson product isn’t an athletic standout, but he creates consistent shots downfield and doesn’t drop many passes. I don’t know if he can develop into a second wide receiver on a competitive team, but Powell is more than capable of serving as wide receiver three on most teams.
In this situation, Powell opens his career as Cincinnati’s fourth-best receiver. He might not see many snaps as a rookie, but his development could open the door to eventually trading Boyd. Chase and Higgins are both on rookie deals, while Boyd makes more than ten million per year over the next three seasons. We’re banking on development from Higgins and Powell here, but this is an easy way to save significant cap space in the future.
Ideal pick: Marco Wilson, CB Florida
The Bengals don’t need a safety this year, but Taylor’s squad could find themselves in a pinch after the 2021 season. Bates, who was an All-Pro last year, is in the final season of his rookie contract. He’s making under three million dollars in 2021 but could command around $15 million annually as a free agent. Meanwhile, Vonn Bell has two years left on his deal, but Cincinnati could save over six million dollars by releasing him next offseason.
Hamlin isn’t an explosive athlete, but he produced five interceptions and 21 passes defensed over his final three collegiate seasons. He’s a reliable run defender and has fantastic ball skills. Unfortunately, his lack of speed could become a liability against vertical threats.
Ideal pick: Justin Hilliard, LB Ohio St.
The seventh-round is a perfect time for teams to throw darts at prospects with desired physical traits but no polish. Ball is 6-7, weighs 308 lbs., and has 35-inch arms. Despite his size, Ball demonstrates fluid movement in pass protection and has ideal bend. He also thrives as an athletic blocker in space, separating himself from other tackles in this loaded class. I’d be more excited for Ball if not for his serious character concerns.
Ball has a shaky background transferring from Florida St., where he was accused of dating violence. Teams won’t overlook that episode when vetting him. Any extra red flags should drop Ball into the undrafted range.
Ideal pick: Tony Poljan, TE Virginia
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