- Coley Harvey, ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter
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Defensive ends lost: Michael Johnson, signed with Tampa Bay in free agency.
Draft likelihood: High
Rounds drafted? Any
Analysis: While the likelihood the Bengals will draft a defensive end is high, the position -- like most in this draft -- doesn't rank high on the list of immediate impact positions. They aren't looking for defensive ends who can contribute right away on defense because they're rather stacked at end with Margus Hunt, Wallace Gilberry and Robert Geathers all looking to get repetitions and contributions this season. Along with fellow end Carlos Dunlap, each of the ends could see time playing both edge-rushing positions as new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's system calls for creative stunts and rushes featuring mixed-and-matched line packages. It's one reason why you shouldn't be too surprised the Bengals signed hybrid rushers in Montgomery and Moch. Guenther's defense could have linebackers rushing off the line, too.
Still, it stands to reason the Bengals ought to add an end to fill Johnson's old spot, as well as start preparing for a future without some of the veterans who occupy the position. Geathers is 30 and Gilberry will turn 30 during the season. While both may have several seasons left in them from an age standpoint, they may not necessarily have many more with the Bengals from a contract standpoint. Both are free agents after the 2015 season. In the event one or both aren't re-signed during the 2016 offseason, then the Bengals would like to have another end they have already groomed right into a contributing role. This could be the year that future defensive end arrives. Who that player is depends completely upon when the Bengals decide to select a defensive end. They could draft an end in the first round, the second or the sixth. Most draft insiders believe they'll try to pick an end earlier rather than later. If they go early, there is a slight chance Auburn's Dee Ford, one of the more heralded players in this draft, is available at No. 24 when the Bengals make their first-round pick. Missouri's Kony Ealy is another option who, despite being rated the No. 2 defensive end on the board by ESPN's draft team, could be available at 55th overall in the second round.
Along with Ford and Ealy, the Bengals might also have interest in Oregon's Taylor Hart and West Virginia's William Clarke. Both are listed at taller than 6-foot-6. While they could be mid-to-late-round picks, they best fit the body style the Bengals will be missing with Johnson's departure. As a 6-foot-7 end with great leaping ability, a large wingspan and large hands, Johnson was noted for batting down passes at the line of scrimmage. He tied for the league lead in batted passes last season. Part of replacing him will include getting players who can replicate some of that. Conventional wisdom says the taller the body and the longer the arms, the better for deflecting passes.
A day-by-day look this week at five position groups where the Cincinnati Bengals have draft needs. We started with quarterbacks, and continue with defensive ends.