Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Combine countdown rewind: Bengals DL
By Coley Harvey
Last week, in the days leading up to the start of on-field workouts at the NFL combine, we counted down five of the top position needs for a Cincinnati Bengals team that will go into May's draft looking to build depth instead of trying to find immediate starters.
As part of the countdown, I listed three players from each position who I said I would have my eyes on during the interview and testing portions of the event. Now that the combine has ended, I figured this would be a good time to go back and look at the numbers posted by the players who were part of the countdown. Each day this week, we've been doing a rewind of the countdown, analyzing how well the players who were in it worked out.
The defensive linemen who we looked at last week were all ends, tasked with getting drafted by the Bengals simply as roster fill-ins for Michael Johnson, the defensive end and expensive unrestricted free agent Cincinnati appears poised to lose when free agency starts in two weeks. If the Bengals don't re-sign Johnson, they will be in market to add another player to their depth chart as a combination of Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt prepare to take Johnson's place. The hope is that Geathers will have fully recovered from an elbow injury that sidelined him all but two games in 2013, and that Hunt will improve leaps and bounds from what he was as a rookie last year.
Defensive tackle is an area the Bengals might, in theory, want to begin adding depth to, particularly with the deficiencies there that were highlighted when both Geno Atkins and Devon Still went down with long-term injuries last season. The fact that 29-year-old Domata Peko is entering a contract year also is a sign tackle might be a place the Bengals turn for more depth in this draft. The problem with the tackle spot in this draft class, though, is that aside from some of the top tackles, Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, there are relatively few standouts. One college defensive end who might become a tackle in the NFL and who could be around when the Bengals make their first-round pick at 24 is Notre Dame's Louis Nix III. He has the combination of size and athleticism that Cincinnati could use on pass-rushing downs. With him on the line next to Atkins and Dunlap, nickel rushes could lead to sacks more often than not.
While we're talking defense, it's also important to note that one position you'll find missing on this countdown is "Will" linebacker. While Emmanuel Lamur's return from injury will shore up depth at that spot, particularly in nickel scenarios, the Bengals could be looking at bringing along a bigger linebacker in the later rounds who can cover like Lamur. One player they showed interest in at the combine was Florida State's Christian Jones, a defender who played both "Will" and "Sam" positions in college.
As for the three players listed in last week's pre-combine look -- Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Kareem Martin (North Carolina) and Taylor Hart (Oregon) -- two, Martin and Hart, are 6-foot-6. Size-wise, they match what the Bengals would look for in an end.
Here are numbers (per NFL.com) from the trio's combine workouts:
-- From a testing standpoint Crichton didn't look all that great compared to other defensive linemen. In past years, a 4.84 40-yard dash time might be considered as run of the mill for a Day 2 defensive end. With South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney pacing the position at 4.53, though, that number looks dramatically worse. Crichton had been getting late-first or second-round projections before the combine. If scouts go off his numbers alone, he could dip.
-- Martin's numbers were a little better, as he had some of the top figures in the 40-yard dash, the vertical and the broad jump. His 40 was the ninth-fastest among defensive linemen, his vertical was the fifth-highest and his broad jump was the longest. The numbers show he has a considerable amount of athleticism, particularly for an end with a mid-round projection. He also has the right combination of height and weight that the Bengals like for his position.
-- Hart only competed in the bench press, putting up a rather tame 21 reps of 225 pounds. He was already pegged as a late-round selection and likely will remain that way. If the Bengals end up making other draft needs early and decide to wait until fairly late on defensive end -- it's unlikely they do that -- this bigger-framed lineman could be around.