With the NFL combine this week, we've been taking a look at positions of need and who the Cincinnati Bengals might be looking at during the combine at those positions. We've reached the end and are evaluating the Bengals' most immediate draft concern.
Position of need: Cornerback
Now that players have started arriving at the combine and talking with teams and media, we're wrapping up our combine countdown with the position that ought to garner the most eyeballs from Bengals' decision-makers leading up to the May draft. Much like we've said about the other positions (here's a look at our pre-combine reads on the situations at running back, on the offensive line, defensive line and at quarterback), this draft for Cincinnati is all about backups and reserves. Though there might be some exceptions for prospects who can contribute right away on special teams, the Bengals are in Indianapolis this weekend mostly looking for help behind their starting lineups. The only real casualty to the Bengals' starting rotations on offense and defense could be defensive end Michael Johnson, who will enter free agency March 11.
As for cornerback specifically, the Bengals have a veteran returning group paced by Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman. Brandon Ghee also could return in a reserve capacity if he gets re-signed starting next month, allowing him to get paired again with third-year player Dre Kirkpatrick in the back end of the rotation. But with Hall coming off his second major injury in three seasons and having just turned 29, and Jones and Newman both now in their 30s and entering the final years of their contracts, the Bengals have to start preparing for life without them. Kirkpatrick factors into those plans after being drafted in the first round in 2012. With this year's draft class so ripe with good cornerback talent, the Bengals will look at bringing at least one along. For now, it stands to reason that they will use their first-round pick, No. 24 overall, on a corner.
Three players the Bengals might be targeting (all three are expected to attend the combine)
Darqueze Dennard (CB), Michigan State: Dennard has appeared on Bengals mock drafts since early January, most specifically making it on ESPN draft insider Mel Kiper Jr.'s 1.0 and 2.0 mocks. In the days entering the combine, though, Dennard has started climbing in the eyes of most draft experts, including ESPN's Todd McShay. Many seem to believe he won't be available when the Bengals make their pick at 24. Durability could be an issue for Dennard, who had his share of injuries in college. One of the more positive aspects to his play, though, are his instincts and knack for finding the ball. He had 59 tackles and four sacks his senior season.
Lamarcus Joyner (CB), Florida State: At 5-foot-8, Joyner stands a shade shorter than the types of longer and leaner corners the Bengals have brought in over the years, but his versatility in the defensive backfield will make him an attractive target for some team. At FSU, he played the boundary cornerback positions, lined up some in the slot at nickel, and was featured for most of his career at safety. He also appeared on special teams both as a return specialist and tackler on kick coverage. Cut from the same cloth as a player like Jones, Joyner plays with a chip on his shoulder. It's that combination of fearless play and versatility that should make him a serious late-first-round target.
Stan Jean-Baptiste (CB), Nebraska: Likely a second- or third-round talent, Jean-Baptiste ultimately may not end up in the Bengals' draft plans. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he's also a little bigger than the cornerbacks the Bengals have brought in lately, but more important than that, he seems to still have playmaking ability with respect to intercepting passes and creating turnovers. He had four interceptions in 2013. His comparative height and weight advantage can help him when jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. It also might make some teams think about moving him to safety.