Cincinnati Bengals: Bradley Roby

CINCINNATI -- Take a good, hard look at the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive backfield and what do you see?

Age and experience, yes. But what else?

A slew of former first-round draft picks.

Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick and Reggie Nelson are all Bengals defensive backs who were selected in the first round. Free-agent addition Danieal Manning wasn't far behind them, either, going 42nd overall in the second round in 2006.

No, not all of those players began their careers with the Bengals and the jury is still out on how the youngest member of the crew, Kirkpatrick, will ultimately fare. Regardless, the number of former first-round picks in Cincinnati's secondary indicates just how much the Bengals value those who play those positions, especially cornerback.

"Quarterback and cornerback are the toughest positions to play in the league," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a pre-draft news conference Tuesday. "If you're not good enough there, everyone else suffers. And there's no way to mask it. It takes certain rare ability to play those two spots. To play cornerback on defense, to run with a guy that can be bigger than you, can be faster than you, knows where he's going and you've got to run with him and you've got to defend him and you can't touch him.

"Other than that, it's an easy job."

The Bengals will be looking for at least one cornerback in the NFL draft that begins Thursday night. A cursory read of the Bengals' draft needs suggests that when they pick near the end of the first round at No. 24, they will snag a corner.

Which corners could be there? Well, the list is exhaustive, but it primarily features any one of five names: Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Bradley Roby (Ohio State). It all depends on how highly the Bengals have each one of those players rated and which ones are available when they make their pick.

In Tuesday afternoon's ESPN.com NFL Nation mock draft, I was surprised to find cornerback Kyle Fuller still on the draft board deep into the first round. Granted, our little experiment may not be an adequate reflection of what will end up happening Thursday night, but I thought it did give a strong glimpse into how each team might think when draft day comes.

I'll admit, I thought briefly about trading up after Dennard went extremely early at No. 10 overall to Detroit. But when another corner wasn't picked until the Packers took Gilbert at No. 21, I had a good feeling that either Fuller or Jason Verrett would be on the board. I should note, this draft was about what we as NFL Nation team reporters think the various teams WILL do Thursday. Not what we think they should do. Cincinnati's recent history shows that the franchise isn't too keen on wheeling and dealing and making big draft-weekend trades. In fact, the Bengals are largely more remembered for their trade busts than for ones that were successes, like 2012's move down that landed them offensive guard Kevin Zeitler.

So I tried to stay true to my guns and not make a move, even after an enticing overture from the Vikings for the No. 40 overall pick early in the second round, and possibly another in the third. (We didn't get far enough along in trade talks to determine what the pick behind No. 40 would have been.)

Anyway, I reference all of that to say, there could be a cornerback available in the first round to keep the trend going.

"That's a tough position," Lewis said. "I've been fortunate in the league to be around a bunch of good corners, and most of them came in the first round. I feel pretty good about that."

Safety also has been an option for the Bengals in this draft, as they look to add as much speed and cover ability to their defensive backfield as possible. As more NFL teams adopt the multiple-receiver spread offenses that have been such a big part of college football the last decade, there is a need to have safeties who can cover and bigger corners who can play both on the inside and outside to help negate some of those passing options.

"I've been that way philosophically for a while," Lewis said, referring to his desire to have bigger corners and cover safeties. "It's to my upbringing and so forth in the NFL, where we've had safeties that way that could also do that. We've been that way since I've been here, and the trend will continue that way because the trend in college football is that way. So these guys are becoming more of big corners with the style of coverage, the style of offense and the things that people are playing."

Some options at safety for the Bengals could include Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Terrence Brooks (Florida State), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois) and Deone Bucannon (Washington State).

 
CINCINNATI -- In years past, NFL reporters like myself would be spending this Monday wrapping up draft coverage and preparing for a possible rookie minicamp this coming weekend.

But not in 2014. This is the year of the May draft. It could be the first of many.

We hope not.

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If the Bengals take a cornerback in the first round, who should they take?

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Discuss (Total votes: 987)

ESPN's NFL Nation reporters had a chance last week to chat with ESPN draft insider Todd McShay as we continue our coverage leading up to this later-than-usual draft. Unfortunately, we ran out of time before I could sneak in a Bengals question or two to McShay, but thankfully my colleague Eric Williams covers a team with similar draft needs and a pick in a similar spot in the first round.

The San Diego Chargers own this year's 25th pick; one place behind the Bengals at No. 24.

Eric's question about breaking down cornerbacks who could be available late in the first round wasn't far off from the one I had in mind. So, with Eric's blessing, we're using McShay's comments here. If you're so inclined to see where things stand with the Chargers and their cornerback concerns, you can read Eric's post from Friday.

As for what McShay had to say about Jason Verrett (TCU), Bradley Roby (Ohio State) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), read on. These are the most likely cornerback options the Bengals will see when they make their pick. None of these four is expected to be around when the Bengals make their second-round pick at No. 55. Most mock drafts this offseason have had the Bengals taking a cornerback in Round 1.
  • McShay on Fuller: "Kyle Fuller is probably the best route [technically for the Chargers at 25, but this could apply to the Bengals at 24 just as easily] because he's a complete player. He's versatile in that he can play man and he can play zone. He can get physical with receivers."
  • McShay on Verrett: "He's one of my favorite players in the draft. But he's 5-9 1/2 and 189 pounds. He's got the 4.38 speed [in the 40-yard dash] and he's as tough as nails. He'll knock you out like he knocked out [Texas Tech tight end] Jace Amaro, and he can mirror against the most explosive receivers like he did against LSU's Odell Beckham. But he's still 5-9 1/2 and 189 pounds. And he's got 30 5/8-inch arms. So, to me, he's probably, at least early in his career, a slot-cover corner that can maybe earn his way to the perimeter."
  • McShay on Roby (who was charged last week in Columbus, Ohio, for operating a vehicle while impaired. He's since denied on social media accusations he was drunk and driving, and made it clear he wasn't arrested): "I actually think he might be the most athletic corner in this draft. I just would be real nervous to pull the trigger on him because I just don't know what I'm getting. He's a young man that has some growing to do. He's got to become more focused, and there's just a lot of inconsistent tape on him. ... Now, he wasn't all that well coached. With the right coaching and teaching him how to use his eyes properly, I think he can improve. But then he's got to make the decision that he's going to work hard to become disciplined enough with his eyes, and to trust his eyes. So he's a wild card. He could be the best defensive back five years from now. Or he could wind up becoming another first-round cornerback that doesn't pan out in this league because he didn't do what he had to do mentally from a preparation standpoint. He's a classic boom or bust."


So with all of this in mind, who would you take, Bengals fans? Fuller, Verrett or Roby?

Bengals position draft needs: DBs

April, 25, 2014
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A day-by-day look this week at five position groups where the Cincinnati Bengals have draft needs. We started with quarterbacks, then looked at defensive ends, outside linebackers and running backs. Now we continue with defensive backs.

Defensive backs lost: CB Brandon Ghee, signed with San Diego in free agency.

Defensive backs added: CB R.J. Stanford, signed as a free agent who spent 2013 at Miami. DB Danieal Manning, signed after being cut by Houston.

Draft likelihood: High.

Rounds drafted? Any.

Analysis: No set of positions have garnered more pre-draft attention on the Bengals beat this offseason than cornerback and safety. For starters, in a league that increasingly favors quarterbacks who can sling it to tight ends and receivers who keep getting bigger and bigger, it's necessary for any defense to have players who have the speed to keep up with and tackle those athletic offensive players on the back end. It's particularly necessary for the Bengals to bring in as many defensive backs as their roster will reasonably hold because their stars at the cornerback position primarily, are getting older. Terence Newman, 35, is entering the final year on his contract. Adam Jones will turn 31 during the season. Leon Hall, who has battled serious injuries two of the last three seasons, will be 30 later this year, too. Cincinnati has to have an eye on the future there.

The Bengals also have to watch out for their long-term interests at safety. Young players George Iloka and Shawn Williams appear to be well in those future plans, and seven-year player Reggie Nelson, 30, figures to be in Cincinnati a little longer, too. Signed to just a one-year deal, the Bengals seem curious to see how well the 31-year-old Manning bounces back this year after missing most of last season in Houston with a knee injury.

So it stands to reason in this draft, which primarily is about adding depth, the Bengals will be using one of their early picks on a defensive back. With so many good cornerbacks available early in the draft, it wouldn't be too surprising if they made a move to take one with their first-round pick at No. 24. It's quite possible that some combination of Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Bradley Roby (Ohio State), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) will be around when the Bengals pick. ESPN's draft team considers those the top five corners in this year's draft. Once they all get selected, though, the pool begins to dry. Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner and Nebraska's Stan Jean-Baptiste could be second-round options, too, if the Bengals use the first-round pick on another position. It's doubtful, though, that either will fall all the way to 55th overall, where the Bengals make their second selection.

It's also possible the Bengals could go after a safety with one of their first two picks. While the group of safeties isn't quite as top-heavy as the cornerbacks, it's still arguably one of the strongest position groups in this draft class. At a point, it becomes all about philosophy. The Bengals have to go with the best available player who will match their defensive needs. On paper, Fuller seems to be that guy. Verrett would be an option, too, if the Bengals want to start shoring up their slot corner depth with a true speedster.

Potential picks: Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Bradley Roby (Ohio State), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State), Stan Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois), Terrence Brooks (FSU).

Bengal Quick Takes: Draft rewind

April, 25, 2014
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The week is almost over, meaning we're one step closer to the NFL draft.

You know that saying, "in order to know where you're going you must first know where you've been"? Well, on this Friday edition of the Bengal Quick Takes, we're going back briefly to the 2013 draft before resuming a little 2014 draft prediction chatter. It's interesting to note that last year's draft began exactly 365 days ago.

1. With the 21st pick ... the Cincinnati Bengals selected Tyler Eifert, a tight end out of Notre Dame. The pick was mostly met with applause as the Bengals' plans for the young player were obvious. With Jermaine Gresham still very much in the picture, the team was going to move toward implementing more two-tight-end sets, providing potential matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. True, Orson Charles was also at tight end and had been drafted the year before, but his pairing with Gresham wasn't as dynamic as Eifert's. When Eifert and Gresham combined to catch 10 of quarterback Andy Dalton's 26 completions in last season's opener at Chicago, the Bengals' decision to draft Eifert looked like a truly smart one. Now that Gresham's contract is concluding after this season, it will be interesting to see whether the Bengals re-sign the embattled pass-catcher to maintain their two-tight-end scheme, or look elsewhere for help for Eifert. Gresham has been knocked for having untimely penalties and drops.

2. The rest of that draft ... worked out fairly well. While the jury is still out on the later-round picks, the Bengals have to be pleased with how the first two rounds progressed. After taking Eifert in the first, the Bengals took running back Giovani Bernard and defensive end Margus Hunt in Round 2. Bernard was a star as a rookie, creating excitement virtually every time he touched the ball. His role may increase in Year 2 now that former running backs coach Hue Jackson is taking over as offensive coordinator and implementing his physical, run-based tweaks to the Bengals' system. Hunt also should get an expanded role now that Michael Johnson is gone. The other class of 2013 draft picks such as defensive back Shawn Williams, receiver Cobi Hamilton and running back Rex Burkhead also are hoping to get more opportunities to prove themselves this season.

3. Roby charged with OVI. Former Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby has reportedly been charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated following a failed sobriety test last weekend in Columbus, Ohio. How does this pertain to the Bengals? Well, depending upon how the legal system handles this matter, it may not end up pertaining to the Bengals at all. Roby is a corner whom Cincinnati could be targeting with its first-round selection. ESPN draft insider Mel Kiper Jr. had him going to the Bengals at No. 24 in his latest mock draft. ESPN's Todd McShay also has mocked Roby to the Bengals in the past. No matter how the case ends up, the Bengals could be scared away from using a first-round pick on him. Without knowing the full story, it could be tough to take an early gamble on the draft hopeful primarily because the alleged incident occurred so close to the draft, which begins May 8. Besides, they already have one player, Charles, fighting a legal issue involving a road-rage incident from late March.

4. So you want to be a franchise star? Dalton said earlier this week that he felt he was the face of the Bengals' franchise. It's about time he express those feelings. But the thing is, will he actually play like one this season? He could. After Wednesday night's schedule release, we took a look at the quarterback gauntlet he'll be facing this season. He's scheduled to go up against five Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks this season, and -- excluding the uncertainties at quarterback that Houston and Jacksonville have -- a full slate of signal-callers who get paid better than he does.

5. Mailbag time. Remember, it's Friday, and we'll be doing a mailbag Saturday morning. But in order to get the mailbag posted, we need questions. Tweet me yours @ColeyHarvey with the hashtag #BengalsMail. We'll get them up.
Normally we would be spending this weekend putting a few finishing touches on the last few pre-draft stories and blogs.

But alas, there are no finishing touches being placed down this Saturday and Sunday. Thanks to a draft process that's ending in May instead of the traditional April, you'll be seeing much more pre-draft coverage for another two weeks.

The long march to May 8 continues.

Many of you have grown more curious lately about what the Cincinnati Bengals' draft plans might be and are anxious about understanding why they might take a slot cornerback over an offensive lineman with their first-round pick, or draft a defensive end instead. I'm here to answer those questions in Part 1 of our two-day Bengals mailbag. The second part will deal with issues related to players currently on the team.

Analyzing McShay mock 4.0: Bengals 

April, 10, 2014
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With so many core players from last season returning, along with the few veteran free agents they signed this offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals are in relatively good shape when it comes to draft needs.

They aren't looking for many immediate impact players, but they still would like to add cornerbacks, defensive ends, versatile offensive linemen who can play multiple positions, outside linebackers and quarterbacks to add to their depth chart. Players at those positions could end up having tremendous value in later years as the Bengals continue building for the future.

With less than a month until draft weekend, ESPN Insider Todd McShay released his fourth 2014 mock draft Insider on Thursday. His first-round Bengals pick is one football fans across the Buckeye State ought to find intriguing.

After winning the AFC North for a third time and going 11-5, the Cincinnati Bengals have the 24th overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. A cornerback, interior offensive lineman or linebacker would make sense for that first-round pick. In the rounds that follow, quarterbacks, defensive linemen, safeties and running backs could be drafted by Cincinnati.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft hit ESPN's Insider page Thursday. His first-round choice for the Bengals is a player with rather local ties.

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