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NFL Draft: Bengals make defense a priority, pass on a tackle

While the numbers evened up some with three late offensive picks, the primary focus of the 2018 draft for the Cincinnati Bengals was to improve the defense.

After addressing the team’s biggest need by drafting a plug-and-play starter at center in the first round in Ohio State’s Billy Price, the Bengals spent seven of their next eight picks on defense, setting the stage for what could be a significant roster turnover on that side of the ball under new coordinator Teryl Austin.

“We were going to address the defense,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “That was the plan that we had from the onset —literally on Friday, particularly, we were going to address the defense. And then Saturday we were going to kind of let things fall the way they were.

›› 5 highlights from Billy Price’s first Bengals press conference

“We felt good about the defensive players we were able to pick,” Lewis continued. “We wanted to address some needs in the secondary. We also addressed a guy with return ability, with Darius Phillips, the corner from (Western) Michigan. Those were the things we were looking for, that we could fit some guys like that in that would also give us some upside in other areas.”

The Bengals went into Friday seeking a safety, and when a number of attractive options were available when they went on the clock for the 46th pick, director of player personnel Duke Tobin struck a deal with Kansas City that left them thrilled with the results.

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The Bengals dropped from 46 to 54 in the second round while moving up from 100 to 78 in the third. With no other safeties going off the board from 46 to 53, they still got their top target in Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates III . And by moving up 22 spots in the third round, they were able to grab Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson at 78 minutes after taking Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard at 77.

›› Predicted path to NFL plays out for Ohio State’s Sam Hubbard

“The move Duke made yesterday, with moving back eight spots and then moving up (22), was advantageous to us, because when you looked at where we would have been at pick 100, we liked the picks that we had after picking (Price),” Lewis said. “That worked out great for us. We would not have been as happy with the players left on the board or the players that went there after we picked. Sitting at 100 and getting the player we wanted, that wouldn’t have occurred yesterday. So we really feel that was an advantageous move.”

Miami running back Mark Walton was a surprising pick in the fourth round who broke the run on defense, but Lewis and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said he was clearly the best player on their board at the time, and they feel he can be an asset on special teams even if he’s little more than insurance policy offensively behind Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard.

›› How Walton fits into the Bengals crowded backfield

Many expected the Bengals to draft an offensive tackle, and skipping that need for more of a luxury is a move that will be questioned if none of the tackles on the roster play well at right tackle.

The Bengals still had six picks after Walton, but they went right back to defense for their next three choices, all of which came in a 20-pick stretch as they bookended a pair of cornerbacks in Illinois State’s Lavontae Harris (fifth round, 151st) and Western Michigan’s Darius Phillips (fifth round, 170th) around Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown (fifth round, 158th).

And even when they got back around to the offense in the seventh round , they still didn’t get a tackle, opting instead for Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside (249th), Mississippi guard Rod Taylor (252nd) and Florida State wide receiver Auden Taylor (253rd).

Asked why the team didn’t take a tackle, Lewis said “we can’t create one.

“I think it showed you the void of how many there were,” he added. “There were very few, just like when you looked up there at one point at defensive tackles — there were very few defensive tackles that had been taken. It’s interesting how the prospects, and where they were, (were taken). The draft has been more populated lately — or at least this particular year — with more of these ‘edge’ type of players. It’s just the way it is, and I think you’ve got to try to hold your weight. Duke does a good job of keeping the room on point and not trying to create something that’s not there.”

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An example of that was a few moves Tobin elected not to make. Lewis said the team had discussions about moving up in the fourth round, but by the time the third round ended the player they were targeting was gone and they stayed put and took Walton.

They also discussed packaging their three seventh-round picks to move up in the round to make sure they got Woodside, but they stayed put and he was still there for them.

The final tally was six offense and five defense. The Bengals went to work after the draft on filling out the roster with undrafted free agents, and they will announce those signings later this week ahead of the the May 11-13 rookie camp.

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