Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in an eight-part series previewing the Cincinnati Bengals draft needs by position group. Today’s look is at special teams.
Roster (contract length): Kicker – Mike Nugent (2016); Punter – Kevin Huber (2017); Long snapper – Clark Harris (2017).
Analysis: The trio of Nugent, Huber and Harris have been together since 2010, which is an eternity in today’s NFL.
Huber continues to perform among the best in the league and is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, while Nugent rebounded from a shaky start to make 15 consecutive field goals before missing a 50-yarder in the season finale at Pittsburgh. Then in the wild-card game at Indianapolis, the 10-year veteran showed he still has plenty of strength left in his right leg by booting a career-long 57-yarder for the second longest field goal in NFL postseason history.
And Harris has every bit as much job security as Huber and Nugent with an impressive streak of 882 playable snaps (467 punts, 415 place-kicks).
So there is no reason to believe the Bengals will burn a draft pick on a specialist when the three they currently employ have proven track records and contracts that run through at least 2016.
Look for the Bengals to sign one or two guys to compete with Huber and Nugent in training camp and then head elsewhere before the roster is trimmed to 53.
Needs: Special teams always figure into strategy on draft day regardless of how secure the kicker and punter are.
Rookies who can play special teams, particularly those drafted in the mid-to-late rounds, are key components to any roster. The more you can do and less you make, the better your chance of making the squad.
The Bengals lost one of their better special teams players when Taylor Mays left for free agency, and if cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick see their time increase on defense, that likely would cut into their availability on teams, creating more opportunities for rookies.
The team has five picks on the third day of the draft, and special teams ability will weigh heavily when the Bengals go on the clock for each selection.
And look for the team to address the need at kick returner sometime in the second or third round.
Top 5 prospects
1 . Josh Lambo, Texas A&M, K
The 24-year-old is a former Punt, Pass and Kick national champion at age 10 and the eighth overall pick of FC Dallas in the 2008 Major League Soccer draft.
2. Kyle Loomis, Portland State, P
Strong-legged All-American will turn 28 in September, but he averaged more than 46 yards per punt the last two years.
3. Will Baumann, North Carolina State, P
Lanky 6-foot-6 punter averaged 45.5 yards per attempt with a hang time of 4.1 seconds. His most impressive stat is an average snap-to-punt time of 2.0 seconds.
4. Kyle Christy, Florida, P
Strong but erratic leg, Christy has fallen off since a sophomore season that saw him lead the SEC in punt average while being named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award.
5. Justin Manton, Louisiana-Monroe, K
Manton has a powerful leg and is versatile enough to handle punt and kickoff duties as well as place-kicking. More than 50 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.