Editor’s Note: This is the third in an eight-part series previewing the Cincinnati Bengals draft needs by position group. Today’s look is at wide receivers and tight ends.
Roster (contract length):Wide receivers –A.J. Green (2015), Marvin Jones (2015), Mohamed Sanu (2015), James Wright (2017), Brandon Tate (2015), Denarius Moore (2015), Tevin Reese (2016), Eric Ward (2016); Tight ends – Tyler Eifert (2016), Kevin Brock (2015), Jake Murphy (2016).
Analysis: The roster is loaded with talented receivers, but as last year’s playoff loss at Indianapolis illustrated, you can never have enough.
The Bengals went into that Wild Card game without Green, Jones, Wright, Eifert or Jermaine Gresham due to injuries, and their absences handcuffed quarterback Andy Dalton and the offense, dooming the Bengals to a fourth consecutive first-round playoff loss.
Even with all of those players expected to be healthy by the start of the season – except for Gresham, who remains in free agency limbo – wide receivers and tight ends will be a major focus for the Bengals during the draft.
Not only is depth in 2015 an issue worth addressing, but so is the future with this many guys entering the final year of their contract.
There’s no reason to think the Bengals won’t make a strong effort to sign Green to an extension, so going after a franchise type of receiver in the first round doesn’t appear likely. But it may not be realistic to think they will be able to re-sign each of their big three — Green, Jones and Sanu — with all of the other contracts expiring at other positions, particularly in the secondary.
Needs: The two things the Bengals need most are likely to be addressed with a single pick – top-end, field-stretching speed and the ability to return kicks.
If Miami’s Phillip Dorsett or Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett are on the board when the Bengals are up in the second round (53rd overall), one of them could be on his way to Cincinnati.
The Bengals haven’t drafted multiple wide receivers since taking Sanu in the third round and Jones in the fifth in 2012, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them grab a couple this year.
Adding some depth at tight end also will be a focus, assuming Gresham doesn’t sign a deal to return before the draft.
As good as Ryan Hewitt was an undrafted rookie free agent who played multiple positions, he’s not a true tight end.
Ohio State’s Jeff Heuerman or Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, a converted quarterback, could be third-day targets for the Bengals.
Top 5 prospects
1 . Amari Cooper, Alabama
Not the biggest or fastest receiver available, but he has everything an NFL team could want in a receiver and might be the best overall player in the draft.
2. Kevin White, West Virginia
An ideal-sized burner, White excelled in his jump from JUCO to Division I and is expected to do the same at the professional level.
3. DeVante Parker, Louisville
Rock solid with soft hands makes for a great combination. Routinely makes tough catches in traffic and was credited with only three drops since 2012
4. Breshad Perriman, Central Florida
Protypical size and speed but still needs polish when it comes to route running and holding on to the ball. But not even Perriman’s problematic drops will result in him falling out of the first round.
5. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Strong struggles to get separation, but the converted basketball player is comfortable battling for balls with defenders on his hip. He also adds value as someone comfortable working out of the slot.
Mario Alford, West Virginia
At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, he is considerably undersized for the NFL. But his elite, straight-line speed and experience returning kicks would be an intriguing, third-day option for a Bengals team that knows firsthand that success comes in all sizes after watching Andrew Hawkins’ development.