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Jekyll & Hyde – a Bengals’ Draft Edition

The NFL Draft is a bit of an anomaly in sports.  There’s nothing else quite like it.  America’s other sports leagues dream of having ratings like what the NFL just pulled off this weekend.  Round One of the NFL Draft saw 12.1 million people tune in – and that doesn’t count the 775,000 that reportedly attended the event in person  Last Saturday’s primetime NBA Playoff game on ABC drew 3.7 million viewers – and that game featured the NBA’s most popular team (the Los Angeles Lakers), one of it’s all-time most popular players (LeBron James), and the reigning NBA Champions (the Denver Nuggets) and their two-time MVP (Nikola Jokić).

Did you hear that?  That’s NBA Commissioner Adam Silver weeping quietly in the corner of Arena.  Last year’s NBA Finals didn’t even draw that kind of viewership.  The NFL casts an incredibly wide shadow.  Forget September through January – the NFL is a 365-day sport.

Because the NFL Draft draws the kind of attention that award shows like the Oscars and Grammys sometimes fail to reach, there’s going to be a lot of opinions.  Your Cousin Sally and your Uncle Rico probably tuned in, and they might have something to say about that free safety your team over-drafted in the fifth-round.  It should be illegal (and punishable by death) to ask someone what they think about a seventh-round pick who probably has a 15% chance of making the roster.

But every year, this programming behemoth only gets bigger and the opinions continue to multiply.  Every selection comes with its own dose of self-loathing, questioning of reality, and crippling despair.  No matter who, no matter where, no matter when – somebody hated that pick.  And somebody loved it.  But does anyone have a clue how this all works out five years from now?  Absolutely not.

The NFL Draft also differs from other sports leagues because it’s just so damn hard figuring out who the hell is going to be any good.  Quarterbacks get a lot of attention, but those draft disasters are just the most high-profile.  No position is immune to busting.

So, you’re not really a hater if you think Caleb Williams is toast in Chicago or that Marvin Harrison Jr. can’t make it in Arizona – the odds are actually in your favor.  There’s no downside to being contrarian in the NFL Draft.  You can probably see where I’m going with this…

Robert Louis Stepheson’s novel Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde features the aforementioned Jekyll, who spends an awful lot of the book not doing doctor stuff, and the aforementioned Hyde, who likes to whoop people in the street with a cane.  It’s a classic tale about identity and good vs. bad.  NFL draft classes are the same.  How did the Bengals do this year?  Let’s ask Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde what they think.

Bengals Draft Class

Round 1 (#18) – OT Amarius Mims (Georgia)

Round 2 (#49) – DT Kris Jenkins Jr. (Michigan)

Round 3 (#80) – WR Jermaine Burton (Alabama)

Round 3 (#97) – DT McKinnley Jackson (Texas A&M)

Round 4 (#115) – TE Erick All (Iowa)

Round 5 (#149) – CB Josh Newton (TCU)

Round 6 (#194) – TE Tanner McLauchlan (Arizona)

Round 6 (#214) – DE Cedric Johnson (Mississippi)

Round 7 (#224) – S Daijahn Anthony (Mississippi)

Round 7 (#237) – OC Matt Lee (Miami)

Jekyll Reading

Masterful job by the Bengals.  They stayed patient and got tremendous value for the players they selected.  They insulated themselves for the future and secured necessary depth for the upcoming season in one fell swoop.  They added players with massive upside and players with ready-made skill sets.  Plus, with ten selections (their most since 2021), quantity has a quality all its own.  That’s just a general sense of the class too.  Wait til you hear about the specifics.

The Bengals made Amarius Mims their first-round pick, and the 6’8’’, 340 lbs offensive tackle prospect has the size, athleticism, and feel for the game to one day become one of the best players in the league.  There just aren’t a lot of people in the world who look and move like Mims can – and the fact that the Bengals got him at 18 is ridiculous.  He looks like Jonathan freaking Ogden.  He’s going to help keep Joe Burrow upright.  Come on, what’s not to love!

Second-rounder Kris Jenkins Jr. is a powerful man who will help shore up the Bengals leaky run defense while also having plenty of room to grow as pass rusher.  Jermaine Burton got T.J. Houshmandzadeh’s stamp of approval in the third round, and the explosive receiver could fill in at a number of spots while potentially replacing Tee Higgins down the road.  Fellow third rounder McKinnley Jackson brings even more run-stopping expertise to the Bengals defensive front.

When healthy, Erick All was one of the most productive tight ends in college and a capable blocker too.  He pairs nicely with Tanner McLachlan, taken in the sixth-round, who displayed sure hands in college and broke Rob Gronkowski’s record for most receptions by a tight end in Arizona history.

The Bengals looked to add depth with the rest of their picks, but don’t be surprised if one or two of these players ends up starting down the line.  Josh Newton is an experienced cornerback with great feel for zone coverage, Cedric Johnson is a high-level athlete for a late-round defensive end, Daijahn Anthony isn’t afraid to lay the wood on somebody and Matt Lee played very well for the Hurricanes in his final college season.  Overall, this class was a typical Bengals class: focused, and full of future contributors.  Well done.

Hyde Reading

Leave it to the Bengals to draft their way out of contention.  It shouldn’t be impossible, but the Bengals find a way to lower their ceiling every April like clockwork.  It’s like the Master’s, but instead of getting green jackets, Bengals fans just get kicked in the teeth.

The Mims pick is a perfect encapsulation.  Not only did the Bengals take a guy who may not even play in 2024, they picked a guy who might not help the Bengals ever.  He might be a skyscraper on legs, but he’s barely played.  He has eight total starts in college.  Eight.  I’m getting PTSD from all these Cedric Ogbuehi vibes.

Why are the Bengals terrified of trading up?  The Vikings moved in front of them at 17 and took Dallas Turner, a wildly athletic defensive end prospect who could make a huge difference in 2024.  They even allowed Seattle to take top defensive tackle prospect Byron Murphy at 16.  It’s not just who the Bengals selected that is frustrating, it’s who they let get scooped up without a fight that really drives you crazy.

Jenkins in the second round sounds like a decent consolation prize until you realize six defensive tackles were taken off the board before he was.  He doesn't offer much as a pass rusher either.  Run stopping defensive tackles are a dime a dozen.  Was that really worth a second-round pick?

Apparently, the Bengals thought a run-first defender was worth a third-round pick too.  Do they realize the NFL is a pass-first league?  Maybe they do, considering they also took a receiver in the third-round, but in true Bengals fashion, he fell to them due to character concerns.  Oh great, the Bungles are dipping their toes back into that well again.  Great…

The rest of the draft class is uninspiring.  The two tight ends probably won’t play much, and the team already gave money to Mike Gesicki and Drew Sample in the offseason.  For a team that doesn’t seem to value the tight end position much, they spent a lot of time acquiring mediocre ones to fill out the bottom of their roster.

Newton in the fifth-round has experience, sure, but that was experience getting burnt facing some of the better players in college football.  At least he has that.  Johnson never did much of anything in college.  Neither did Anthony or Lee.  At best, maybe one of these guys becomes a solid backup.  The reality is it’ll probably be a miracle if they all make the team.

The Bengals don’t have the luxury of being patient anymore.  The time for winning is now.  Who knows if Joe Burrow will ever be the same after the second season-ending injury of his career.  The Bengals should be looking to add talent that can make a difference right away, rather than reaching for projects who may never amount to anything.  As is tradition, they kept their eyes on the “future.”  Well, hopefully it’s a future with a lot of job openings, because the front office and coaching staff could be getting very familiar with in a couple years…

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