Photo Credit: TigerNet.com, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
If you open a bag of M&Ms, what do you see? A bunch of little, candy-coated chocolate pieces, all roughly the same size, all roughly the same shape. And while the little candies themselves have practically the same dimensions, they do have one difference: their color. M&Ms can be red, orange, green, blue, yellow or dark brown. But even though every M&M in a bag might have a different color, they’re all still made up of the same stuff – chocolate and a candy-coating, with no added flavors. My favorite M&M is the red one, but it’s still an M&M like any other. There’s no strawberry, no banana, no lime flavors in the world of M&Ms.
Heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, many fans of the Cincinnati Bengals (including yours truly) had their eyes on a certain M&M-initialed prospect – tight end Michael Mayer out of Notre Dame. Besides his play on the field, which was excellent, Mayer is also a local product who went to nearby Covington Catholic for high school. After a successful run of drafting local kids (like Joe Burrow and Sam Hubbard), I was all aboard the Michael-Mayer bandwagon.
However, there was a catch (pardon the pun). Hardly any NFL Draft expert believed Mayer would last to pick #28, where the Bengals were situated. Sure, he wasn’t an athletic specimen like Rob Gronkowski or an elite receiving threat like Travis Kelce, but he was a do-it-all, lunchpail sort of player with strong hands and quality blocking. John Madden would have loved him. The chance that 26 teams would pass on him (26 because the Miami Dolphins forfeited their first-round selection) was thought to be preposterous.
Fast-forward to about 11:30 PM, and there he was. Sitting right there. The Bengals were on the clock, and all they had to do was pick up the phone and Mayer was theirs. Only he didn’t get the call. The Bengals called a different M&M. They went with Myles Murphy, the defensive end from Clemson.
I’ll be frank: at first, I was pissed. Those who have read my work in the past will know that I’m a big fan of Mayer. I thought, more than any one prospect, he could make the biggest impact on the 2023 Bengals. I still feel that way. But, if I’m being totally honest, I kinda like the Murphy pick – and here’s why.
The 2022 Bengals very nearly reached the Super Bowl, but they had a very serious flaw that ultimately contributed to their missing the big game: their lack of a consistent pass rush. With the Bengals situated in a conference with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Trevor Lawrence, a freshly-extended Lamar Jackson and now Aaron Rodgers, getting to the opposing QB is an absolute must. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard are nice, dependable players, but neither is a game-wrecker in the same way players like Myles Garrett, T.J. Watt or Nick Bosa are.
Defensive end wasn’t a need exactly, but neither was tight end. The Bengals may have lost Hayden Hurst to the Carolina Panthers in free agency, but they signed Irv Smith Jr. from the Minnesota Vikings to replace him. And while Smith might not be a household name, or even a particularly good player, you could have said the exact same thing about Hurst last year. Fast forward one season, and Hurst got a meaty, little payday. Don’t be surprised if Joe Burrow makes Smith a lot of money in about eleven months.
It’s also important to remember that Murphy is a very good prospect in his own right. Among all defensive ends in this year’s draft class, few players have the combination of attributes that Murphy brings to the table. He has all the size (6’5’’ 275 lbs.), speed, power, production and potential that you would want in a first-round pick, and it was a surprise he was even available at #28 in the first place. He’ll step into a pass rush rotation that now features Hendrickson, Hubbard, Murphy, 2021 third-round pick Joseph Ossai and 2021 fourth-round pick Cam Sample. That’s a strong group, and Murphy has the potential – maybe in a year or two – to be the best of the bunch.
So that’s why I’m okay with the Bengals passing on my preferred M&M. They all taste the same anyway. Given the Bengals track-record of drafting over the past few seasons, I feel pretty good about Murphy, at the very least, becoming a consistent contributor. And besides, after the first round was over, Mayer was still on the board. Maybe he keeps slipping. Maybe the Bengals trade up to snatch him. It couldn’t hurt to add another M&M to the mix.