By Liam Lodge (@Liam66NFL)
Some NFL teams have more picks than others heading into a draft. As the event progresses, a team can gain or lose its draft capital through trade deals. The formula for the Cincinnati Bengals this year was simple – seven selections, one placed at the beginning of each of the seven rounds.
The Bengals war room stuck at every one of their picks during the three days; made no deals and put together a very good draft class to take into the 2020 season. Here is what Cincinnati fans should expect from the players that make up this year’s draft class.
Round 1 (#1) – Joe Burrow (QB), LSU
With the first overall pick, the Bengals made Joe Burrow their new signal-caller. A year ago, Burrow would have owned a mid-round grade at best from most observers, but an incredible National Championship winning season full of record-breaking numbers during his final year with LSU, propelled Burrow up to being the consensus QB1 in the draft.
He excels in the leadership and mental aspects of the game, with an ability to read defenses quickly and react to pressure. Give Burrow time and he shows great poise and pocket movement to use just a step or two to extend a play. He is an accurate thrower and I really like the way he leads receivers when completing a pass.
It certainly does feel like time for a quarterback change in Cincinnati and Burrow arrives with the experience of winning plenty of big games as the head of one of the most potent offenses in college football history.
If he continues the sort of growth seen during last season, the Bengals have a strong new leader capable of bringing success.
Round 2 (#33) – Tee Higgins (WR), Clemson
Pairing Burrow with the man who was the number one receiver at Clemson for the last couple of years is a very nice way to build the passing game in your offense.
Higgins’ draft stock dipped during the process owing to questions about his athleticism, which actually is not that bad, and the Bengals took advantage to select him at the top of the second round. The production that Higgins put up at Clemson was impressive, he works best lined up on the outside and likes to use his frame against close coverage – give him the chance to challenge a defense physically and he will be effective.
This is a great landing spot for Higgins, as he will have the opportunity to be paired with Cincinnati’s all-pro wideout A.J. Green, which should help his development.
The Bengals will enjoy having a new big WR on the team, who can potentially take over from Green as “the guy” in the future.
Round 3 (#65) – Logan Wilson (LB), Wyoming
I loved seeing Logan Wilson go at the start of round three. One of my favourite linebackers in the entire draft, he will be a good addition to a Bengals defense in need of some help in the middle of the field.
I was happy to see his high level of play over the last few seasons backed up with a great workout at the NFL combine. Wilson is solid as an outside linebacker – a smart player who reads and reacts to what the offense shows in front of him and gets to the ball at speed.
There are some good highlights showing that when asked to drop into coverage, his athletic ability gets him up into passing lanes like a defensive back to break up a play or get an interception.
Wilson suits the classic linebacker leader role with the versatility to be tried inside the defensive formation, and if he can get to grips with pro schemes quickly, the Bengals have a guy who will see a lot of playing time during his rookie year.
Round 4 (#107) – Akeem Davis-Gaither (LB), Appalachian State
Why draft one linebacker with huge potential, when you can draft two! Cincinnati followed the Wilson pick by selecting the up-tempo Davis-Gaither to kick off the last day.
He is a slim, athletic linebacker who is not going to win with strength, instead was able to make a lot of plays using great burst and body control. Appalachian State liked to use Davis-Gaither on the outside, close to the line of scrimmage where he could blitz at speed and also disrupt the run game. His skill-set compliments Wilson’s very well and I can see them working at each end of the LB core.
Davis-Gaither would have been further up big boards (including mine) if he played more coverage and bulked up – the lack of weight aids his acceleration, but he will need to add more size to be effective in the NFL.
For this reason, he will likely start on special teams, but his relentless playing style means he could turn into a real fan favourite in 2-3 years.
Round 5 (#147) – Khalid Kareem (DE), Notre Dame
Kareem is a nice addition to the Bengals’ defensive end depth chart, and the fifth round seems good value too. The defender out of Notre Dame wins his battles in the trenches with strength above anything else; he appears difficult to move around once he is engaged.
Kareem currently projects as a better run defender, as trying to go all-power off the edge when pass rushing at the next level will result in him being nullified by the top offensive linemen he faces. Kareem needs to add more variety to his technique when fighting through contact, if he is able to do so soon, he will see playing time in his rookie season.
For now, he will be a backup in Cincinnati.
Round 6 (#180) – Hakeem Adeniji (OT), Kansas
Having found Joe Burrow a new target in receiver Tee Higgins, Cincinnati decided to begin adding extra protection for their new QB in the form of Adeniji in round six.
The offensive line was a weak point for the Bengals last season and Adeniji will have the chance to compete for a place at the offensive tackle position. There was talk pre-draft that teams may try him at guard too, so the coaches will like that versatility.
He does look undersized to play OT, and his strength as a blocker lies in his movement, which showed up during his athletic combine, rather than power and technique.
Adeniji needs to develop in those areas in order to be a regular NFL starter.
Round 7 (#215) – Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue
To end their 2020 draft, the Bengals went back to building at the linebacker positions. Bailey feels like great value in the seventh, although he did fall due to injury concerns.
When healthy, he was a playmaker at Purdue with strong tackling skills and the ability to finish very well. He worked best against the run, so projects as a middle linebacker in the NFL that can attack plays in front of him.
Bailey will begin life in the pros on special teams but has enough upside to work his way into the defensive lineup. After the selections of Wilson and Davis-Gaither, picking up Bailey here mean the Bengals have a whole new set of high ceiling linebackers to play with.
I like the possibility of seeing all three of them playing together in Cincinnati across the defense.
From top to bottom this looks like a strong draft for Cincinnati Bengals fans to get excited about. The team addressed needs and appeared to find good value players throughout the rounds. Burrow will be the highlight of the class – every NFL team is under pressure to find a franchise quarterback to build their future around and the Bengals may well now have that box ticked. With the qualities these players bring, over the next few seasons this could be seen as the draft that the Bengals faithful look back on as the start of some progression for the team.