Wow, it’s been a while! Feels good to be back talking about sports again in a world without sports. We’re talking now, but let’s hope that we’re back to watching sooner than later. Anyways, let’s dive right into it. The Cincinnati Bengals entered this draft desperately looking to show everyone that it is indeed, a New Dey.
The Bengals front office, get this, actually made a splash in free agency. Scratch that, splash(es). We saw the likes of D.J. Reader, Vonn Bell, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and even several other notable free agents join the 2-14 Bengals during the offseason. Why? Because the team finally opened their pockets!
So with the front office doing its thing to help out, it’s now Zac Taylor and Duke Tobin’s turn in the 2020 NFL Draft. Taylor knew he had to deliver on his picks outside of Joe Burrow to finally start to turn this thing around, and deliver he did. Let’s take a look at the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals draft class and the draft grade for each player.
Rd 1 pick 1: Joe Burrow, QB LSU
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the Cincinnati Bengals selected the man everyone knew they’d take, Hesiman and National Championship winner, Joe Burrow from LSU. Not even the rumored Ricky Williams-esque trade from the Dolphins was enough to lure away the opportunity to draft the Tiger King.
By now everyone knows his legendary rise to the top. He was once the third or fourth option at Ohio State then went on to have one of the best seasons ever at LSU. What more needs to be said about this pick that the national media and everybody and their sister hasn’t already said? He is arguably the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since Andrew Luck and appears to be NFL ready come day one. Obviously, this works in every way for the Bengals who look to replace long time veteran, Andy Dalton.
I’m not going to dive into this pick and explain what all it means to this franchise in great detail. Face it, we’ve heard plenty of that about Burrow and the Bengals for months now, so let’s focus on the other players in the draft.
Rd 2 pick 1: Tee Higgins, WR Clemson
A would-be first-round receiver in any other year’s draft but this one, the Bengals earn back-to-back A+ grades after selecting Tee Higgins from Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers, their second National Champion in as many picks. The Bengals add a “go up and get it” receiver who offers sure hands and good size at the receiver position. In his final two seasons at Clemson, Higgins accumulated 2,103 yards on 118 catches, good for an impressive 17.8 yds/rec. Perhaps most impressively, he had 25 receiving touchdowns in those final seasons.
Standing 6 ft 3 in and 216 lbs, Higgins isn’t only a big and physical receiver that can go up and get the ball. He is pretty quick for his size too, running a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine. Higgins may not have the same explosiveness when it comes to route running as the Jerry Jeudys of the world do, but he is still a solid route runner and looks to be a very dangerous threat if he continues to improve on that.
This pick earns an A+ in my book for several reasons. For one, the fact that Tee Higgins still remained available to start round 2 is insane, the Bengals simply could not pass him up. I know this draft is so receiver-deep, but that doesn’t take away from how talented a receiver Higgins is and will be in the NFL. He has the skill set to be the other down-field physical threat opposite A.J. Green, and possibly the heir to replace Green when the day comes. Not only that, but Green’s ability to be on the field has been in serious question the past few years, so Higgins adds needed depth to the position if Green goes down again. All said, this pick works extremely well for the present and the future for the Bengals.
Round 3 pick 1: Logan Wilson, LB Wyoming
A bit of a surprising pick considering OL Josh Jones and LB Zack Baun were still out there, the Bengals took speedy cover inside-linebacker Logan Wilson from Wyoming. That’s not to say the 6’2 250 lb Wilson was the wrong pick, and if anything, he was arguably the only ‘right’ pick for the Bengals at this spot. I have this pick rated higher than most experts, but in fact, even Mel Kiper Jr. himself said on television after the pick that a few years from now, fans may look back at this pick as one of the best of the draft.
The Bengals have long been in desperate need of a good cover linebacker, especially after losing Nick Vigil who didn’t exactly shine at that role anyways. Wilson ran a cool 4.63 40-yard at the combine, showing off that speed he’ll offer the Bengals in the middle of the field. However, Wilson isn’t just a pass-specialist LB. In his four years as a starter, he racked up 409 total tackles with 34.5 going for a loss and even seven sacks. He may not specialize as a run-stopper, but he should be able to contribute in that area for a Bengals D that was ranked 31st against the run in 2019.
This was the right pick to make here, plain and simple. Wilson fits the scheme the Bengals are trying to run on Defense, unlike Zack Baun who was more of a 3-4 pass rusher. Josh Jones certainly wouldn’t have been a bad pick, but remember Bengals fans, we have a 1st-round pick from last year, Jonah Williams, coming this season to help anchor it down. Linebacker was simply a bigger need with this pick than was a lineman.
Rd 4 pick 1: Akeem Davis-Gaither, OLB Appalachian State
This was an interesting pick to me mostly because it is somewhat of a questionable pick. Davis-Gaither was on the Bengals’ radar because they coached him in the Senior Bowl and were impressed by him, so that part does not surprise me. What does surprise me is taking a second-consecutive linebacker when offensive line still hasn’t been addressed and OT Saahdiq Charles, Burrow’s former teammate, were still there. The Bengals must really believe in either Bobby Hart or Fred Johnson to hold that other tackle spot down next season.
This is all not to say the Bengals couldn’t use another linebacker, it was just surprising one was taken so soon again when there are other positions in need. Either way, he will offer the Bengals defense some help as an edge rusher. He is undersized for the position (6’1, 224 lbs), however, he makes up for that with speed and quickness which helped him get to the quarterback five times in his senior season. This isn’t to say he can’t play the run though, as he does project as an above-average run-stopper too.
If Davis-Gaither continues to improve on his ability to get off blocks and his overall reaction instincts, he projects to be a vital member of the Bengals linbacker core, and at the very least, a special teams monster given his speed and athleticism. I gave this pick a generous B, but it has the potential to be an “A” pick depending on how the Bengals use him.
Rd 5 pick 1: Khalid Kareem, DE Notre Dame
I am honestly hung up on this one. Kareem definitely has some upside, but the defensive line simply is not a top position the Bengals need. However, Kareem finished his collegiate career with back-to-back 10+ tackles-for-loss seasons, including ten sacks in both seasons combined. What may be the plan here is for Kareem to be one of the main rotation guys on the D-Line assuming the Bengals allow Carl Lawson to walk after this season.
For Kareem, coming to the Bengals will only help a young and raw player such as himself develop. He will be able to learn from the ranks of players like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, D.J. Reader and even emerging young-threat Sam Hubbard. Not a bad company to learn the ropes from at all.
Kareem is a relatively balanced end, possessing the physical traits to play with both speed and strength when it comes to pass-rush, but he doesn’t really excel at either at the same time. He doesn’t move around the field the quickest, but he does make up for that with pretty good field awareness.
I see him helping out more in the run game and do not see him as a three-down end, but he could certainly develop into an efficient pass rusher. Kareem should be a serviceable depth/ rotational player, with the upside to be a borderline starter someday.
Rd 6 pick 1: Hakeem Adeniji, OT Kansas
It only took them until the second-to-last round, but here it is Bengals fans, we finally drafted a lineman! Hakeem Adeniji enters the NFL after being coached in his final college season by legend Les Miles. Adeniji, 6 ft 4 in and 302 lbs, played as a tackle but may be asked to switch between the interior and exterior at the pro-level.
He is a solid pass protector from his experience at tackle, which would be a plus for him moving inside. However, his athleticism leaves a bit to be desired when blocking in space. His foot quickness is also sub-par, meaning he will most likely not be very effective in zone runs. When his footing is right though, he displays good strength to hold blocks and has a solid jump off the line.
He is certainly a raw prospect, but if Adeniji improves on his technique and becomes more consistent, combine that with his physical traits and he could maybe be a starting lineman in this league someday, at the very least a swing tackle. As of now, he offers good depth to a very young, but developing Bengals offensive line.
Rd 7 pick 1: Markus Bailey, LB Purdue
Ah yes, the ever forgetful seventh-round pick. Wait a minute, T.J. Houshmandzadeh was a seventh-round pick by the Bengals? Okay, this pick actually matters too. Especially in Cincinnati’s case with the first selection of the seventh round, taking Purdue linebacker, Marcus Bailey. Outside of Houshmandzadeh’s case, most Bengals seventh-round picks aren’t ever heard of again after a few years (from who I can remember). But this may not be the case with Bailey.
Bailey would’ve been drafted much higher had it not been for major injury concerns such as a torn ACL his freshman season and a knee injury that prematurely ended his senior campaign. If healthy though, Bailey may compete for a starting job and could be the steal of the draft for the Bengals, even more so than Tee Higgins.
Bailey possesses good instincts and is a sure tackler as well. He has good closing speed as he takes good angles to the ball and he has even shown the potential to rush the passer. Outside of injuries, my knock on him is size. He is small for the position (a trend we’re beginning to see by Bengals linebackers), standing only 6’0 tall at 235 lbs.
Overall draft grade: A-
Simply put, the Bengals knocked this draft out of the park. This may even be one of the best I can remember as a fan, but I say that with caution. No one truly knows how a single prospect will turn out. Cincinnati addressed a key need at linebacker by taking three. Joe Burrow is going to instantly start for this team and Tee Higgins may even make a difference on the field sooner than we think.
I would’ve like to have seen another lineman taken in this draft, especially with the fifth pick, but with Jonah Williams coming in and the off-season addition of Xavier Su’a-Filo and the seeming progressions of Fred Johnson and Michael Jordan, we may be in better shape there than most think.
Combine the draft with the free agency the Bengals had, most fans may be wondering if they are still cheering on the same team. The Bengals appear to be finally changing, there’s still a long way to go but for once, the future may actually be bright in Cincinnati.