Cincinnati Bengals Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State – Round 1
Taking a cornerback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft made complete sense for Cincinnati. Leon Hall has had health issues, while Adam Jones and Terrance Newman are aging. 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t locked down a starting job yet, but the Bengals need him to step it up in 2014. Given the uncertainty at the position for the long term, Dennard was a great pick. If things go to plan, Dennard and Kirkpatrick could be Cincinnati’s starting corners for years to come.

At Michigan State, Dennard was an excellent press-man cornerback. He recorded 62 tackles with 10 passes broken up and four interceptions in 2013. The sernior turned in had an excellent season and came up huge for Michigan State playing on an island. Dennard (5-11, 181) is a tough and physical cornerback who has good instincts. The Spartans’ scheme had Dennard playing mostly press man, but he is also a good zone corner.

Dennard needs a lot of work to play off-man coverage, but with Cincinnati’s veterans there for 2014, the Bengals can take their time to develop Dennard into a complete corner. In a year or two, Dennard should replace one of the team’s veterans in the starting lineup and should develop into a solid starter.

Most Likely To Bust

Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina – Round 4
Taking a center made sense for Cincinnati as the team needed a long-term starter at the position, but Bodine was a reach. knows teams that needed help at center that weren’t interested in drafting Bodine. They said that Bodine was grading out for late in Day 3 and was viewed as a “JAG” (just a guy, nothing special).

Bodine (6-3, 310) doesn’t have power at the point of attack and isn’t overly athletic. He had some quality years for North Carolina, but he wasn’t a dominant offensive lineman in the ACC. Considering that, I think Cincinnati should give Bodine lots of help when he’s taking on above-average NFL defensive linemen.

The Bengals will give Bodine every opportunity to be their long-term center, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Cincinnati is looking for an upgrade before long.

Potential Boom Pick

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU – Round 2 knew some teams that rated Hill as the top back in the 2014 NFL Draft. Hill looks like he has the potential to be an impact starting back in the NFL and could have three-down potential. The 6-foot, 233-pounder can be a workhorse power back. He runs over defenders and is tough to bring down. Hill also has underrated speed as he has a burst to hit the hole and accelerate to the second level. Hill will run away from defenders as well.

At LSU, Hill was the best of a talented group of running backs for LSU over the past two seasons. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2013 for 1,401 yards with 16 touchdowns. Hill also caught 18 passes for 181 yards. As a freshman the year before, he ran for 755 yards with 12 touchdowns and 5.3 yards per carry. Hill has the potential to be a three-down starter. With his power and strength, he should be an asset as a goal-line and short-yardage back.

In Cincinnati, Hill could form a dynamic duo with Giovani Bernard. Hill will bring the power to the backfield while Bernard will serve as the speed threat. Hill is far more talented than BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and it shouldn’t be long before Green-Ellis gives way to Hill. Hill has a first-round skill set, but he fell to the second round because of the downgrading of the running back position. Hill could become a special back for the Bengals.

Future Depth Player

A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama – Round 5
McCarron is a career backup. While he won a lot in college, that was because of a tremendous running game led by supremely talented halfbacks and one of the top offensive lines in college football history. Alabama also had a great defense, so McCarron’s job was one of being a game-manager and avoiding mistakes. He did that well, but he doesn’t have the skill set to be an NFL starter. McCarron doesn’t have a very strong arm and doesn’t fit a lot of throws into tight windows. His anticipation could be better as well.

McCarron (6-3, 220) could be a quality backup quarterback to finish games or start for a few weeks while a starter is injured. The issue that could prevent McCarron from sticking as a backup is his attitude. He has a cockiness and inflated sense of self that will have to be adjusted. Backup quarterbacks have to be the consummate team players, and McCarron will have to show that he is there to support the starter rather than stir up controversy for a change. Those backups don’t last long in the NFL.

With his game intelligence and experience, McCarron should be solid backup quickly – if he took the humbling draft fall to heart.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

24. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: A Grade
Great pick. This is really the best the Bengals could have hoped for. They had a big need at cornerback – thanks to aging players and the departure of Mike Zimmer – and some could argue that Darqueze Dennard was the best player at his position in this class. I wouldn’t have said that, but the fact remains that this is very good value for Dennar, who could have easily gone at No. 14 to Chicago.

55. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: D Grade
What a terrible pick. The only thing preventing this from being a Millen is that Jeremy Hill could have been chosen a bit earlier than this. But this makes no sense. The Bengals already have Giovanni Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the roster, so they didn’t need to add Hill. Furthermore, Hill has been arrested twice over the past few years, so I better not hear from any Cincinnati fans telling me that the front office no longer selects players with character concerns.

88. Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia: C Grade
I’m not a big fan of this scheme fit because I thought Will Clarke would be better off in a 3-4. However, he fills a need as a defensive end, given that Cincinnati lost Michael Johnson in free agency to Tampa Bay. Clarke probably should have gone in the fourth round, so this is only a very slight reach.

111. Russell Bodine, C, North Carolina: B- Grade
As with the Patriots, the Bengals are making a very slight reach, but filling a huge need in the process. The Bengals have a huge hole at center, so this fourth-rounder could actually start right away.

164. A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama: C+ Grade
Did A.J. McCarron mean he would be picked around the 16th selection in the fifth round? I don’t like this pick as much as Kansas City’s Aaron Murray choice because McCarron has no chance to be a starter. I can’t stand it when analysts say that McCarron was a winner. That’s like saying Mark Sanchez was a winner for the Jets in 2009-2011. McCarron’s defense carried him, and any other quarterback would’ve enjoyed similar success. He’s a career backup at best.

212. Marquis Flowers, OLB, Arizona: C Grade
Cincinnati has ignored the linebacker position thus far. Depth was needed, so taking one at this point makes sense. There were better linebackers available, but it’s hard to call a pick a reach at the end of Round 6.

239. James Wright, WR, LSU: C Grade
I didn’t have James Wright as a draftable prospect either. The Bengals did need a receiver after losing Andrew Hawkins, but why not go with Brandon Coleman?

252. Lavelle Westbrooks, CB, Georgia Southern: B Grade
Solid range fit for the Bengals here. This is only their second cornerback, and they were expected to select multiple players at that position.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: C . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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