Cincinnati Bengals Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Paul Dawson, LB, TCU – Round 3
The 6-foot, 235-pounder Dawson was very much a love-or-hate prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft. Some teams had a second-round grade on him. Others had him in the third round. Some sources said they had him in the fourth round, while another linebacker-needy team had a sixth- or seventh-round grade on Dawson. A lot of evaluators liked Dawson’s tape, but there were a number of questions marks that hurt his draft stock. Some of those were concerns regarding his work ethic, which were exacerbated by a poor Combine where Dawson was overweight and out of shape, plus ran slowly. Some teams also had concerns about Dawson’s size and foot speed for the NFL. Still at the end of the day, the linebacker position is all about instincts, and I believe that instincts will lead Dawson to being a solid starter for Cincinnati.

The senior had a massive 2014 season with 128 tackles, 18.5 for a loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles, five passes batted and four interceptions. He was all over the field for the Horned Frogs and was a huge part in leading them to challenging for the college football playoff.

The Bengals are a great landing spot for Dawson. Rey Maualuga has been nothing special the past few seasons, and Cincinnati could use a middle linebacker to pair with Vontaze Burfict. As the Bengals proved with Burfict and the likes of Adam Jones, they are skilled at taking talented, but troubled, players and getting them to be good contributors. Cincinnati also has a strong defense around the linebackers with talent on the defensive line and in the secondary. Before too long, I think Dawson will become a good starter for the Bengals.

Most Likely To Bust

Tyler Kroft, TE, Rutgers – Round 3
I think the Bengals had another strong draft, and this decade, they have been one of the best drafting teams in the NFL. It wasn’t easy to chose a player who is most likely to bust from this class. The choice for most likely to bust came down to Kroft or second-round pick Jake Fisher. I think Fisher could struggle with some power in the NFL and also got some help by Oregon’s blocking scheme with an elite athlete at quarterback. However, Fisher could move to guard and will get an easier assignment as a right tackle.

I decided to go with Kroft because he looks like a tweener tight end to me. The 6-foot-6, 246-pounder isn’t an elite athlete or especially fast to be a receiving-tight end mismatch. He also is light and lacking strength to be a Y tight end in the NFL. Kroft could add weight, but to me, he looks like a third tight end who won’t see the field often.

Cincinnati will probably force him into the No. 2 tight end role behind Tyler Eifert. The organization let Jermaine Gresham leave this offseason, and Kroft will probably be given the opportunity to be the secondary tight end. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bengals are missing Gresham during the 2015 season and are looking for a tight end upgrade to pair with Eifert over the 2016 offseason.

Potential Boom Pick

Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M – Round 1
There were a lot of candidates for this selection. Third-round linebacker Paul Dawson had phenomenal season in 2014 and could be a boom pick. Fourth-rounder Josh Shaw from USC has the skill set of a second-day pick as a corner or safety. Both players were good college players who had their draft stocks lowered because of off-the-field issues. Cincinnati has been skilled at working with these kind of troubled talents, and they could easily turn into quality starters in the NFL. My choice for boom pick was Ogbuehi because he has the ability to be a franchise left tackle, and the Bengals were able to get him at pick No. 21 because of an ACL injury.

If it weren’t for a torn ACL, Ogbuehi would have been a mid-first-round pick with a shot at the top 10. Even with a torn ACL, I think Ogbuehi is going to become a good starter at left tackle in the NFL for a decade. His athleticism and quickness are off the charts for the position. Ogbuehi is extremely quick and athletic. He has fast feet and is a natural knee-bender. His amazing feet and agility make him a potential shutdown left tackle to go against NFL speed rushers. Ogbuehi is just missing strength, which hurt him repeatedly in 2014 with his inability to sustain blocks after his athleticism got him in the right position. If Ogbuehi can add strength, he could be an dominant tackle at the next level.

The Bengals needed a left tackle of the future with the age of Andrew Whitworth. Cincinnati is a perfect landing spot for Ogbuehi as he has the luxury of time to heal with Whitworth manning left tackle this season. The Bengals can let Ogbuehi recover from his bowl-game ACL tear, and get him ready for the 2016 season. Even if Ogbuehi weren’t able to play left tackle, he has starting experience at guard and right tackle, so his flexibility provides a worst-case scenario of still being a starter. However, with his speed and athleticism, I think Ogbuehi is going to turn into an excellent starting left tackle and blind-side protector for the Bengals.

Future Depth Player

Josh Shaw, CB, USC – Round 4
There is no doubt that Shaw has the skill set for the NFL. The 6-foot, 200-pounder has a very strong build along with the size to match up against big receivers. Shaw is good as a press-man corner and is very physical. He also has the ability to play safety after playing both positions in college. The Bengals seem to be set with long-term starters at corner and safety. The team could use a third corner to emerge as a replacement for veterans like Leon Hall or Adam Jones. Shaw should be able to serve as a quality backup at corner and safety, plus contribute on special teams. At the very least, Shaw should provide good depth in the NFL.

Walt’s 2015 NFL Draft Grades:

21. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M: C+ Grade
This is a bit of a reach. Cedric Ogbuehi is coming off a torn ACL and wasn’t very highly regarded; at least that’s what teams we’ve spoken to told us. In fact, one franchise had him slotted in the third round, partly because of the injury. The good news is that Ogbuehi won’t have to play this year; he’ll take over at left tackle once Andrew Whitworth moves on. The bad news is that Ogbuehi won’t be able to contribute this year, and Cincinnati needs talented players to help Andy Dalton take the next step.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

53. Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon: B+ Grade
Uhh… another tackle!? I guess the good news is that the Bengals know that they have a blind-side protector if Cedric Ogbuehi busts, and they’re selecting the best player available, as Jake Fisher was receiving first-round buzz. The bad news is that Cincinnati apparently won’t have Andre Smith or Andrew Whitworth next year, meaning they’ll have to count on both second-year tackles to protect Andy Dalton.

85. Tyler Kroft, TE, Rutgers: B- Grade
Somewhere, Bill Belichick locked himself in a closet and began weeping uncontrollably, as a Rutgers player was chosen before he got to snatch him off the board. The Bengals were looking for a tight end to replace Jermaine Gresham, and Tyler Kroft figures to play well for them. I had Kroft as a fourth-rounder, but taking him in the middle of the third isn’t too much of a reach.

99. Paul Dawson, LB, TCU: A- Grade
The Bengals were aiming to upgrade the linebacker spot; Vontaze Burfict has injury issues, while other players at the position have expiring contracts soon. Paul Dawson could have gone a bit earlier than this without being called a reach, so I like this selection for the Bengals. Dawson will begin as a backup, but he figures to be very effective on special teams before he emerges as a starter down the road.

120. Josh Shaw, CB/S, USC: A- Grade
The Bengals have stayed away from troubled players for the most part in recent years, but they’ve proven that they can handle dealing with such individuals. Josh Shaw has his documented problems, but there’s no denying he has the talent. In fact, if he were clean, the athletic Shaw would’ve been a second-round pick. Cincinnati had to find some corner help with Terence Newman gone, and Shaw could start sooner rather than later.

135. Marcus Hardison, DE/DT, Arizona State: B Grade
I thought Marcus Hardison’s best spot was going to be in a 3-4 as a five-technique, but he makes sense for the Bengals, who had to find upgrades for the defensive tackle position. Hardison is a solid choice who fits this range.

157. C.J. Uzomah, TE, Auburn: C Grade
Only 100 picks remaining in the 2015 NFL Draft! The Bengals made their second tight end selection by picking C.J. Uzomah, who is more of a blocker. I’m not crazy about adding blocking tight ends until the end of the draft, but the middle of the fifth is not a terrible spot. I’m not crazy about this pick, though.

197. Derron Smith, S, Fresno State: B+ Grade
Derron Smith probably would have gone earlier than this had he not undergone sports hernia surgery earlier this offseason. With that in mind, this is a solid choice in the middle of the sixth round.

238. Mario Alford, WR/KR, West Virginia: B Grade
Mario Alford just missed the final cut of my mock draft, but he’s definitely worth a spot in the middle of the seventh round. He may not see the field on offense, but he should be able to contribute as a kick-returner with his blazing-fast 4.25 40.

2015 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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