Cincinnati Bengals Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

William Jackson, CB, Houston – Round 1
Cincinnati was targeting a wide receiver in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, but they all went off the board before the Bengals were on the clock. They settled for Jackson to further strengthen their defensive backfield and also denied the rival Steelers a player who they really wanted. Cincinnati had a lot of veterans at the position, but are transitioning to younger players, so a cornerback makes sense in the long-term view of team building.

Over the past few offseasons, the Bengals have moved on from veterans like Leon Hall and Terrance Newman. Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones remains, but it won’t be long before his career is over. The Bengals drafted Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard in the first round of previous drafts, and the veterans have allowed the team to bring those two along slowly. Jackson will probably have the same developmental timeframe, but in a year or two, he should be part of the starting trio with Kirkpatrick and Dennard. NFL teams are playing three cornerback sets in the majority of their defensive snaps, so having three starting-caliber cornerbacks is vital.

The 6-foot, 189-pound Jackson was a ballhawk as a senior with five interceptions and 23 passes broken up. He also had an electric combine performance. Jackson has a lot of talent, but could use some coaching up to learn different coverage techniques in the NFL. He’s good in press-man coverage, but needs to learn to play off-man. The Bengals have a strong coaching staff and organization that has had success developing young players. In time, I think they will turn Jackson into a solid starter.

Most Likely To Bust

Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State – Round 3
The Bengals were said to be looking for linebacker depth from the 2016 NFL Draft, so it wasn’t surprising that they used a mid-round pick to acquire one. Cincinnati has Karlos Dansby on the roster, but he is 34 years old and isn’t a long-term solution. The organization has other veteran linebackers like Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga and Vincent Ray on the roster as we;;. The Bengals also used a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on Paul Dawson. While Vigil was a solid player in college, I’m not confident that his athletic skill set will be good enough to win playing time over the Bengals’ in-house options.

Vigil, (6-2, 239) had 144 tackles last year and was a solid inside linebacker for Utah State. He was decent in pass coverage, but for the NFL, he will need more grooming to defend against pro receivers and tight ends. With teams playing their pass defense the majority of the snaps, I could imagine Vigil having a hard time seeing the field.

Cincinnati is an aggressive team about acquiring depth and competition from the draft and free agency. I think Vigil could end up getting lost in the shuffle and never really turning into a real contributor for the Bengals. When they are done with Maualuga or Burfict, I could see them using a high pick to replace them and not turn to a player like Vigil. Of the Bengals’ early round picks, I think Vigil isn’t as talented to compete for playing time on one of the best and deepest rosters in the NFL.

Potential Boom Pick

Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh – Round 2
At the start of the 2016 NFL Draft process, Boyd was my top receiver for the draft class. He was an dynamic player from his 2013 debut as a freshman against the eventual National Champions that season in Florida State. That set the tone for him to break a lot of Larry Fitzgerald’s freshman records. Boyd caught 85 passes for 1,174 yards with seven touchdowns in 2013. He followed that up with 78 receptions for 1,126 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore.

Boyd’s junior season didn’t go as planned in part because running back James Conner was out with a knee injury. That allowed defenses to send a lot of coverage Boyd’s direction, and as a result, he didn’t have space to make a lot of big plays. In 2015, Boyd totaled 91 receptions for 926 yards and six touchdowns. He had 40 carries for 349 yards, too.

As a player, Boyd (6-1, 197) has a lot of talent. He is a quick receiver who generally has good hands and gets separation from defensive backs. Boyd is a tough wideout with a burst to rip off yards after the catch.

The Bengals have been one of the best drafting teams in the NFL, and I think they proved it again by waiting to let Boyd fall to them. I think Cincinnati was a perfect landing spot for Boyd. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left in free agency, so playing time is available. A.J. Green is a tremendous No. 1 receiver for the Bengals, and Green will draw all the extra coverage available to him. That should leave Boyd with plenty of one-on-ones. Before long, I think Boyd could emerge as a difference-making No. 2 receiver. I think he was a steal for the Bengals and could be a boom pick for them.

Future Depth Player

Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor – Round 4
I loved Andrew Billings as prospect and felt he was one of the steals of the 2016 NFL Draft. I’m stretching this a little bit, but in the short term, he will be a depth player for Cincinnati. Domata Peko is returning as the team’s starting nose tackle, meaning Billings will be a backup early on. However, I think that Billings will end up being Peko’s replacement in a year or two. Nose tackles aren’t as valuable as they used to be because the NFL is a passing-driven league, but I think Billings is more effective as a pass-rusher than he is given credit for. I think he will be good depth immediately and, in time, become a quality starter for Cincinnati.

Walt’s 2016 NFL Draft Grades:

24. William Jackson, CB, Houston A- Grade
The poor Bengals wanted a receiver badly. They had Josh Doctson atop their board, followed by Corey Coleman and William Fuller. They were all gone, so the Bengals had to look elsewhere. William Jackson is definitely not a bad consolation prize. As a matter of fact, I love the pick. William Jackson has both great film and unbelievable athleticism. There was some speculation that he could go as high as No. 11 to the Bears or No. 14 to the Raiders. Jackson’s a great selection here, as he fills a big need in the secondary while providing good value.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

55. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh A Grade
Tyler Boyd had some character concerns, so the Bengals taking him is hardly a surprise. That’s not a knock on the team, as they’ve done incredibly well with such players over the years. I think Boyd will work out similarly, as he was the top-rated receiver (or perhaps tied with Michael Thomas) heading into Day 2. The Bengals obviously had to find a receiver after losing Marvin Jones and missing out on all of their first-round candidates (Josh Doctson, Corey Coleman, William Fuller), and they certainly obtained a good one.

87. Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State C+ Grade
At least one team was set to draft Nick Vigil in the fourth round, but this isn’t an egregious reach. Vigil is a solid player who should be able to contribute on special teams right away. He could eventually work his way into the starting lineup and replace Rey Maualuga, but I think the Bengals could’ve gone better with this choice.

122. Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor A+ Grade
The best pick of Day 3 thus far. There’s no reason Andrew Billings should’ve fallen out of the second round. He could’ve gone in the first as well, and it wouldn’t have been a problem. No one seems to have any clue why Billings dropped, but the Bengals won’t care. They obtained a great football player who could start sometime in the near future, taking the place of Domata Peko.

161. Christian Westerman, G, Arizona State A Grade
The Bengals are drafting steals like it’s their job. I had Christian Westerman mocked at the end of the second round, and it was surprising to see him fall out of the second day entirely. Cincinnati has an expiring contract at guard after this season, so Westerman could legitimately compete for a starting spot in 2017. This is a great pick.

199. Cody Core, WR, Ole Miss C Grade
It makes sense to select a second receiver, but everything about Cody Core screams average. Core is a middling athlete who had mediocre production playing across from Laquon Treadwell at Ole Miss. He’s not a good route-runner either, so it’s difficult to imagine him developing into anything substantial beyond a quality special-teamer.

245. Clayton Fejedelem, S, Illinois B- Grade
Clayton Fejedelem didn’t produce much at Illinois, but had a decent 2015 campaign. He helped himself by showing off some solid athleticism at his Pro Day, so perhaps that’s why the Bengals are drafting him. Cincinnati probably could’ve done something better here, but this isn’t a bad pick by any means.

2016 NFL Draft Team Grade: A . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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