Cincinnati Bengals Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson – Round 2
A.J. Green has not played a lot of football over the past few seasons, yet Cincinnati franchised him this offseason. As the injuries mount, Green looks like he’s on a year-to-year basis at this point of his career, so the Bengals needed to get more young receiver talent to grow with new franchise quarterback Joe Burrow. Higgins should join Tyler Boyd to give Burrow a quality receiver tandem even if injuries continue to sideline Green.

Higgins is a is a tall, long receiver who should be a red-zone weapon and provides a size mismatch. He is dangerous red-zone threat given his length, leaping ability, and strong hands. As a junior, Higgins was a point machine for Clemson, and he dominated in the end zone. Similarly, Higgins is very tough to cover along the sideline given his size and body control. On back-shoulder throws or jump balls, Higgins is very skilled at boxing out defenders and making the catch over them. On 50-50 jump balls, Higgins is a dynamic playmaker.

Higgins is not a burner wide receiver and is not a physical wide receiver to go across the middle or bully defensive backs around the field. While he isn’t terrible after the catch, Higgins is more straight line and does not power through defenders.

Higgins can work the sideline and be an outside receiver while Boyd handles the crossing routes and quick passing game in the short to intermediate middle of the field. While Higgins may not turn into as dynamic of a receiver as Green or Boyd, Higgins could easily become a solid starter in the NFL.

2019: Jonah Williams, OT
2018: Sam Hubbard, DE
2017: John Ross, WR
2016: William Jackson, CB
2015: Paul Dawson, LB
2014: Darqueze Dennard, CB
2013: Tyler Eifert, TE

Most Likely To Bust

Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming – Round 3
Linebacker has been a weakness for Cincinnati over the past few seasons, and draft picks like Malik Jefferson were unable to solve the team’s issues. I think that the Bengals’ 2019 third-rounder Germaine Pratt could turn into a good pro, but they need more talent next to him, so they addressed the position with Wilson in the third round. This was a tough selection because Wilson doesn’t scream bust potential to me, but I think he has more risk to them than their other early-round picks.

At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, Wilson has the size to be an enforcer in the middle of the Cincinnati defense. He runs pretty well for his size and was a solid tackler at Wyoming. The risk I see in the Wilson pick is him not developing the pass-coverage skills to be a three-down starter as a pro. While he is quick, he is not fast. and in the passing-driven NFL, it would not shock me if the Bengals want faster linebackers who can cover on the field. Teams play their nickel defense around 70 percent of their snaps, which means only two linebackers are in the game. Thus, I could see Wilson getting pulled from the game and being more of a rotational run stuffer. A high third-round pick is expected to develop into an every-down starter, so that is why I could see Wilson having the most bust potential of the Bengals’ early-round picks.

2019: Drew Sample, TE
2018: Malik Jefferson, LB
2017: Carl Lawson, LB
2016: Nick Vigil, LB
2015: Tyler Kroft, TE
2014: Russell Bodine, C
2013: Shawn Williams, S

Potential Boom Pick

Joe Burrow, QB, LSU – Round 1
The Bengals had gone as far as Andy Dalton was going to take them, and it made sense for the new coaching staff in Cincinnati to build around their own quarterback. Dalton is capable of winning during the regular season in the NFL, but he needed a fresh start and it did not make sense to do a rebuild around him. Taking Burrow with the No. 1-overall pick was a no-brainer for Cincinnati.

Burrow (6-3, 221) has the skill set to be a pocket-passing NFL quarterback. The most important trait for any pro quarterback is accuracy, and Burrow definitely has that as one of his biggest strengths. He is a very accurate passer who can beat good coverage with the placement of his passes. Burrow is able to fit the ball into tight windows and does a superb job of hitting his receivers on the run to lead them for more yards. While Burrow does not fire a lot of fastballs because of arm strength limitations, he is adept at putting air underneath the ball to loft in his throws downfield. Burrow shows advanced field vision to work through his progressions and read defenses. He masters his offenses and will know where his receivers are going to be. With his field vision and intelligence, Burrow makes super decisions and has great ball security to avoid turnovers.

Burrow shows superb anticipation, feel, passing instincts, and timing to go with his ball placement to lead his receivers for yards after the catch. On top of his accuracy, throws a very catchable ball and makes things easy for his receivers with his loft and touch to drop passes in to his receivers. Burrow has phenomenal composure and comfort in the pocket with the ability to handle the rush without getting rattled. He is a rhythm thrower who is a great fit in a West Coast passing offense.

An added element to Burrow’s game that makes him more dangerous and effective is his mobility. He does a phenomenal job of using his feet when plays break down or nothing is open downfield. He has quickness and athleticism to dodge pass rushers and can rip off yards in chunks as defenses often sleep on his running ability. Burrow is also very wise about when he runs and does not look to run when his first read is covered. His feet come into play when he has to avoid a sack or nothing is open downfield. Burrow is able to extend plays and does an excellent job of keeping his eyes downfield when he runs.

Burrow’s accuracy, tenacity, decision-making, leadership skills, and killer instinct could make him an excellent NFL quarterback. The Bengals have to surround him with a good supporting cast, so it could take some time for them to have the team in place around Burrow to support him. Thus, they have to execute well in free agency and various NFL drafts for Burrow to be a boom, pick but he has that type of potential for the Bengals.

2019: Germaine Pratt, LB
2018: Billy Price, C
2017: Joe Mixon, RB
2016: Tyler Boyd, WR
2015: Cedric Ogbuehi, OT
2014: Jeremy Hill, RB
2013: Giovani Bernard, RB

Future Depth Player

Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State – Round 4
As stated above, the Bengals have had problems at linebacker, so they committed a third- and a fourth-round pick to the position in the 2020 NFL Draft. Davis-Gaither is a fast linebacker, but he has size issues for the NFL, so I could see him being a good backup linebacker who contributes in pass coverage but may not be able to hold up as a three-down starter. He could be a valuable backup who is also a core special teams contributor. For a fourth-round pick, that is not a bad value for Cincinnati.

2019: Ryan Finley, QB
2018: Mark Walton, RB
2017: Ryan Glasgow, DT
2016: Andrew Billings, DT
2015: Josh Shaw, CB
2014: A.J. McCarron, QB
2013: Margus Hunt, DE

Walt’s 2020 NFL Draft Grades:

1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU – A Grade
The Bengals were undoubtedly tempted by trade offers, as the Dolphins were said to be in love with Joe Burrow. However, Cincinnati smartly held on to the No. 1 pick and selected Burrow. The LSU product is going to change the fortunes of this franchise, as the Bengals have been stricken with mediocre or worse quarterbacking ever since Carson Palmer left the team. Burrow, who has great accuracy, mobility and leadership, is a major upgrade over Andy Dalton, so it would’ve been a huge mistake to trade out of this pick.

33. Tee Higgins, WR, Clemson – D Grade
The Bengals were going to select Zack Baun unless an “unexpected player” fell to them. I suppose that means Tee Higgins was unexpected. He should have been expected, however, as Higgins, despite what he did in college, doesn’t project well for the NFL. He reminds me of N’Keal Harry in terms of his inability to separate from coverage. Baun would’ve been a better pick, as Higgins should’ve been chosen in the third round.

65. Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming – B Grade
The Bengals desperately needed linebacker help, given that they’ll need to defend Lamar Jackson for the next dozen years or so. Wilson is a solid pick here, though Cincinnati could have done better with Zack Baun, whom the team seemed to love a week ago. I’m not sure what changed, but Baun’s free fall is bizarre.

107. Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Appalachian State – B+ Grade
Another linebacker is a logical route for the Bengals to take. They need to do everything in their power to slow down Lamar Jackson, so upgrading their poor linebacking corps was essential. Akeem Davis-Gather was someone who had third-round discussion, so this is a nice bargain to kick off Round 4.

147. Khaleed Kareem, DE, Notre Dame – B Grade
This is a solid pick by the Bengals to open Round 5. They needed another edge rusher, and they’re getting a player who was productive and has nice upside.

180. Hakeem Adeniji, G, Kansas – B+ Grade
Hakeem Adeniji will have to move to guard in the NFL, but that’s fine because the Bengals need help at that spot. Adeniji makes sense in this range, so I like this pick because Cincinnati had to improve its offensive line.

215. Markus Bailey, LB, Purdue – B+ Grade
Markus Bailey would’ve been chosen earlier than this if he didn’t miss the 2019 season with a knee injury. The Bengals could be getting a nice bargain here because of that, but the knee issues could linger.

2020 NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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