AFC North Draft Needs: Bengals

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Cincinnati surprised everyone last season winning the AFC North title over powerful division foes in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. They went on to lose to the Jets in the first round of the playoffs, but the franchise is even hungrier after getting a taste of the postseason. With a solid core intact, the Bengals offseason focus is adding pieces to the puzzle to build a Super Bowl contender.

Cincinnati will have a great opportunity to add a lot of talented players with their nine draft picks. They have all seven of their original picks and were awarded compensatory selections in the third and fourth rounds. They currently hold picks 21, 54, 84, 96, 120, 131, 152, 191 and 228.

Cincinnati addressed their biggest offseason need with the signing of wide receiver Antonio Bryant. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer signed a four-year, $28 million contract and will be a nice compliment opposite Chad Ochocinco.

However, beyond Bryant and Ochocinco, there is little proven depth at the position. Depending on who's available, the Bengals could opt to add a young receiver early in the draft. They have already hosted several players on visits including Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State, Arrelious Benn of Illinois, Eric Decker of Minnesota, Mardy Gilyard of Cincinnati and Marcus Easley of Connecticut.

Aside from wide receiver, Carson Palmer also needs a reliable target at tight end that can work the middle of the field. Chase Coffman was drafted in the third round last April, but he finished the season on injured reserve. Grabbing a dynamic pass catching tight end could pay instant dividends and put an already potent offense over the top. The team has hosted Penn State's Mickey Shuler and Dennis Pitta of BYU on private visits.

The Bengals boasted the league's fourth-ranked defense last season allowing just 252.3 yards in total offense per game. They were equally effective in stopping all facets of the offense, as the pass defense ranked sixth and the run defense ranked seventh. The only major hole is at safety, where Roy Williams, Chris Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe proved to be great run stoppers but lacked coverage skills. Cincinnati's top priority on defense is landing a top-notch safety with range and coverage ability. The Bengals have met with two of the draft's elite safety prospects in Earl Thomas of Texas and Taylor Mays of USC.

The Bengals could also use some added depth along the front four, as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer wants to get more pressure from his defensive line. The team got decent production from their ends last season, but adding another athletic edge rusher could go a long way. One such player who fits the bill is South Florida's Jason Pierre-Paul, whom the team hosted for a visit. They would also like to get more of a pass rush out of their defensive tackles, and could look to add a young interior player.

Other players who visited the Bengals include Florida cornerback Joe Haden, Kentucky fullback John Connor, South Dakota State linebacker Danny Batten and Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike.




UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Roy Williams (re-signed for one-year), DT Tank Johnson (re-signed for four-years), G Bobbie Williams (re-signed for two-years), TE Reggie Kelly (was not re-signed), RB Larry Johnson (was not re-signed, signed with Washington), K Shayne Graham (was not re-signed), RB Jeremi Johnson (was not re-signed)

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Brandon Johnson (received second-round tender at $1.759 million and signed offer sheet), LB Abdul Hodge (received original-round tender at $1.176 million and signed offer sheet), LB Rashad Jeanty (received original-round tender at $1.176 million and signed offer sheet), CB David Jones (received original-round tender at $1.101 million and signed offer sheet), G Evan Mathis (received original-round tender at $1.226 million), DE Frostee Rucker (received original-round tender at $1.176 million, re-signed for two-years at up to $3 million), TE Daniel Coats (was not tendered, re-signed as unrestricted free agent), TE J.P. Foschi (was not tendered), DT Shaun Smith (was not tendered, signed with Kansas City)

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: S Kyries Hebert (received one-year tender and signed), C Kyle Cook (received one-year tender and signed), G Nate Livings (received one-year tender and signed), QB Jordan Palmer (received one-year tender and signed), T Dennis Roland (received one-year tender and signed), TE Matt Sherry (was not tendered)

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: S Roy Williams, DT Tank Johnson, G Bobbie Williams, LB Brandon Johnson, LB Abdul Hodge, LB Rashad Jeanty, CB David Jones, DE Frostee Rucker, TE Daniel Coats, S Kyries Hebert, C Kyle Cook, G Nate Livings, QB Jordan Palmer, T Dennis Roland

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: WR Matt Jones, K Dave Rayner, WR Chris Davis, WR Antonio Bryant (signed for four-years at $28 million)

PLAYERS LOST: WR Lavernaues Coles, CB Mike Mickens, TE Reggie Kelly, RB Larry Johnson, K Shayne Graham, RB Jeremi Johnson, TE J.P. Foschi, DT Shaun Smith, TE Matt Sherry, WR Chris Henry


SAFETY -- The Bengals safeties were effective against the run last season but proved to be a liability against the pass at times. Cincinnati's biggest need on defense is a safety with coverage skills and range. It's been widely speculated that the team will target a safety such as Taylor Mays of USC with their first round pick. Mays likens to Roy Williams, who thrived in current defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's system in Dallas.

TIGHT END -- Carson Palmer could use an athletic pass catching tight end that would give him a dangerous target in the middle of the field. The team drafted Chase Coffman in the third-round of last April's draft, but he may not be the vertical threat that Palmer needs. This class is filled with talented tight ends that could be had in the middle portion of the draft.

WIDE RECEIVER -- Antonio Bryant was signed and should team with Chad Ochocinco to form a dynamic duo in the receiving corps. But there is little depth outside of those two and Ochocinco is 32-years old. The team should target a young wide receiver at some point in the draft, and may elect to select one early if the right player is available.

DEFENSIVE LINE -- Mike Zimmer wants to get more pressure from his front four. The Bengals got better production out of their defensive ends than most expected last season. But their top pass rusher, Antwan Odom, went down with an Achilles' injury in week six. Jonathan Fanene filled in nicely and Michael Johnson had a solid rookie season. Still, an athletic edge rusher would be a nice addition to an already strong unit. At defensive tackle, Domata Peko and Tank Johnson are great run stoppers, but struggle to bring pressure on the passer. Adding a one-gap defensive tackle that can get in the backfield would be another smart investment.

KICKER -- Shayne Graham was released after seven seasons handling kicking duties for the team. Dave Rayner was signed in the offseason, but expect Cincinnati should grab a kicker late in the draft to at least compete for the job.