The Cincinnati Bengals came up three points short of back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. Now they enter an uncharted offseason. The Bengals will bring back every coach (as of this writing). However, a looming contract extension for franchise passer Joe Burrow will make for some difficult pending roster decisions.
Star safety Jessie Bates is a free agent and will likely get paid elsewhere. Their other safety Vonn Bell is also a free agent. Germaine Pratt also looks to be heading out. The Bengals have seemingly drafted for replacing those guys with Dax Hill, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and others.
Cincinnati also enters the 2023 offseason without a single tight end on the roster and questions (STILL) along the offensive line. Will the team cut bait after one year of La’el Collins? Will the Cincinnati Bengals move on from veteran RB Joe Mixon?
These questions in more must be answered. The team enters the league year with over $ 35 million in cap space. This is the 6th most in the NFL. But as we mentioned earlier, how much of that is eaten up by Burrow’s extension? Or an extension for WR Tee Higgins and LB Logan Wilson? And what if they re-sign Vonn Bell (I expect them to)?
Well, for the purpose of this exercise, I am going to make some assumptions. I am going to assume that Mixon and Bell are back. I will also assume that Bates, Pratt, and TE Hayden Hurst are not retained.
Let’s also guess that the Cincinnati Bengals do not sign any free agents above Tier 3.
Cincinnati Bengals 2023 Mock Draft
1-28: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
As mentioned earlier, the Bengals have a La’el Collins problem. At best, they will have Collins back after six weeks of the season. You can’t trot out Hakeem Adeniji at right tackle on opening day. Enter Tennessee’s, Darnell Wright. Wright is a fundamentally sound blocker with a nasty streak. He was one of the best offensive tackles at the Senior Bowl. He should be able to immediately step in on the right side and may even make Collins a cap casualty.
I considered corner, edge, defensive line, and tight end here as well. The first three spots were picked clean by the time I came on the clock. I felt that taking Darnell Washington (TE/Georgia) or Dalton Kincaid (TE/Utah) over Wright wasn’t the right move. The availability of Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer at this spot makes this decision much different.
2-60: Tucker Kraft, TE, South Dakota State
Since I passed on a tight end in round one I decided to fall back here with a pretty good option. Kraft dealt with injuries this year but has been a stud for one of the best teams in FCS. Kraft is a quality blocker with soft hands. His athleticism pops on the tape.
Don’t be surprised if any spot on defense that isn’t linebacker is not in play at this spot as well.
3-92: Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina
Rush was one of the standouts at the Senior Bowl with his length and ball skills. His skills shined brightest in the one-on-one drills against the WRs. My gut tells me Eli Apple will not be back. Rush can fill the 3rd outside corner role initially with Chido Auwuzie and Cam Taylor-Britt on the outside ahead of him. However, Awuzie is coming off a major injury and is also entering the final year of his deal. Getting another corner in the rotation is key early in this draft.
4-131: Michael Wilson, WR, Stanford
Another standout in Mobile was Michael Wilson. The Cardinal receiver has seen his collegiate production limited by injuries and poor QB play. However, during Senior Bowl practices, Wilson was able to run by DBs deep and create his own separation. He also showed off a nice vertical on 50/50 balls and a great catch radius.
The Cincinnati Bengals need a #4 WR immediately with an eye on moving on from Tyler Boyd after the 2023 season.
5-145: Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pittsburgh
Abanikanda was one of the most productive backs in college football this season. He is a low-mileage back with the ability to hit the home run. The Bengals may be moving on from Joe Mixon and/or Samaje Perine soon. They obviously don’t trust Chris Evans based on his 2022 usage and Trayveon Williams isn’t anything more than a special teams player. Abanikanda, at worst, can be RB2 next year.
6-206: Brayden Willis, TE, Oklahoma
The Bengals do not have any notable tight ends on the roster entering the offseason. So, I think they need to double up (and add another as a UDFA). Willis is undersized for a traditional tight end role. However, I expect him to test well athletically and he can add another chess piece for Burrow to move around. Willis can disguise in-line, play the H-back role, or even line up at fullback if the Bengals want to play around with the I-formation.
7-248: Jason Taylor II, S, Oklahoma State
Taylor was a high-volume tackler for Okie State. After a great week at the NFLPA game, Taylor was called up to the Senior Bowl where he had a solid couple of days. The Bengals’ depth at safety will take a hit. Especially if they don’t re-sign Vonn Bell (which I expect they will). With a starting duo of Bell and Hill, they need a 4th safety to go with last year’s 5th-rounder Tycen Anderson.
I wanted to add some depth along the defensive line but unfortunately, the board didn’t fall my way. The Cincinnati Bengals will have to try to get some bargains in free agency to fill those spots. Or hope they can get some continued growth from Cam Sample, Joseph Ossai, and others. This also applies to offensive line depth. I also expect them to bring in competition for punter Drue Chrisman and long snapper Cal Adomitis.