When the Cincinnati Bengals make their first pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, they're going to be in an unfamiliar position: the bottom of the first round.
This draft will mark the first time since 1989 that the Bengals will be making their first pick outside of the top-30, which is fitting, because the 1989 draft was also the last time the Bengals were coming off a Super Bowl season.
With the Bengals picking so low this year, there's a lot less pressure on them. When you're picking in the top five -- like the Bengals did last year -- you need to hit a home run with the pick if you want to get things turned around quickly, and the Bengals did that when they selected Ja'Marr Chase.
When you're picking at the back end of the first round, you don't necessarily need to hit a home run; you just need a find a guy who will make your team better. One advantage for the Bengals this year is that they're in a spot where they can draft the best available player instead of trying to fill their biggest need.
Going into the offseason, the Bengals' biggest hole was on the offensive line, but they beefed up there by adding three key free agents (Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, La'el Collins). Those additions should allow the Bengals to go any route they want in the draft, which could still include taking an offensive lineman in the first round.
So what are the Bengals going to do in the draft?
Let's get to their seven-round mock and find out.
No. 31 overall: CB Kaiir Elam (Florida)
One of the Bengals' biggest needs going into the draft is at corner, and it won't be surprising if they try to fill that need with the 31st overall pick. If they can get Elam, they'll be grabbing a corner who had a highly successful career while playing against some of the nation's top receivers in the SEC. According to Pro Football Focus, Elam only allowed 19 catches for 191 yards during the entire 2021 season.
The Bengals have shown that they're not afraid to take a corner when they pick late in the first round. Over the past 10 years, they've picked in the bottom half of the first round a total of six times and in three of those instances, they ended up taking a corner (Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012, Darqueze Dennard in 2014 and William Jackson in 2016).
No. 63 overall: OL Jamaree Salyer (Georgia)
The Bengals have made it their mission this offseason is to acquire as much protection as possible for Joe Burrow, and although they added three offensive linemen in free agency, don't be surprised if they add another one early in the draft. That's why we have them going with Salyer in the second-round.
The biggest upside of Salyer is that he can play any position on the offensive line. Back in January, he played both left tackle and right guard during UGA's 33-18 national title win over Alabama. During his time at Georgia, Salyer played every single spot on the offensive line, including center.
Adding a versatile player like Salyer would not only give the Bengals some much-needed depth, but if he proves he's ready to start right away, he could compete for the starting left guard spot, which is currently the Bengals' biggest issue on the offensive line. It's also the position that Salyer seems best-suited for at the NFL level. The Bengals currently have Jackson Carman slotted in at left guard and although he's been improving, the team would probably feel a lot better if it had some insurance at the position just in case Carman doesn't continue to improve.
No. 95 overall: S Bryan Cook (Cincinnati)
The Bengals will be just fine at safety for the 2022 season, but after this year, there are going to be some big questions to answer. Not only is Vonn Bell heading into the final year of his contract, but there's no guarantee that Jessie Bates is going to return in 2023. The Bengals hit him with the franchise tag this year, but the two sides seem pretty far apart on a potential long-term deal. The Bengals could lose one or both of these guys after this season, which means it would be smart to bring in a safety now, which is why they're going to take Cook in this spot.
Cook was a key member of a Bearcats secondary that was one of the best in the country in 2021. Cook went to high school and college in Cincinnati, so he'd probably be thrilled to continue his football career with the Bengals.
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No. 136 overall: DT Neil Farrell Jr. (LSU)
From Joe Burrow to Ja'Marr Chase, the Bengals' strategy of picking players from LSU has been working so well over the past two years that it won't be surprising if we see them go back to the well again this year. And if that happens, one player to watch out for is Farrell.
Defensive tackle is one of the Bengals' biggest needs in the draft, and although it wouldn't be surprising to see them take one in the second or third round, the guess here is that they wait until the fourth round and grab Farrell. The fifth-year senior didn't become a full-time starter until the 2021 season, but he was one of LSU's most productive defensive tackles while coming off the bench during the Tigers' 2019 national title run.
Fifth and sixth rounds
No. 174 overall: TE Grant Calcaterra (SMU)
No. 209 overall: WR Danny Gray (SMU)
There's no team in the NFL that loves selecting college teammates more than the Bengals, which they've done in four of the past five years. Last year, the teammates were Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Shelvin out of LSU.
At this point in the draft, it's almost impossible to pinpoint who a team is going to take, but it wouldn't be crazy to see the Bengals go with both Calcaterra and Gray. For one, the Bengals were one of a small group of teams that sent BOTH their wide receiver coach and tight end coach to SMU's Pro Day.
SMU Pro Day drew reps from at least 20 NFL teams, including WR/TE coaches from Steelers, Titans and Bengals.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) March 24, 2022
SMU TE Grant Calcaterra, WR Danny Gray and WR Reggie Roberson Jr. were combine invites pic.twitter.com/nDhJjItOFY
On Calcaterra's end, he has the talent to go in the third or fourth round, but he could drop if teams have questions about his health. Calcaterra retired from football for nine months starting in November 2019 due to a concussion issue.
As for Gray, the Bengals could definitely stand to add some depth at receiver, so it makes sense to take a flyer on a speedster like Gray. Not only did he tie for the sixth-fastest 40-yard dash at the combine (4.33 seconds), but he can also return both kicks and punts if the Bengals need that.
No. 226 overall: DE LaBryan Ray (Alabama)
No. 252 overall: RB Kennedy Brooks (Oklahoma)
Once the seventh round of the draft rolls around, teams are usually doing one of two things: depth at a position of need or someone who might have fallen through the cracks.
Ray is definitely someone who falls into that second category. The defensive end dealt with multiple injuries at Alabama, which kept him off the field. From a broken foot to a broken ankle to a dislocated elbow, which kept him out of the combine, Ray dealt with injuries nearly every season of his college career. Ray is going to be highly motivated to succeed, which is why he's basically the perfect seventh-round pick: He could turn out to be a surprise, but if not, it's not a huge loss because no one really expects seventh-round picks to succeed in the NFL.
As for Brooks, he averaged 7.03 yards per carry on 472 rushes at Oklahoma, and if you can get a player in the seventh round who averaged 7.03 yards per carry at a Power 5 school, then you have to do it.