When the 2023 NFL Draft kicks off, the Cincinnati Bengals will be in uncharted territory. The Bengals' first pick of the draft will come at 28th overall, which will mark the first time in franchise history that they've made an opening round pick outside the top-25 in two straight drafts (Their first pick came at No. 31 last season).
Of course, when you're picking that low in the first-round, that's actually a good thing in the NFL, because it means you had a successful season. The Bengals are coming off a 12-4 record in 2022 that ended with their second straight trip to the AFC Championship.
As the Bengals head into the draft, they don't have a lot of holes on their roster. They have established starters at almost every position and they'll mostly be looking to add depth. They do have some needs -- like right tackle and tight end -- and those are the needs they'll likely look to fill in the first three rounds.
One thing the Bengals won't be facing this year in the draft is the pressure to hit a home run. When you're picking in the top five -- like the Bengals did in two of the past three years -- you need to hit a home run with the pick if you want to get things turned around quickly (Fortunately for the Bengals, they did that with Joe Burrow in 2020 and Ja'Marr Chase in 2021).
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 and there are plenty of players in this draft who can help the Bengals do that.
So what are the Bengals going to do in the draft?
Let's get to their seven-round mock and find out.
No. 28 overall: OT Darnell Wright (Tennessee)
The Bengals spent a lot of resources upgrading their offensive line going into the 2022 season and although the line was definitely better, Joe Burrow still got sacked 41 times, which was the sixth-most in the NFL. Although the Bengals did end up making a splash in free agency with the signing of left tackle Orlando Brown, they still need some help at right tackle.
On paper, they do have some depth at the position with La'el Collins and Jonah Williams, but Williams wants out of Cincinnati and Collins is coming off a torn ACL/MCL that he suffered on Christmas Eve, so there's no guarantee he'll be ready to play when the season starts.
As for Williams, even if he ends up staying in Cincinnati, he's going into the final year of his contract, so it's unlikely he'd be back in 2024. Also, even if he tries to play right tackle this year, there's no guarantee that it will work out.
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan admitted at the combine that it likely wouldn't be easy for Williams to make the move to right tackle, "Moving him would probably be pretty difficult," Callahan said, via ESPN.com. "It's probably not something that he would be necessarily excited about, either."
Basically, the Bengals need to be on the hunt for their future right tackle and Wright could certainly fill that role. Not only did Wright have a solid year at Tennessee, but he found success againsnt some of the best pass-rushers in college football, including Alabama's Will Anderson.
Tennessee RT Darnell Wright became one of my favorite prospects in the draft after watching Senior Bowl and film from the season. He’s been at his best vs. the best. Will Anderson, B.J. Ojulari, UGA, Clemson, Senior Bowl.— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 6, 2023
Here are some reps vs. Anderson. Stud. pic.twitter.com/OgZtvV9Byt
The Bengals have used their first-round pick on an SEC player in three of the past four drafts and the prediction here is that the tradition continues this year.
No. 60 overall: TE Darnell Washington (Georgia)
One of the Bengals biggest holes is at tight end and although you could make the argument that they should select one in the first-round, it probably makes more sense to wait until the second-round. When it comes to tight ends, this is a pretty deep draft and there should be several quality players for the Bengals to choose from when they're on the clock with the 60th overall pick.
One reason a good tight end could fall this far is because NFL teams seem hesitant to use higher picks on them. In EACH of the past three drafts, there has only been one tight end taken with the first 54 picks. Even if that number doubles to two or even to three this year -- and it could, because this is a deep draft for tight ends -- it still wouldn't be surprising to see Washington available at this spot, and if he is, the Bengals should grab him.
At 6-foot-7, Washington would make a huge target for Joe Burrow. Washington only caught 28 passes for 454 yards last season, but that's because he was overshadowed by Brock Bowers. Despite that, Washington still averaged 16.2 yards per catch last season, which was the highest number for any player who had more than 10 receptions for UGA in 2022. Even if Washington doesn't put up huge receiving numbers with the Bengals, this would still be a smart pick and that's because he's an excellent blocker.
No. 92 overall: CB Clark Phillips (Utah)
From a talent perspective, Phillips should probably be an early Day 2 pick, but it won't be surprising if he drops down this far due to his height. The former Utah corner measured at just 5-foot-9 at the combine, which could scare some teams away from him. If he falls into the Bengals' lap at 92nd overall, that would be a huge win for Cincinnati.
The Bengals actually met with Phillips at the combine and he seemed to think that he would be a good fit for Lou Anarumo's defense.
Miss St cornerback Emmanuel Forbes and Utah CB Clark Phillips both spoke this at the #NFLCombine.— Mohammad Ahmad (@MohammadAhmadTV) March 2, 2023
Forbes met with #Bengals HC Zac Taylor and Lou Anarumo, calling Anarumo “direct and to the point.” Phillips has not but plans to. Calls their defense “one he easily fits into.” pic.twitter.com/gwFhArjdnk
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Bengals take a corner in the second round, but the guess here is that they wait until the third and that's mostly because they're set at the corner position for 2023. They already have Chidobe Awuzie, Cam Taylor-Britt and Mike Hilton slotted in as the starters, which means Phillips would get one season on the bench to get acclimated to the Bengals defense. Landing Phillips would also be big because it would provide some insurance in case Awuzie isn't quite ready to go to start the season. The Bengals corneragainst the Browns last year.
No. 131 overall: RB Tyjae Spears (Tulane)
It's almost a definite that the Bengals will be drafting at least one running back this year.
With Joe Mixon's future up in the air, the Bengals need to add some depth at the position. Not only is Mixon going into the final year of his contract, but he's slated to count $12.76 million against the salary cap in 2023, which is a number the Bengals will likely look to trim down. The Bengals could, which would immediately free up $7.3 million in cap space (or $10 million if they were to designate him a post-June 1 cut).
With Spears, the Bengals would be getting an overlooked star, who put up some big numbers for the Green Wave last season.
Tyjae Spears is a menace— Anthony Cover 1 (@Pro__Ant) February 21, 2023
Also, the move at the 30 is filthy. Spears hops over his own man, then WHILE IN MID AIR EYEBALLS THE DEFENDER & HITS HIM WITH A DEAD LEG SHAKE AS HE HITS THE GROUND. Defender hesitates & Spears scores. Smooth transition
Not only did he rack up 1,581 yards on the ground, for he also rushed for 19 touchdowns. He's a slippery runner who would definitely provide some instant help to the Bengals rushing attack. The Bengals love having a solid one-two punch at running back -- they had it last season with Mixon and Samaje Perine -- and with Perine now in Denver, Spears could come in and be that complementary back if Mixon stays.
Fifth, sixth and seventh rounds
No. 163 overall: P Bryce Baringer (Michigan State)
No. 206 overall: WR Tre Tucker (Cincinnati)
No. 246 overall: DT Dante Stills (West Virginia)
Surprise: We have the Bengals taking a punter in the fifth round.
One position the Bengals definitely need to improve at in 2023 is punter. The current starter is Drue Chrisman and although he's certainly talented enough to keep his job, it won't be surprising at all to see the Bengals draft some competition. The Bengals have already proven that they're not afraid to draft a specialist this high -- they selected Evan McPherson in the fifth-round in 2021 -- and they could make another special teams splash by nabbing Baringer in the fifth-round.
Baringer was arguably the best punter in college last season as he led the nation in both yards per punt and net yards per punt. Also, he's been working out with former Bengals kicker Shayne Graham, who originally put McPherson on Cincinnati's radar two years ago.
Bryce has busted his tail training. After seeing myself and many of the other great trainers out there, he came into the combine with a mission.— Shayne Graham (@Shaynegraham17) March 4, 2023
Bryce posted what many are calling the best punter performance at the combine in recent memory.
Not only did he turn over almost… https://t.co/sPyhx1d0Gc pic.twitter.com/BuzLj4OVe4
As for Tucker, the Bengals could stand to use some receiving depth and he could also return kicks, which makes him a double-threat.
On Stills' end, 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. Stills fits both of those descriptions. The Bengals definitely need to add depth on the defensive line and getting Stills, who was a two-time first-team all-conference selection in the Big 12, would definitely be a nice way to cap their draft.