- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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A day-by-day look this week at five position groups where the Cincinnati Bengals have draft needs. We started with quarterbacks, then looked at defensive ends, outside linebackers and running backs. Now we continue with defensive backs.
Defensive backs lost: CB Brandon Ghee, signed with San Diego in free agency.
Draft likelihood: High.
Rounds drafted? Any.
Analysis: No set of positions have garnered more pre-draft attention on the Bengals beat this offseason than cornerback and safety. For starters, in a league that increasingly favors quarterbacks who can sling it to tight ends and receivers who keep getting bigger and bigger, it's necessary for any defense to have players who have the speed to keep up with and tackle those athletic offensive players on the back end. It's particularly necessary for the Bengals to bring in as many defensive backs as their roster will reasonably hold because their stars at the cornerback position primarily, are getting older. Terence Newman, 35, is entering the final year on his contract. Adam Jones will turn 31 during the season. Leon Hall, who has battled serious injuries two of the last three seasons, will be 30 later this year, too. Cincinnati has to have an eye on the future there.
The Bengals also have to watch out for their long-term interests at safety. Young players George Iloka and Shawn Williams appear to be well in those future plans, and seven-year player Reggie Nelson, 30, figures to be in Cincinnati a little longer, too. Signed to just a one-year deal, the Bengals seem curious to see how well the 31-year-old Manning bounces back this year after missing most of last season in Houston with a knee injury.
So it stands to reason in this draft, which primarily is about adding depth, the Bengals will be using one of their early picks on a defensive back. With so many good cornerbacks available early in the draft, it wouldn't be too surprising if they made a move to take one with their first-round pick at No. 24. It's quite possible that some combination of Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Bradley Roby (Ohio State), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech) will be around when the Bengals pick. ESPN's draft team considers those the top five corners in this year's draft. Once they all get selected, though, the pool begins to dry. Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner and Nebraska's Stan Jean-Baptiste could be second-round options, too, if the Bengals use the first-round pick on another position. It's doubtful, though, that either will fall all the way to 55th overall, where the Bengals make their second selection.
It's also possible the Bengals could go after a safety with one of their first two picks. While the group of safeties isn't quite as top-heavy as the cornerbacks, it's still arguably one of the strongest position groups in this draft class. At a point, it becomes all about philosophy. The Bengals have to go with the best available player who will match their defensive needs. On paper, Fuller seems to be that guy. Verrett would be an option, too, if the Bengals want to start shoring up their slot corner depth with a true speedster.
Potential picks: Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Bradley Roby (Ohio State), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State), Stan Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois), Terrence Brooks (FSU).
A day-by-day look this week at five position groups where the Cincinnati Bengals have draft needs. We started with quarterbacks, then looked at defensive ends, outside linebackers and running backs.