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Injuries caught up to the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013, cutting short their playoff run before it could really begin. The team was without its top cornerback Leon Hall and best defensive player overall in Geno Atkins. But while the team is expected to get those players healthy this year, it’s free agency they’ll have to contend with.
The team will likely lose its top defensive end Michael Johnson while rotational players like Robert Geathers and Domata Peko could be cap casualties. The team needs to bulk up its defensive front to remain as stout as they’ve been. And on the back end, Hall will be back but so will a pair of aging corners in Adam Jones and Terence Newman. The secondary was torched by better passing teams with Hall sidelined, which is why many mock drafts project Cincy to get one of — if not, the — best corner available with the No. 24 pick.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard are ranked as No. 1 and No. 1A in this year’s cornerback class. Gilbert earned first-team All-American honors after ringing in six interceptions for the Cowboys last season, and is a major contributor as a return specialist, too. Dennard is more of a lockdown corner, as the Jim Thorpe Award winner hauled in four picks and has drawn parallels to Darrelle Revis.
The team should go after interior players to bolster its defensive line with its second pick, and it may be able to pull off a steal. Florida’s Dominique Easley was sidelined for most of his senior year in Gainesville but was once believed to be a first-round talent. He can play tackle and rush the passer.
The Bengals would be ecstatic if Ra’Shede Hageman or Aaron Donald fell into their laps. Hageman is a first-round talent but, because of need, he may slip to Round 2. He’s a bit of “boom or bust” prospect, but his upside may be worth the risk. Donald was the one the most disruptive 3-techniques in the nation last year and could be a situational player right away.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Cincinnati added another quarterback in the middle rounds either. Andy Alton will start Week 1, but it’s been rumored the team wants another quarterback to push him a bit. Whether that comes in the form of a veteran or talented rookie remains to be seen. The Bengals could take a look at Zach Mettenberger, who at one point in the college football season was considered a first-round prospect, or perhaps take a chance one a multidimensional weapon like Tajh Boyd or Logan Thomas.
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