2020 NFL Draft Grades – Cincinnati Bengals
Given the months and months of build-up to the annual NFL draft, the rush to summarize a team’s rookie draft class in a few sentences and stamp a letter grade on it has never quite made much sense to me.
In the past, I’ve compared this process to patrons at a restaurant complimenting (or complaining to) the chef based on the menu, rather than waiting to actually taste the food.
In much this same way, it obviously takes time to properly evaluate a draft. Given all of the complexities of the 2020 NFL draft, specifically, this is especially true.
So, while we cannot skip years ahead to know for certain which players will ultimately exceed or fail to live up to expectations in the NFL, we can provide a much deeper dive into each team’s rookie class.
Therefore, over the next 32 days, NFLDraftScout.com will be providing a detailed breakdown of each of the NFL teams’ rookie hauls, following the original draft order. Each team will be evaluated on the quality and quantity of their draft classes (including undrafted free agents), with specific players recognized as Best Player, Best Value and Best Project, culminating in one “final” grade.
Today’s team: Cincinnati Bengals
Head Coach: Zac Taylor
General Manager: Duke Tobin (technically listed as Cincinnati’s Director of Player Personnel)
Players selected in 2020:
Round 1, Pick 1 overall: QB Joe Burrow, LSU
Round 2, Pick 33 overall: WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
Round 3, Pick 65 overall: ILB Logan Wilson, Wyoming
Round 4, Pick 107 overall: OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State
Round 5, Pick 147 overall: DE Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame
Round 6, Pick 180 overall: OL Hakeem Adeniji, Kansas
Round 7, Pick 215 overall: ILB Markus Bailey
Undrafted Free Agents:
LB Kendall Futrell, ECU
CB Isiah Swann, Dartmouth
LB Marcel Spears Jr., Iowa State
RB Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
WR Scotty Washington, Wake Forest
OL Josh Knipfel, Iowa State
OL Clay Cordasco, Oregon State
Overview of the Bengals 2020 draft: After months of speculation that the Bengals might peddle the No. 1 overall pick into multiple selections, Tobin, Taylor and team owner Mike Brown ultimately decided to stand pat, keeping each of their original picks and using them to address key positions of concern at quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker. While not necessarily guarantees to start immediately, top picks Burrow, Higgins, Wilson and perhaps even Davis-Gaither should push for playing time very early with all four projecting as ultimate starters. Burrow and Wilson, in particular, are expected to emerge as two of the “faces of the franchise,” moving forward. Had Wilson played his college ball in the Big Ten or ACC, he likely would have been drafted much earlier. He pops off the tape, as does Higgins’ production (27 career TDs) for a program well known for producing NFL superstars at receiver. His height (6-4), long arms (34 1/8”) and timing as a leaper should allow Higgins to continue to excel as a red zone target, especially given the rapport with his receivers and remarkable ball placement Burrow demonstrated last season. The Bengals did take some medical risk in this draft, specifically with Purdue linebacker, Markus Bailey, who twice had season-ending ACL tears in college.
Best Player of the Bengals’ 2020 Draft: QB Joe Burrow
It goes without saying that the No. 1 overall selection should be the best player a team selects, especially when he plays a position as impactful as quarterback. Burrow lacks the elite arm and athleticism of some of the past top picks but his competitiveness, field vision and diagnosis, and perhaps most importantly – fit into Taylor’s offense – are exceptional. It is worth acknowledging that concerns about Burrow’s arm strength could be exacerbated with the blustery weather that sweeps through Cincinnati each winter, but the Ohio-born Burrow is plenty familiar with this and the Bengals are fortified at receiver and running back to help his transition. This is assuming, of course, that A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd and star running back Joe Mixon can stay healthy.
Best Value of the Bengals’ 2020 Draft: OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither
After erasing any concerns about his level of competition with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl, Davis-Gaither was viewed as a likely third round pick by NFL teams, earning the 93 overall selection on our Top 100 board. The Bengals nabbed the speedster with the first pick of the fourth round, getting good value with a player who fills a clear need for more speed at linebacker. What Davis-Gaither may lack for bulk at 6-1, 224 pounds, he makes up for with agility, acceleration and core flexibility. He is like Gumby with his ability to dip and slip by would-be blockers while snaking his arm out to trip up ballcarriers.
Best Project of the Bengals’ 2020 Draft: OL Hakeem Adeniji
A raw (but gifted) college tackle who likely will be slid inside to guard in Cincinnati, Adeniji turned heads at the Senior Bowl, just like Davis-Gaither. He is athletic and aggressive, with his game really taking off this past season after Les Miles took over as the Jayhawks’ head coach. Though he was a four-year starter at Kansas, the position switch and jump in competition will take time, making it unlikely that the 6-4, 302 pound Adeniji will see significant playing time as a rookie, barring injury to the Bengals currently ahead of him on the depth chart at guard, like free agent acquisition Xavier Su’a-Filo and recent earlier draft picks Billy Price and Michael Jordan.
Overall Grade for the Bengals’ 2020 Draft: B
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