The Cincinnati Bengals enter the 2023 NFL Draft with the 28th overall selection. Although they have patched up their roster holes through free agency, some needs are still pressing for the draft. There are several positions and players that will be in range for the Bengals to target with their first-round pick.
Option 1: Calijah Kancey
A top-20 player in the class, Calijah Kancey is unlikely to be available at the Bengals pick. However, positional value and his smaller stature could cause him to slip into their hands. Kancey has earned Aaron Donald comparisons for a good reason. He is an electrifying pass rusher from the interior, using an exceptional blend of get-off and power to terrorize quarterbacks.
DJ Reader, BJ Hill, Trey Hendrickson, and Sam Hubbard form one of the most physically imposing defensive lines in the entire NFL. Kancey could slide in next to that group and add quick-twitch pass-rushing ability. His potential deficiencies against the run and double teams would be limited thanks to the powerful players he’d be lining up with. He would be the missing piece in the Cincinnati pass rush and would be another chess piece for Lou Anarumo to move around in his defense.
Option 2: Offensive Tackle
Signing Orlando Brown Jr. was a major step to ensuring Joe Burrow is protected for years to come. He will shore up the left side of the line for the next four years. They also signed Cody Ford on a cheap one-year deal as tackle depth. The Bengals hoped the moves would also add stability at right tackle. They plan for Jonah Williams to switch sides given La’el Collins’s future with the team remains unknown. Williams requested a trade almost immediately following the Brown signing. Reconciliation is still possible for next season, but Williams will almost certainly be suiting up for another team after he hits free agency.
The end of the first round could be the sweet spot for value at offensive tackle. Anton Harrison, Darnell Wright, and Dawand Jones all are expected to go in that range and have experience at right tackle. Harrison is the youngest and best pass protector of the bunch with the athletic traits needed to succeed in the NFL. Darnell Wright is the most athletic and plays with a mean streak in the run game. Dawand Jones is a physical freak at 6’8 and 375 pounds but moves as if he is much lighter. All three have serious upsides. At least one should be available at pick 28 and it will come down to the team picking their preferred flavor of tackle.
Option 3: Michael Mayer
Northern Kentucky native Michael Mayer is a popular choice for Bengals fans. He grew up rooting for the team and was dominant during his time at Notre Dame. The team signed Irv Smith Jr. to a one-year deal at tight end but still has a massive need at the position long term. Mayer brings physicality as a run blocker in addition to his consistency as a receiver.
He is the most complete tight end in a loaded class and would add another dynamic weapon to Joe Burrow’s arsenal. The positional value of tight end in round one is spotty, but Mayer could be the best player available. The team has also not shied away from taking tight ends that early before, drafting both Jermaine Gresham and Notre Dame product Tyler Eifert in the past fifteen years.
Option 4: Cornerback
2022 second-round pick Cam Taylor-Britt was a revelation in the second half of his rookie season after Chidobe Awuzie went down for the season. Awuzie has been stellar for the Bengals since signing a three-year deal in the 2021 offseason. However, he is coming off of a major knee injury and will take time to get back to playing at full strength. He is also an upcoming free agent and will be 28 years old. The franchise has made it a priority to maintain a youthful roster and find the most value possible in free agency, even if that means losing their own like Vonn Bell this offseason.
A team can never have enough cornerbacks, and this draft class is full of talented players all the way down the board. Deonte Banks, Cam Smith, Emmanuel Forbes, and Kelee Ringo are names to watch at pick 28. If Anarumo and the organization fall in love with one of the top corners, they will not hesitate to take them in. The team historically loves to draft first-round defensive backs, making up four of their last 12 selections. The Bengals know they need to get younger at the position. The value may be better in the middle rounds, but a first-round corner could sit behind Awuzie for a year before forming the cornerback duo of the future with Taylor-Britt.
Option 5: Pass Rusher
The Bengals entered the offseason wanting to get better in the trenches. Their starting defensive line is one of the best in the league but has an average age of 28. Drafting a pass rusher at the end of the first round in a strong edge class would help extend the prime of current stars like Trey Hendrickson and DJ Reader by lowering their snap counts.
Myles Murphy, Nolan Smith, BJ Ojulari, Will McDonald IV, Felik Anudike-Uzomah, and Adetomiwa Adebawore all are in the range of Cincinnati’s first-round pick and would add a new element to their pass rush. A speed rusher like McDonald or Ojulari would especially help them out on third downs.