We are officially less than three weeks from the Cincinnati Bengals making their first round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. While everyone is predicting which player and what position the Bengals may target in the first few rounds, who are some more low-key prospects they may have their eye on towards the middle and end of the draft?
Warren McClendon – Offensive Tackle, Georgia
Right tackle is still a massive need. Jonah Williams may get traded, but at the very least will play his final year in Cincinnati, and La’El Collins is coming off an ACL tear and will likely start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Warren McClendon has been a starting fixture on the Georgia Bulldog’s dominant offensive line since his redshirt freshman year in 2020 and has started every game at right tackle over the past two years. He was named a team captain and voted as to the Coaches’ All-SEC team.
McClendon isn’t the most athletic tackle, but he mirrors defenders well, has fluid feet and strong hands. He moves well in the run game and can climb to the second level when needed. On 395 pass blocking snaps in 2022, PFF credited McClendon with zero sacks and only eight pressures allowed. He has the versatility to flex inside or play left tackle in a pinch.
I’m surprised more #Bengals fans aren’t on Warren McClendon as a RT prospect.
He’s not one of those top end guys, but he definitely has some tools. And can play LT in a pinch. pic.twitter.com/IMfqhVy9QE
— Kyle Smith (@Kyle_Smith1087) February 20, 2023
Brenton Strange – Tight End, Penn State
The Bengals will also add another tight end in the draft, and if they wait until late day two or early day three perhaps they turn to Brenton Strange. Strange’s hype train has taken off full-steam ahead as of late. Even with a smaller frame at 6’3”, Strange has enough explosiveness and athleticism to make up for it.
He was only targeted 38 times in 2022, but hauled in 32 of those targets for 362 yards and five touchdowns. He has a 50% contested catch rate throughout his collegiate career. Strange has an impressive ability to block on the outside and would be a perfect compliment to Irv Smith Jr.
PENN STATE TE BRENTON STRANGE WITH A BUZZER BEATER TD ⏰pic.twitter.com/9bwGzyoxgc
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 2, 2022
Zach Harrison – Edge Rusher, Ohio State
The Bengals lack of pressure when Trey Hendrickson is off the field is almost scary, so why not upgrade it with a day three pick? Zach Harrison holsters 36.25” arms and uses them to his advantage. He has an explosive first step and uses throws a powerful punch with those long arms.
In 255 pass rush snaps, Harrison tallied six sacks on 33 total pressures. He recorded 18 tackles for loss in 220 attempts against the run. Harrison will have to build some consistency at the next level, but his traits and tools are certainly worth the bet.
Ohio State ED Zach Harrison was a menace versus Iowa last week.
On 8 pass rush snaps, he compiled 2 hurries, 2 hits, & a sack! He’s expected to test very well before the draft.
6060–272…4.5-4.6 forty 👀? I love what he’s done so far this szn! pic.twitter.com/nr2z3xWqLU
— Full-Time Dame 💰 (@DP_NFL) October 27, 2022
Charlie Jones – Wide Receiver, Purdue
Slot receiver and returner should be high on the list of future replacements, ideally with the same prospect. Charlie Jones is a bit smaller than the Bengals typical receivers, but his speed and route running ability is top notch.
The 24-year-old has 4.43 speed, and breaks off his routes with ease, without losing any speed or acceleration. He is also one of the most reliable receivers in the class with top notch ball-tracking skills and was credited with only three drops on his 154 targets in 2022.
Jones was also voted the Big-10 Returner of the Year in 2021, averaging 26.1 yards per kickoff return and 7.6 yards per punt return. He would essentially battle Trent Taylor for both return jobs and for the opportunity to backup Tyler Boyd in the slot.
CHARLIE JONES 💯 YARD KICK RETURN pic.twitter.com/YfbS7RnQss
— On Iowa Sports (@GazetteOnIowa) November 20, 2021
Kyu Blu Kelly – Cornerback, Stanford
Kyu Blu Kelly may not be a sleeper this far into the process, but he certainly isn’t garnering enough attention. Blu Kelly started several games in his freshman season and never relented the starting gig.
While the former Stanford corner is only a solid athlete without top-end speed, he is a technically sound player. He has the ability to shadow receivers and play the ball at the point of attack without getting too grabby or physical, and his 32” arms make life difficult for the receiver.
He should be a day three flier and would be a perfect prospect to fill out the back end of the cornerback depth chart.
Ridiculous play from Stanford CB Kyu Blu Kelly pic.twitter.com/G3nc3NwDxv
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) September 4, 2021