COMMENTARY | The Cincinnati Bengals may have lost their two coordinators to head coaching jobs, but virtually all of the team's key players return. The two new coordinators -- Hue Jackson on offense and Paul Guenther on defense -- offer about as seamless of a transition as possible due to their experience with the Bengals, and the systems installed on both sides of the ball will remain largely intact.
All of the continuity and personnel depth enables the Bengals to draft how the team drafts best: best available player. Here are five Senior Bowl prospects who may prove to be the best available players when the Bengals pick during the 2014 NFL Draft.
1st Round: Zack Martin
Among the few key player losses the Bengals face in 2014 is that of backup tackle Anthony Collins, who emerged as the team's starting left tackle during the last half of the season. The use of Collins at left tackle enabled the Bengals to kick Andrew Whitworth inside to left guard, which may continue to be the preferred position for the aging star.
The Bengals also face a free agency decision with interior lineman Mike Pollak, who also proved his worth in 2013 with six regular season starts. If the Bengals opt not to re-sign Pollack, the offensive line would be the most impacted unit by offseason changes.
Zack Martin of Notre Dame will draw the Bengals attention during Senior Bowl week, especially since none of the likely first-round senior cornerbacks will be there. Martin may already be the plug-in at left tackle that would allow the Bengals to keep Whitworth inside. If not, Martin has the athletic ability and toughness needed to kick inside at left guard should original 2013 starting left guard Clint Boling struggle in his return from ACL surgery.2nd Round: Jimmy Garoppolo
Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo may use the Senior Bowl forum to his advantage the way he capitalized upon his East-West Shrine Game opportunity. Garoppolo demonstrated he was the best QB at the Shrine Game and may do the same during the Senior Bowl.
Provided Garoppolo doesn't soar all the way up draft boards, not only past the QB he replaced -- A.J. McCarron -- but also past the potential first-rounder who still has some convincing to do -- Derek Carr, the Bengals may have a shot to draft Garoppolo in the second round.
With an exceptionally quick release, Garoppolo used the Shrine Game to demonstrate his superior pocket awareness and footwork to verify that he is a NFL-ready QB despite his smaller school credential.
3rd Round: C.J. Fiedorowicz
At 6'6", 265-pounds, Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is mammoth, but his soft hands and deft route running make him the best of both worlds when it comes to in-line tight ends: the size to run-block and the athletic ability to factor into the passing game.
Drafting Fiedorowicz would solve any backup TE issues the Bengals might encounter behind Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert but perhaps more importantly could make Gresham expendable in 2014 if the Bengals decide to prioritize contract extensions for players like wide receiver A.J. Green or perhaps quarterback Andy Dalton if the Bengals decide he is good enough to be the team's QB of the future.
4th Round: Will Clarke
Like Garoppolo, West Virginia defensive lineman Will Clarke catapulted from the Shrine Game to the Senior Bowl. Also like Garoppolo, Clarke has the chance to shoot up draft boards as a coveted NFL defensive end for a 3-4 base.
But if Clarke's name is not called by the time the Bengals pick in the fourth round, Clarke will make for an intriguing pick. At 6'6", Clarke nearly has the height of the 4-3 end he would replace in the Bengals base -- Michael Johnson, who was franchise-tagged in 2013 and most likely will be headed to free agency.
Clarke may not quite have the burst of Johnson, but in his Shrine Game snaps from both the left and right end positions in a 4-3 base, Clarke clarified that he does have some edge rush skills in his primarily bull-rush game. Clarke is also stout at the point of attack, which would give the Bengals even greater line depth with another DE who also has the size and strength to kick inside to tackle.
5th Round: Pierre Desir
Cornerback Pierre Desir of Lindenwood College was yet another Shrine Game player who received a late Senior Bowl invite. The Haitian native is most definitely a work in progress, as evidenced by some of his mistakes in the Shrine Game -- too much cushion with too often a lack of quick reaction to passes in front if him and also a couple examples of poor tackling that included bad angles.
But Desir is 6'1" with long arms and a legitimate sideline corner who is fluid and fast. Should other teams decide that Desir is too much of a project, too old at age 24 by the time the season is underway or lacks sufficient NFL physicality to pick before the fifth round, the Bengals could be eying a second-year potential NFL starter at a premium position for the low price of a fifth-round pick.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for more than five years. He posts his NFL draft predictions each year at footballnostradamus.com.
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