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With Trae Waynes going to injured reserve again it’s looking more and more like cornerback should be the top priority for the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2022 NFL draft.
And yes, it has always been one of the top needs and yes again, it’s a little early for this kind of chat. But the Bengals threw a three-year deal worth $42 million at Waynes in the hopes of him serving as the team’s No. 1 corner. Instead, he missed all of last year and appeared twice this season with no chance to return until Week 9 at the earliest.
Which is to say, barring a stunning turnaround, Waynes is probably gone this offseason because of the out built into his contract after this year. Mike Hilton is under contract through 2024 as the slot corner and Chidobe Awuzie through 2023. Both have been revelations and are clear long-term starters.
But there’s still a gaping hole where a No. 1 corner should be and frankly, the likes of Eli Apple, Darius Phillips and others make for some pretty poor depth.
Other positions of need that could require a first-round focus include pass-rusher and offensive line. But breakout rookie Joseph Ossai should be back for next season and the team can add another quality piece or two on the edge both in free agency and beyond the first round. With Jackson Carman at a guard spot and Riley Reiff still serviceable at right tackle, the team could opt for another Reiff-level free agent or beyond the first round again.
It helps that this year’s corner class is stacked. Local fans know all about Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner. There’s also LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., TCU’s Noah Daniels and so much more.
Given the premium nature of corner and how badly the team just got burnt trying to pay up for a veteran, proven presence, it might opt to go back to being that Bengals team that gambles a first-rounder on a corner.
And at this point, given how well the rest of the defense has played in front of the corners, that might not be such a bad thing. Much will change between now and the draft of course, but it sure feels like a corner year for the Bengals.