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Friday, June 14, 2013

Rookie Showcase – Who and what to know about Bengals rookies

The Cincinnati Bengals finished the 2012 regular season with high hopes. Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Bengals were arguably one of the hottest teams entering the post season. Despite a demoralizing defeat at the hands of the Houston Texans, Bengals’ fans should be relatively optimistic about the upcoming 2013 season.

The Bengals have kept virtually everyone from the previous playoff season on roster and done their part in fixing what the front office saw as holes on their team. With the signing of linebacker James Harrison and the resigning of tackle Andre Smith, the Bengals found themselves on draft day with few needs left.

What the Bengals front office and head coach Marvin Lewis did on draft day may have solidified them as front-runners to challenge the defending champion Baltimore Ravens for an AFC North divisional crown.

Here’s a look at who they drafted, what you should know about each of these rookies and their potential value to the Bengals organization.

Round 1, No. 21 – Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

With what may have been a surprise to some on draft day, the Bengals selected tight end Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame in the first round. Eifert, who was selected as a First-team All-American and given the John Mackey Award – awarded to the nation’s top tight end – in 2012, was selected with the 21st pick overall after he decided to forego his final year of eligibility with the Irish.

Eifert, from Fort Wayne, Indiana, holds the Notre Dame single season record for receptions and receiving yards by a tight end with his efforts in his junior season. He had 63 receptions for 803 yards in 2011 as he was named a Mackey Award finalist.  His senior season was nearly as good as he totaled 685 yards receiving on just 50 receptions and four touchdowns.

During his three seasons with the Irish, Eifert accumulated 1,840 career receiving yards on 140 receptions and 11 touchdowns.

At the 2013 NFL Draft Combine, Eifert impressed scouts as he tipped the scales at 250 pounds and measured just over 6-foot-6. He clocked in with a 4.68 second 40-yard dash time, a 35 1/2  inch vertical jump and nearly a 10-foot broad jump. With impressive numbers like those for a big tight end, it’s easy to see why he was the first and only tight end selected in the first round.

Now to where he fits in with the Bengals, Eifert should make a very nice compliment opposite Jermaine Gresham, who was second on the team last season with 64 receptions, 737 yards and five touchdowns.

Gresham got most of the targets when opposing teams would double cover wide receiver A.J. Green. With Eifert now in that mix, it makes it that much more difficult for opposing defenses to cover two over-the-middle targets in addition to Green on the outside.

Eifert is just another weapon for quarterback Andy Dalton to use, and use he just might. Look for Eifert to possibly have a wonderful season as he finds a niche for himself opposite two of the games best at what they do – Green and Gresham.

Round 2, No. 37 – Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina

The Bengals selected early in the second round as a result of the trade with the Oakland Raiders for Carson Palmer. The Bengals made another first in the 2013 NFL Draft as they took the first running back off the board in Giovani Bernard from the University of North Carolina.

Bernard played two full seasons for UNC after he redshirted in 2010 due to a torn ACL. In 2011, Bernard became the first Tar Heel running back to rush for over 100 yards in five straight games since 1984. He was named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top running back.

In 2012, Bernard rushed for an average of 122.8 yards a game and had 12 touchdowns on the ground. He also proved to be a powerful asset catching balls out of the backfield as he totaled 490 yards receiving and added another five touchdowns. He also returned two punts for touchdowns to give him a total of 19 touchdowns on the year.

Bernard, a Davie, Florida native, was named first-team All-ACC and was second in both ACC player-of-the-year and ACC offensive player-of-the-year voting.

Bernard’s selection by the Bengals marked the first running back taken in the 2013 draft.

Bernard, a smooth and shifty back who doesn’t shy away from contact, adds another dimension to running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the Bengals, who at times last season looked desperate for a spell running back. While that desperation was a result of the injury to Bernard Scott, if Bernard is as advertised, not only will he push Green-Ellis and Scott for playing time, Bernard might actually rack up some statistics and help notch some points for a Bengals’ offense that ranked 18th in total rushing yards a year ago.

With the rare ability to run and catch, and a frame similar to ever-popular second-year back Doug Martin with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bernard could see lots of playing time in the back field for the Bengals. He also could possibly be back returning punts for the Bengals come week 1, it all remains to be seen.

Round 2, No. 53 – Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

With their third pick of the draft and their second pick in the second round, the Bengals selected big-man Margus Hunt from Southern Methodist University.

Hunt, a native of Estonia, was a world junior record holder in the discus throw before moving to Dallas, Texas to start training with the SMU track and field team. After dropping their men’s track program in 2007, Hunt tried out for the football team. With a 4.7 second 40-yard dash time and his 6-foot-8, 277-pound frame, head coach June Jones offered him a scholarship to play for the football program.

Hunt was named to the first team All-Conference USA in 2012 and also holds the school record for blocked kicks in a season with 11 in 2011. Hunt finished his senior season with 11.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three blocked kicks.  He finished his career with 17 blocked kicks, two short of an NCAA record.

Hunt’s rare size and speed combination made him a hot commodity at the 2013 Scouting Combine, but his raw ability and his inexperience brought his draft value down.

The Bengals compare Hunt to fellow defensive end Michael Johnson, who himself stands at 6-foot-7 and weighs in at 270-pounds. A team who finished third in the league in sacks last year with 51, has found themselves another valued pass rusher from the outside with Hunt.

Round 3, No. 84 – Shawn Williams, DE, Georgia

With their only third round pick of the 2013 draft, the Bengals selected strong safety Shawn Williams out of the University of Georgia.

Williams, from Blakely, Georgia, started his last two seasons at safety under head coach Mark Richt at Georgia. He finished his career with 209 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and four interceptions playing in the tough Southeastern Conference.

At 6-foot tall and 213 pounds, Williams’ physical presence is backed up by his ferocious hits and tough shots he placed on opponents during his college career.

Initial reports are that Williams could get the start from day one at strong safety and play along side fellow SEC alum, free safety Reggie Nelson. With his hard-hitting attitude and play-making ability, Williams looks to bolster a Bengals’ defense that ranked near the middle of the league in total defense, passing defense and interceptions.

Round 4, No. 118 – Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M

The Bengals stayed on the defensive side of the ball and in the SEC in the fourth round as they selected weak side linebacker Sean Porter from Texas A&M.

Porter, a bit undersized at 6-foot-1 and only 229 pounds, makes up for his size with his ability to slip by defenders and blitz the quarterback. His production slipped a bit during his senior year, but still saw him accumulate 66 tackles and three and a half sacks.

Porter will make a push for the opening day roster behind incumbent linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict and veteran newcomer James Harrison. With the resigning of Aaron Maybin and other linebackers still on roster, Porter will have to impress over the summer if he wants to see significant playing time.

Round 5, No. 156 – Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas

In the fifth round, the Bengals selected Tanner Hawkinson, a left side tackle from the University of Kansas. Hawkinson has the accolades to prove his worth as he finished his career with the Jayhawks as the school record holder in games started and consecutive games started at 48.

Hawkinson, a 6-foot-5, 298-pounder from McPherson, Kansas, possesses the foot movement most tackles desire but lacks the strength and balance. If the Bengals’ coaching staff can continue his filling out in the early stages of his career, Hawkinson could find himself battling for the starting job at left tackle.

For now though, Hawkinson will have to battle to make a roster spot as he continues to develop more than just his footwork on the NFL level.

Round 6, No. 190 – Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska

Rex Burkhead marked the second running back the Bengals selected in the 2013 draft. Burkhead, who was selected as a first team All-Big Ten in 2011, amassed 3,329 yards on the ground during his four-year career. He also notched 32 total touchdowns during his tenure as a Cornhusker.

Burkhead battled injuries during two of his seasons at Nebraska and his lack of the strength and top-speed will hinder his amount of touches in the coming years. His sub-par 4.73-second 40-yard dash time at the Scouting Combine definitely hurt his value, but with his strength in character and an extremely high work ethic, Burkhead may surprise some people with playing time during his rookie campaign. Look for him in the preseason and only late in games that are already in hand to see him out of the gate.

Round 6, No. 197 – Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

Cobi Hamilton, compared often to current Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu, was selected by Cincinnati in the sixth round out of the University of Arkansas.

Hamilton graded high on most NFL scouts’ draft boards yet found himself slipping into the later rounds. Hamilton has a big frame on him at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, something Lewis and the Bengals coaching staff like. Behind Green and a host of other receivers, Hamilton will have to fight for playing time off the bat, but with his rare combination of speed and size, he might achieve more time in the near future.

A regular favorite of quarterback Tyler Wilson at Arkansas, Hamilton has a long stride and excellent hands that allow him not only to make tough catches but also find room against defenders. His route-running skills and footwork will be coached up early as his transition to the NFL game begins, but Hamilton could see some solid playtime with an impressive offseason.

Round 7, No. 240 – Reid Fragel, OT, Ohio State

In the waning picks of the last round, the Bengals selected big man Reid Fragel from Ohio State University.

Fragel, who played just one season as a true offensive tackle at OSU, stands at 6-foot-8 and weighed in at 308 pounds. Fragel saw time primarily during his career as a blocking tight end before starting all 12 games of his senior season at right tackle.

His experience is limited at his current position but with his frame, he was considered by most to have the potential to one day become an NFL starter. If he can pick up the position on the NFL level, Fragel could make a push for the starting right tackle position in the coming years.

Right now however, don’t look for Fragel on the field just yet.

Round 7, No. 251 – T.J. Johnson, C, South Carolina

With their last pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Bengals selected center T.J. Johnson from the University of South Carolina.

Johnson possesses a large frame and has immense starting experience as he holds the USC career record for games started. Johnson may not have all the physical tools to be a provider right away, but he does have size and lots of experience to garner him a second look and possibly a practice squad roster spot for the upcoming season.

Cameron Mellor

Football Extra Points Greater Ohio Sports Reporter
Formerly the Sports Editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau

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