Targets Abound On Bengals Board In Draft’s First Three Rounds

In some drafts, the board giveth. In other drafts, the board taketh away.

On Friday night in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft, it was the Bengals that did the taking. They didn’t budge from the Nos. 49, 80, and 97th spots and were still able to walk out with three targets who changed their interior defensive line and opened up one of the league’s more lethal passing games. They grabbed two defensive tackles in two hours after not taking two in the same draft in a dozen years while adding one of the nation’s biggest playmakers in the biggest league.

Maybe it was because of that offensive onslaught in the first round. But the Bengals knew four picks in the first 100 of this draft were all value.

“It’s a great feeling when you’re able stay in our spot and still get the guys you were targeting,” said an exhaling Trey Brown as the Bengals senior personnel executive sped into midnight so they could turn around and do the four final rounds Saturday starting at noon.

“We were able to get two very good defensive tackles who both fit our scheme and we were able to grab an explosive weapon that fits what we do on offense. All three guys we had targeted through the process, so to get those guys at our pick, our room was excited.”

Friday night also confirmed things we already knew. Dax Hill is looking more and more like a cornerback and Trey Henrickson is going nowhere.

Excited? First of all, there was the Bengals draft room on NFL Network, which happens about every solar eclipse.

Rarer even still, the lights caught usually impassive head coach Zac Taylor slapping his chair in glee during the third round after he informed Alabama wide receiver Jermaine Burton he was quarterback Joe Burrow’s new target.

That was after the second-round selection of Michigan defensive tackle Kris Jenkins had the Bengals playing with house money the rest of the night.

Jenkins had seemingly been taken from a composite of the Bengals’ greatest draft dreams. A national champion captain and an NFL legacy as the son of a four-time Pro Bowler added to their thinnest position. There are questions about his production, but all he did was win up there in a rotation that didn’t allow stats. (Some draftnicks believe he’ll be an even better pro.)

In order to get him, they had to wait 10 excruciating picks after Braden Fiske became the fourth D-Tackle to go in five selections. The guy they coveted, Illinois’ Johhny Newton, was too far to go get and was gone by the fourth pick of the day at No. 36.

But the Bengals hung in the spot because while Jenkins was the target, there must have been others in the mix, too. (Maybe Texas wide receiver Adonai Mitchell or LSU defensive tackle Maason Smith?) But the board gave them their guy.

“No wonder head coach Zac Taylor and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo could joke about it all.

Taylor: : “These are seven-minute picks, but they feel like 27. It feels like a long time.”

Anarumo: “I was squinting (at the board) for an hour.”

But all kidding aside, Jenkins is a relentless run-stuffer they need to help fill the void of nose tackle DJ Reader.

“When you look at the position itself, it’s rare that you get the inside guys that create and produce multiple sacks inside. There’s the Aaron Donald’s of the world, then there’s everybody else,” Anarumo said. “You’ve got to start with something that they do well. We’d rather start with, they’re a great run defender and let’s build on their pass rush. I just think that’s what fits us best right now. Playing alongside of B.J. (Hill) Sheldon, Zach (Carter) and those guys, I think he fits in great.”

Anarumo smirked at the observation Jenkins and Texas A&M nose tackle Mckinnley Jackson at No. 97 changed them up front, But the fact is they’ve got two rookies who are probably going to be taking a ton of Reader’s snaps.

Burton didn’t change them, but added even more to quarterback Joe Burrow’s arsenal. In the last month they’ve given him a tight end with three seasons of at least 50 catches and an SEC wideout who averaged 18 yards per catch in four seasons of 50 games.

When you saw former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh bounce on the stage in Detroit to make the Bengals pick at No. 80 with a grin like he was wiping his cleats on the Terrible Towel after a win in Pittsburgh, you knew it was one of the guys he trains,

“Explosive. Tough. Explosive. Fast. His route running has improved a ton,” Houshmandzadeh said. “If he goes to Cincinnati and locks in the way he’s supposed to, you’re talking about explosiveness on the outside. Wow. Him and Ja’Marr (Chase). That’s explosiveness at its finest.”

It’s why they targeted the 6-0, 196-pound Burton early and often. It’s why they didn’t grab Roman Wilson or Jalen McMillian.

In 50 games, 18 yards per catch against the nation’s best cornerbacks?

“He’s the kind of guy that puts pressure on opposing DBs every time he lines up,” Trey Brown said. “When you add a guy like that to the group of receivers we currently have, it makes for an explosive offense that will put pressure on secondaries.”

That’s why they sat down with Burton at the NFL scouting combine. That’s why they brought him in for a visit. That’s why they did the work on him.

“We’ve had a high like for him since the start of this process,” said Taylor, who counted no drops on Burton’s tape this year. “We go through a process, especially with these receivers, where we’ve got a lot of former quarterbacks and receiver guys, so there’s as many opinions on these guys as possible, I think in any position we’ve got. We extensively watch these guys many, many times and came away with a lot of love for his game.”

Both Burton and Houshmandzadeh didn’t duck the questions about Burton’s maturity. Burton says it’s something he and Houshmandzadeh are working on.

“We also developed a relationship to the point where we talked about other things — just life things and a lot of maturity and growth,” Burton said. “I’m Jermaine Burton and I just want to play football. I do this for my mom and sister. I have a lot of passion that comes from behind my history and what I’ve been through. I just want everyone to know that. I just want to play football and want to do this for my family.”

If anyone knows about the challenge of growing emotionally while in the spotlight, it is Houshmandzadeh, who spent his 627-catch career trying to reconcile the demons of his anger and the rage of his competitiveness.

“He’s a great kid. A little temperamental. He doesn’t have the lack of emotional stability I had at times, but he can be emotional,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I think he’s a great person. Some say it’s cockiness, I say it’s self-belief. But I like him as a person.

“He’ll be perfectly fine in the room because you’ve got two dudes that have experienced a ton of success in Tee and Ja’Marr and you’ve got a quarterback that’s not going to let him BS around. I’m not going to let him BS around. He’ll be fine.”

Plus, you’ve got the board that on this day gave without taking.

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