CINCINNATI -- The 2022 NFL draft has concluded.
Round 1, No. 31 overall: Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
My take: The Bengals picked up a position of need with a player they weren’t expecting to be available at No. 31. Even during pre-draft conversations, the Bengals told Hill they’d like to take him -- if Hill was still on the board. Hill will give the Bengals a lot of schematic versatility, which is something that allowed defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to thrive in 2021. He entered Michigan as a safety and played some slot cornerback toward the end of his time with the Wolverines. With Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell slotted as the starting safeties, Hill can be used in dime packages and find his footing in the NFL before he takes on a full-time role.
Planning for the future: With Hill’s selection, the Bengals have effectively started planning for the 2023 season and beyond. While Hill has some position flexibility, he enters the league primarily as a free safety, a role currently held by Bates. Bates, a 2018 second-round pick, was recently given the franchise tag for the 2022 season. At the very least, Hill’s selection hedges against the possibility that Bates doesn’t reach a long-term extension with the team and departs in free agency after this season. Bates is a massive reason why Anarumo was able to tinker with the scheme over the years. If Hill does end up being Bates’ replacement, he’ll have one of the most important roles on the team.
Peek at future spending strategy? If the Bengals do replace Bates with someone who is on a rookie contract, Cincinnati frees up some much-needed salary cap space as it enters a pivotal 2023 offseason. Quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receiver Tee Higgins and linebacker Logan Wilson will be among the players eligible for contract extensions. And don’t forget Ja'Marr Chase, last year’s offensive rookie of the year, who will have to wait two more years to cash in on his status as one of the NFL’s top wideouts. Drafting Hill and letting Bates walk gives the Bengals some financial flexibility to use on the offense.
Round 2, No. 60 overall: Cam Taylor-Britt, DB, Nebraska
My take: The Bengals didn’t reach for a cornerback in the first round. In the second round, they moved up three places to take Taylor-Britt and addressed one of the biggest needs on the roster. He was a four-year player at Nebraska who emerged as a starter in 2021. That resulted in his best season with the Cornhuskers. He had 11 pass deflections in 12 games, an indicator of his ability to make plays on the ball. That’s a trait the Bengals are looking for in cornerbacks. With Eli Apple and Chidobe Awuzie currently slotted as the starting outside corners, Taylor-Britt can work his way into the rotation before taking on more responsibility.
Round 3, No. 95 overall: Zachary Carter, DT, Florida
My take: Cincinnati addressed another defensive need, this time in the trenches. The Bengals took Carter, who brings a lot of the traits they are looking for at defensive tackle. For starters, he can play multiple positions along the front. But perhaps most importantly, he is able to bring pressure up the middle. “You value that over everything when you’re looking at guys like that,” Anarumo said after the Bengals made the pick. Carter had 17 sacks in four seasons at Florida, including 7.5 last season.
What’s next: The Bengals spent the first two days drafting key spots on the defense. Now, will the Bengals look to add depth to the offense? Upcoming picks for the Bengals on Day 3: Nos. 136, 174, 226, 252.
Round 4, No. 136 overall: Cordell Volson, OG, North Dakota State
My take: Despite being an FCS All-American as a right tackle, Volson will play offensive guard for the Bengals. Cincinnati offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said the team wanted to get an offensive lineman earlier rather than later on Day 3. Assistant coach Frank Pollack referenced Volson’s ability to push competition. The Bengals believe Volson has the strength and power to be an interior lineman in the NFL. It makes the battle for the starting left guard spot very interesting this offseason.
Round 5, No. 166 overall: Tycen Anderson, S, Toledo
My take: The Bengals traded up to take their second safety of the draft. This time it was for Anderson, who played free safety and strong safety during his time at Toledo. Anderson gives the Bengals another fast defensive back in this draft class. He was measured with a 40-yard dash time of 4.36 seconds. It’s worth noting that both of Cincinnati’s projected starting safeties, Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell, are on contracts that will expire after the 2022 season.
Round 7, No. 252 overall: Jeffrey Gunter, DE, Coastal Carolina
My take: The Bengals close the 2022 draft in fitting fashion — by taking another defensive player. Gunter was listed with a “bandit” position on Coastal Carolina’s roster, a testament to his schematic flexibility. However, the Bengals view Gunter primarily as an edge rusher who will get his crack at making the roster on pass-rushing situations.