CINCINNATI -- Take a good, hard look at the Cincinnati Bengals' defensive backfield and what do you see?
Age and experience, yes. But what else?
A slew of former first-round draft picks.
Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick and Reggie Nelson are all Bengals defensive backs who were selected in the first round. Free-agent addition Danieal Manning wasn't far behind them, either, going 42nd overall in the second round in 2006.
No, not all of those players began their careers with the Bengals and the jury is still out on how the youngest member of the crew, Kirkpatrick, will ultimately fare. Regardless, the number of former first-round picks in Cincinnati's secondary indicates just how much the Bengals value those who play those positions, especially cornerback.
"Quarterback and cornerback are the toughest positions to play in the league," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a pre-draft news conference Tuesday. "If you're not good enough there, everyone else suffers. And there's no way to mask it. It takes certain rare ability to play those two spots. To play cornerback on defense, to run with a guy that can be bigger than you, can be faster than you, knows where he's going and you've got to run with him and you've got to defend him and you can't touch him.
"Other than that, it's an easy job."
The Bengals will be looking for at least one cornerback in the NFL draft that begins Thursday night. A cursory read of the Bengals' draft needs suggests that when they pick near the end of the first round at No. 24, they will snag a corner.
Which corners could be there? Well, the list is exhaustive, but it primarily features any one of five names: Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Bradley Roby (Ohio State). It all depends on how highly the Bengals have each one of those players rated and which ones are available when they make their pick.
In Tuesday afternoon's ESPN.com NFL Nation mock draft, I was surprised to find cornerback Kyle Fuller still on the draft board deep into the first round. Granted, our little experiment may not be an adequate reflection of what will end up happening Thursday night, but I thought it did give a strong glimpse into how each team might think when draft day comes.
I'll admit, I thought briefly about trading up after Dennard went extremely early at No. 10 overall to Detroit. But when another corner wasn't picked until the Packers took Gilbert at No. 21, I had a good feeling that either Fuller or Jason Verrett would be on the board. I should note, this draft was about what we as NFL Nation team reporters think the various teams WILL do Thursday. Not what we think they should do. Cincinnati's recent history shows that the franchise isn't too keen on wheeling and dealing and making big draft-weekend trades. In fact, the Bengals are largely more remembered for their trade busts than for ones that were successes, like 2012's move down that landed them offensive guard Kevin Zeitler.
So I tried to stay true to my guns and not make a move, even after an enticing overture from the Vikings for the No. 40 overall pick early in the second round, and possibly another in the third. (We didn't get far enough along in trade talks to determine what the pick behind No. 40 would have been.)
Anyway, I reference all of that to say, there could be a cornerback available in the first round to keep the trend going.
"That's a tough position," Lewis said. "I've been fortunate in the league to be around a bunch of good corners, and most of them came in the first round. I feel pretty good about that."
Safety also has been an option for the Bengals in this draft, as they look to add as much speed and cover ability to their defensive backfield as possible. As more NFL teams adopt the multiple-receiver spread offenses that have been such a big part of college football the last decade, there is a need to have safeties who can cover and bigger corners who can play both on the inside and outside to help negate some of those passing options.
"I've been that way philosophically for a while," Lewis said, referring to his desire to have bigger corners and cover safeties. "It's to my upbringing and so forth in the NFL, where we've had safeties that way that could also do that. We've been that way since I've been here, and the trend will continue that way because the trend in college football is that way. So these guys are becoming more of big corners with the style of coverage, the style of offense and the things that people are playing."
Some options at safety for the Bengals could include Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama), Calvin Pryor (Louisville), Terrence Brooks (Florida State), Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois) and Deone Bucannon (Washington State).