CINCINNATI -- It has become clear in the past month that one of the Cincinnati Bengals' top priorities this offseason will be to bolster a pass rush that statistically was the worst in the NFL this past season.
The Bengals ranked dead last in sacks, and were in the same position in Pro Football Focus' grades for overall team pass rush. One of the problems, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther saw it, was that the Bengals' defensive ends, tackles, and outside linebackers struggled in finishing off their rushes. Often they'd been right there in a quarterback's face, but they couldn't do enough to bring him to the ground.
That's why as mock draft season starts hitting its stride, the projections point toward the Bengals going with a speedy, sack-focused defensive end with their first-round pick at No. 21 overall.
In his second mock draft, posted Thursday, ESPN Insider and draft analyst Todd McShay had Cincinnati selecting Clemson's Vic Beasley. And in his latest mock draft, published Jan. 15, fellow ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Bengals picking Kentucky's Bud Dupree. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound end still remained on the board on McShay's second mock draft. McShay didn't project him to be a first-round pick.
Also available after McShay's one-round mock was receiver Phillip Dorsett. The former Miami Hurricane has the one thing offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has repeatedly said he's looking for in possible targets at receiver: speed. Dorsett has run a 4.35 40-yard dash time, and has reportedly dipped into the 4.2s during offseason training. It will be interesting to see how fast he runs when timed at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this month.
Remember, the Bengals have long lauded the "best available" approach when it comes to draft weekend. If a speedy receiver like Dorsett is there, it's possible they take him at No. 21.
Which brings us back to Beasley. Would the Bengals really draft a 6-foot-2, 220-pound defensive end in the first round?
Probably not. At least, doing so doesn't match their approach. The team overall favors lengthy and rangy defensive ends. Only one of the eight ends the Bengals have drafted since 2003 was 6-foot-2 -- Elton Patterson. The 2003 seventh-rounder had a one-year career. Robert Geathers and Frostee Rucker are both 6-3, but both are stockier than Beasley, built more like linemen, not potential outside linebackers.
As you have seen from Marvin Lewis-coached teams over the years, the Bengals like pass-rushers with height and long arms. The idea: the taller the rusher, the better a chance he has at getting his hands up and batting down passes at the line of scrimmage if he can't complete the sack. Few in the league have been as good at doing that in recent years as 2009 Bengals draftee Michael Johnson. The third-round pick is 6-foot-7.
Johnson, of course, wasn't re-signed last offseason. It's his departure that has the Bengals in this current bind where they are looking for help off the edge. As good as Beasley was for Clemson, collecting 25 sacks in the past two seasons at end, he's more of an NFL outside linebacker because of his size. Yes, the Bengals are looking for help at the "Sam" linebacker position, but their primary pass-rush focus appears to be getting the line itself shored up. Beasley probably won't be playing on the line. Dupree might not, either, for that matter, but his larger frame would give the Bengals more to work with in that regard.