By TPR Staff

As we continue the Team Needs series for the 2013 NFL Draft, we proceed to the team with the twenty-first overall pick; the Cincinnati Bengals. While the team improved in several aspects over the 2011 team, the season ended the same way with a wild card loss in Houston to the Texans.

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This team is flush with young talent and a quarterback who didn’t suffer any kind of sophomore jinx in 2012. For them, it is just a matter of gaining experience, adding some more talent in the draft and free agency and just continuing to improve in a tough division. Here are some things they’ll look to address in the draft this April.

Linebacker

While the risk on the undrafted and troubled Vontaze Burfict worked out in year one, Rey Maualuga was one of the worst at his position last season. Combined with Manny Lawson possibly leaving in free agency, the Bengals might opt for the cheaper route and take a playmaking linebacker early in the draft. I’ know it’s cliche to say they don’t care about distractions or character issues, but it has become cliche for a reason. Therefore, I see this ultimately being the landing spot for the beleaguered Manti T’eo.

Draft Possibilities: Manti T’eo, Kevin Minter

Running Back

Don’t let the numbers that BenJarvus Green-Ellis put up last season fool you; he was a product of the system and could easily be upgraded. The offensive line that Cincinnati has put together is one of the better units in the league and bringing in a young guy that will flourish in this system is a safe bet. A good second round target could be a burner like Joseph Randle.

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Draft Possibilities: Joseph Randle, Jawan Jamison

Tackle

I know it sounds crazy to put this position right after declaring their offensive line one of the best in the league, but that is actually why I am putting it. Andre Smith is hitting free agency right after his best year in the league that saw him make the pro bowl. Most teams don’t let a franchise right tackle get away, but a lot of teams out there will also offer ridiculous sums of free agent cash for a guy like him. If he does walk, an immediate replacement will be needed. Even so, some depth at the position couldn’t hurt in the middle rounds with a mountain like Menelik Watson.

Draft Possibilities: Menelik Watson, D.J. Fluker

Safety

Taylor Mays has been such a bust at the NFL level that the team had to move Nate Clements, who is a better fit at corner, to play safety last year. They’ll want him to slide back to his natural position if he and Chris Crocker don’t bolt in free agency. If not, they’ll need to address the position in the first three rounds of this draft with a playmaker like J.J. Wilcox.

Bowl- Wilcox Action

Draft Possibilities: J.J. Wilcox, Phillip Thomas

Defensive End

Any time you have a starting defensive end hitting free agency, like Michael Johnson, you have to consider if your depth is good enough to fill his shoes. Unfortunately, two of those guys are free agent’s to be as well. With that in mind, we could see more than one pick on an end in this draft in the middle and late rounds. Someone like Tank Carradine seems to fit what this defense likes to do.

Draft Possibilities: Tank Carradine, Datone Jones

I declared the Bengals to have the best draft last season and I stick by it from a sheer young talent standpoint. Regardless of need, Cincinnati has trended going best player available the past couple of seasons and it has mostly paid off. Therefore, I expect to see Marvin Lewis stick to that formula this year.

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Coming from the same division as the defending champs and a team like the Steelers who always seem to rebound from a rough season well, the Bengals still have a lot to improve upon. They’re certainly on the right road and consecutive playoff seasons should be celebrated in Cincinnati. But this has to be the breakthrough season for Lewis and the Bengals and it all starts with a strong draft.

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