This is the 21st of a team-by-team series, analyzing five prospects that each team should consider in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Bengals have advanced to the postseason three of the past four years, but don't have any playoff wins to show for it. In a division with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and the up-and-coming Cleveland Browns, making the playoffs is an impressive feat in itself. But don't tell that to Bengals players, coaches or fans; they are ready for postseason victories.
A key to Cincinnati's recent regular-season success is the club's decisions on draft weekend. Some will argue that wide receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton fell into their laps in the 2011 NFL Draft, but the Bengals had the patience and wherewithal to snatch them up. In the 2010 NFL Draft, Cincinnati selected an undersized defensive tackle named Geno Atkins in the fourth round who has developed into one of the best interior penetrators in the NFL. And the year before, in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Bengals found a pass rushing gem in the third round with the tall, long Michael Johnson, whom Cincinnati designated as its franchise player this past offseason.
Like every franchise, the Bengals have had their share of misses in the top three rounds in recent years (Keith Rivers, Jerome Simpson, Chase Coffman, Jordan Shipley, Dontay Moch). But for the most part, Cincinnati's front office, along with head coach Marvin Lewis, has drafted and developed key players who have contributed to the Bengals' success.
Cincinnati has a unique front-office structure, stemming from its family-run franchise. Team president Mike Brown has the final say on roster moves with Pete Brown, senior vice president of player personnel, and Paul Brown, vice president of player personnel, by his side, making the personnel decisions. Lewis also has a strong voice in the war room and has developed a great working relationship with the Brown family.
And, thanks to the Carson Palmer trade, the Bengals' decision-makers have three picks in the top 53 selections this year to use and will have the chance to fill several holes early in the draft.
While their front-office and draft formulas are different from others around the league, the Bengals have proven that it works for them.
Cincinnati Bengals 2013 draft picks: 21, 37, 53, 84, 118, 156, 190, 197, 240, 251
Primary needs: SS, DE, RT, OLB, RB, WR
General manager: Pete Brown (senior vice president of player personnel)
Five draft picks that clicked:
-- WR A.J. Green, 4th overall, 2011
-- DT Geno Atkins, 120th overall, 2010
-- DE Michael Johnson, 70th overall, 2009
-- OT Andrew Whitworth, 55th overall, 2006
-- DT Domata Peko, 123rd overall, 2006
Five players who should be on the Bengals' draft radar:
Player, school (overall rating, position rating)
SS Matt Elam, Florida (38, 1)
The younger brother of NFL safety Abe Elam, Matt Elam plays with authority on the field and plays much bigger than he looks. His lack of size will show up at times, especially in deep coverage, but he swarms to the ball with explosive speed. Elam projects best as an in-the-box strong safety but has experience lining up in the slot and on special teams. He would be able to help the Bengals from day one. He would also give Cincinnati an all-Gator starting safety unit with Reggie Nelson at free safety.
OLB Alec Ogletree, Georgia (25, 4)
A former strong safety, Ogletree moved to linebacker in 2011 and took the SEC by storm with his rangy style of play to make tackles sideline to sideline. Despite missing the first four games of 2012, he still led the Bulldogs in tackles (111). He missed those games due to suspension after failing a drug test. Ogletree also found himself in trouble in 2010 (theft) and this past February (DUI), so maturity questions could push him down (or off) some draft boards. On the field, he has the versatile athleticism to make plays in coverage, blitzing and on special teams. Ogletree played inside in Georgia's 3-4 scheme but is best suited outside as a run-and-chase linebacker to use his range.
RB Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (56, 2)
You can file this pint-sized running back (5-11, 195) as a player who is a much better NFL prospect than I think most expected entering the season. Franklin doesn't look like much, but he consistently impresses as a ballcarrier with very good feel. A four-year starter, he leaves UCLA as the school's career rushing leader and had an incredibly productive senior year with nine 100-yard rushing games. Franklin won't get much bigger, but he explodes laterally with energetic feet and breaks more tackles than expected. He's probably not a feature back but would be a good fit with BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the Bengals' backfield.
DE Sam Montgomery, LSU (51, 7)
Montgomery was a more productive pass rusher at LSU than Barkevious Mingo but isn't the same type of athlete. That and work-ethic questions will likely push Montgomery to the third-round range, but he has NFL talent. Montgomery rushes with intensity and energy, showing good effort to fight through blocks, but needs technique work and to develop his get-off anticipation. The Bengals have shown a willingness to take chances on players who might have a few off-field flags, but there is no question about his on-field motor and upside with some more work.
OT Chris Faulk, LSU (182, 17)
A surprising addition to the 2013 NFL Draft class, Faulk suffered a serious right-knee injury in September, missed the entire 2012 season but decided to leave school early for the NFL. He has the size and length for the next level but plays a tad heavy with some bad weight on his frame. Nonetheless, he's a smooth mover with better flexibility than expected. If 100-percent healthy, he can be a serviceable right-tackle option in the NFL. The Bengals have had success grooming LSU offensive tackles. And with the uncertainty of Andre Smith's future in Cincinnati, Faulk makes some sense in the fourth or fifth round.