The 2023 NFL season that left Cincinnati Bengals fans and pundits alike scratching their heads. Hampered by Joe Burrow's injury, the Bengals fell way short of lofty expectations. Now with the 2024 NFL Draft looming, the Bengals have a prime opportunity to retool their squad and address key deficiencies. This mock draft takes an in-depth look at potential rookie prospects who could don the black and orange stripes. Perhaps some of these players can make an immediate impact on the team's quest to return to playoff contention.

Cincinnati Bengals' 2023 Season Recap

The 2023 season for the Cincinnati Bengals was, in many respects, a tale of unfulfilled potential. Finishing with a 9-8 record, the team experienced a rollercoaster year that saw them just miss out on a playoff berth. The Bengals' struggles were multifaceted, with injuries playing a significant role. Burrow's season-ending injury in mid-November, of course, was the worst of all. Despite moments of brilliance that reminded fans of their recent Super Bowl run, consistency eluded them. This led to a disappointing absence from the 2024 playoffs. That's despite still finishing with a winning record. The season was a stark reminder of the thin margins in the NFL and underscored the urgent need for reinforcements across various positions.

Bengals' Joe Burrow looking excited

Draft Context

The Bengals saw the departure of two crucial defensive stalwarts to free agency. These were DJ Reader and Chidobe Awuzie. Having already strengthened the safety position through external additions, filling the voids left by Reader and Awuzie should be Cincinnati's foremost draft priority. Numerous candidates within the draft could step in and fill these roles effectively.

Sure, it may seem optimistic, but one can't help but speculate on how quickly the Bengals would act if Brock Bowers were available at the 18th pick in the draft. Keep in mind that Burrow has yet to team up with a top-tier tight end. Yes, Mike Gesicki was brought on board. However, the allure of selecting Bowers, should he be available, would still be highly compelling.

Here we will look at the rookie prospects that the Cincinnati Bengals might pick up in our 7-round 2024 Mock Draft.

Pick No. 18: Johnny Newton, DL, Illinois

As intriguing as a Bowers-Burrow combo might be, the pragmatic move here is to fortify the defensive front. Enter Johnny Newton. After allowing the most total yards in the AFC during the 2023 season, it’s clear the team needs to strengthen their defensive front. Newton is undoubtedly one of the standout defensive tackles in the draft. As such, he should become the primary choice to help turn around the Bengals' defensive woes.

Pick No. 49: T'Vondre Sweat, DL, Texas

Continuing with their defensive strategy, the Bengals should use their second pick on T'Vondre Sweat. Again, the departure of Reader has left a void at nose tackle. Sweat, at 6'4 and 366 pounds, is well-suited to fill this gap. His size and strength make him an ideal candidate to anchor the middle of the defensive line.

Texas Longhorns defensive lineman T'Vondre Sweat (93) celebrates a defensive stop during the Big 12 Championship game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at AT&T stadium on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 in Arlington.
Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

Pick No. 80: Blake Fisher, OL, Notre Dame

The Bengals finally address their offensive line in the third round by selecting Blake Fisher. Having played right tackle at Notre Dame, Fisher fits perfectly into the Bengals' greater need on the right side of the line. He would make for a strategically sound pick.

Pick No. 97: Brenden Rice, WR, USC

The Bengals make a sentimental and strategic pick by selecting Brenden Rice. Yes, Cincinnati fans remain haunted by memories of Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIII. However, they can find a bit of ironic closure and excitement as the Bengals draft his son. Fans would then hope he can create his legacy in the orange and black.

Pick No. 115: Theo Johnson, TE, Penn State

Chances are Bowers would not be available earlier. As such, the Bengals hold off on drafting a tight end until the fourth round. Theo Johnson enters the picture here. He is known for his end-zone presence with seven touchdown catches last season. That's the third-highest single-season total for a tight end in Penn State history.

Pick No. 149: Will Shipley, RB, Clemson

With Joe Mixon no longer on the team, the Bengals are almost certain to draft a running back. Will Shipley should be that guy. He is notable not only for his productivity at Clemson but also for his kickoff return skills. As such, Shipley could become a dual-threat player under the NFL's new kickoff rules.

Pick No. 194: Trevin Wallace, LB, Kentucky

Should Trevin Wallace still be available at this stage, it would be a significant steal for the Bengals. His talents as a linebacker could offer immediate benefits to Cincinnati’s defensive schemes.

Pick No. 214: Tory Taylor, P, Iowa

Facing competition at the punter position, the Bengals might draft Tory Taylor. He was the 2023 Ray Guy award winner and arguably the best punter in the draft. Although selecting a punter in the sixth round might seem premature, Taylor's exceptional skills justify the decision.

Pick No. 224: Xavier Thomas, EDGE, Clemson

Recognizing the perpetual need for robust pass-rushers, the Bengals should select Xavier Thomas here. This choice adds depth and potential to their edge rushing capabilities as they prepare for future contests.

Pick No. 237: Sione Vaki, S, Utah

With their final draft pick, the Bengals continue their tradition of focusing on defense. As such, they should go for Sione Vaki. His versatility is a significant asset; not only is he a solid safety and special teams player, but he has also contributed on offense. That could be invaluable for the Bengals.