In less than a month, the new generation of talent will hear its name in the 2023 NFL Draft. Until then, organizations should have tough decisions to make as they evaluate all options. Contending teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals might be after youngsters who can contribute to their lofty goals right away.
Following a Super Bowl appearance, Cincinnati had a mediocre 4-4 start to the 2022 season. However, the team turned things around by winning its last eight games in the regular season. The Bengals finished 12-4, clinching the AFC North and the No. 3 seed in the conference.
The Bengals fell short of returning to the Super Bowl, falling short to the Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 in the AFC Championship Game. Still, with a young core led by Ja’Marr Chase and MVP finalist Joe Burrow, the future looks bright in Cincinnati.
The team currently owns the No. 28 pick in the draft, so it is likely many of the top prospects will already be off the board by then. Still, Cincinnati could find some interesting players at the end of Day 1.
With that being said, here are three players the Cincinnati Bengals should target with their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
3. Dalton Kincaid, TE – Utah
One position that the Bengals need to address in the 2023 offseason is tight end. Starter Hayden Hurst signed a three-year deal with the Carolina Panthers, leaving a hole in the team's depth chart. He led all tight ends with 52 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns.
Without Hurst, Cincinnati should keep an eye on the tight ends in the 2023 class. One name that could be available around the No. 28 pick is Dalton Kincaid from Utah.
In 2022, he finished with 70 catches for 890 yards and eight touchdowns. He led the nation in receptions and receiving touchdowns amongst tight ends and only trailed Georgia's Brock Bowers in receiving yards.
Kincaid's best game in his senior year came against the then-No. 7 USC Trojans in October. The senior finished with 16 receptions for 234 yards, both career-highs, and a score. This broke Utah records for his position, as well as the most receiving yards for a Ute since Carl Harry had 255 more than three decades ago.
If the Bengals decide to give Burrow another reliable target, Kincaid could be an option. The tight end would give the team more diverse plays, allowing Chase to preserve his body for the playoffs.
2. Antonio Johnson, DB – Texas A&M
Other than tight end, another Cincinnati unit that suffered major setbacks was the secondary. Jessie Bates III and Von Bell, both starting safeties, left the team to join the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, respectively. Additionally, cornerbacks Eli Apple and Tre Flowers are still pending free agents, so there is a chance they leave the franchise.
Because of that, the Bengals should consider bringing in a player who can address the situation. One name that emerges as a possibility is Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M.
This past season, he had 71 total tackles with 35 being solo and one sack. He also recorded three forced fumbles and one pass breakup. He ended up earning a First-Team All-SEC nod.
Johnson emerges as a potential pick for Cincinnati because he can play both as a safety and as a cornerback. With his versatility, he could be a replacement for either Bates and Bell or Apple depending on what else the front office does in the offseason.
1. Cam Smith, CB – South Carolina
Should the Bengals opt to bring in a rookie for the secondary, Cam Smith is another player they should think about. He played an important role in South Carolina's resurgence in the 2021 and 2022 seasons after two years of negative records.
In 2021, his best season, the cornerback recorded 41 total tackles with 31 being solo. He also added 11 pass breakups, one forced fumble and three interceptions. He gave up only a 36.5 quarterback rating when targeted. Additionally, he only allowed multiple catches in just two of his 11 games.
For his performance, Smith earned Second-Team All-SEC honors.
Although his numbers went down a bit in 2022, he still contributed to South Carolina’s success. The team ranked No. 27 in the nation in defensive passing efficiency at 121.76, according to the NCAA. For comparison, the Gamecocks finished ahead of TCU and LSU in that category, both top-10 programs in the final poll.
Like Johnson, Smith could be a contributor and a starter in Week 1 based on Cincinnati's losses in the 2023 offseason. Also, by drafting him, the Bengals could focus on other areas in the later rounds and the remainder of the free-agency period.
All things considered, Smith should certainly be one of the top players on Cincinnati's board. If he is available at No. 28, the Bengals must seriously consider taking him.