The future stars of the NFL are almost here. The first round of the 2013 Draft kicks off on April 25, and every team will look to build for both present and future. This is the 21st in a two-a-day, 30-part series that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit.
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2012 record: 10-6
Key offseason acquisitions:
James Harrison, linebacker
Aaron Maybin, linebacker
Key offseason departures:
Andre Smith, tackle
Nate Clements, cornerback/safety
Thomas Howard, linebacker
Chris Crocker, safety
Cincinnati had a quietly productive offseason, choosing to bring back most of their key players instead of splurging in free agency. They kept the core of their sixth-ranked defense together, franchising DE Michael Johnson and re-signing LB Rey Maualuga and cornerbacks Adam Jones and Terence Newman. Their only major new addition was signing ex-Steelers LB James Harrison. They are reportedly in talks with right tackle Andre Smith on a possible return, though it is believed that the two sides are far apart.
The Bengals have some flexibility here at No. 21. They could target a safety to replace Nate Clements and Chris Crocker. If Smith does not come back, they could draft his replacement. Or, they could simply go "best player available" and address their needs later on in the draft.
The Bengals' main need is at safety, though. Cincinnati currently has Reggie Nelson roaming center field, but needs a physical playmaker alongside him. Matt Elam fits that bill pretty well. Elam, who like Nelson starred at Florida, is a hard-hitter who can play up in the box if needed. He's also versatile enough to drop back into a single-high zone or cover the slot receiver if needed.
FIU's Jonathan Cyprien is similar to Elam and could also be a target at No. 21. Cyprien isn't as well-known as Elam but impressed at the Senior Bowl with his brash, aggressive style of play. He's a bit unproven in coverage and was only limited to two-deep safety sets in college, but he plays like a linebacker in the box when asked to blitz or stop the run.
The Bengals could also opt for LSU's Eric Reid. The well-rounded Reid can play both the run and the pass, has enough speed to keep up with some of the game's quicker tight ends and is a hard hitter over the middle. His greatest strength, though is often his biggest issue -- Reid is so aggressive that he can over-pursue and take bad angles in an attempt to make the big play.
If Smith doesn't return, the Bengals could address the right tackle spot as well. Alabama's D.J. Fluker probably won't be available at this point, so the Bengals would have to eye Florida State's Menelik Watson instead.
Watson has the size (6-5, 310) that coaches want in a prototypical tackle. He's very raw -- he was a prep basketball star in England and Spain and only started playing football in August 2011 when he showed up at training camp for Saddleback College, a JUCO in California. But Watson has steadily climbed up draft boards since the end of the season because of his pure physical talent. Even if the Bengals bring Smith back into the fold, they could still draft Watson and slide him inside at guard.