AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Why in the world would the Cincinnati Bengals sign a player with just four games of starting NFL experience to a four-year extension that includes $19.5 million in new money?

That's a pretty good question.

Well, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, what say you?

"You don't just go off game snaps," Guenther said, after being posed a similar question Tuesday afternoon. "You go off practice, the way he prepares, the way he takes care of his body. It's just another example of drafting a guy, developing a guy and you just push him forward. That's the way we have done things around here and it's worked good. Hopefully we can continue on that trend."

AP Photo/Don WrightShawn Williams helped the Bengals start 7-0 last season with this late interception in a 16-10 November win over the Steelers.

Indeed, two months after the Bengals re-signed George Iloka, Vincent Rey and Brandon Thompson -- three players who have spent their entire careers in Bengals stripes -- Cincinnati added one more to the mix with Shawn Williams' extension. He goes down as yet another player who has been carefully molded by a coaching staff and personnel department that favors familiarity over most anything else.

It's because of such familiarity that the Bengals are often slow-movers when free agency opens every spring. After trying to re-sign as many of the players who they want back as they can, the Bengals typically stand put until late March when they can add quality, lower-priced free agents for depth. Look no further for examples of that than with Karlos Dansby and Brandon LaFell signing this year in late March, or Taylor Mays' return to Cincinnati in April after he spent 2015 playing in Oakland.

Yes, familiarity got Williams his new deal. But so did everything he's done away from the defensive huddle the past three seasons.

"It’s the practice, meeting room, everything," Guenther said. "He sat there for a couple years and just watched. He was a special-teams guy; last year he got in there and did it. Next year we are looking for him to take the next step, be more involved as a starting player."

After the Bengals passed on re-signing Reggie Nelson this spring -- a safety who ultimately signed with Oakland -- the writing appeared on the proverbial wall. Williams' days toiling as a backup safety and occasional coverage linebacker were over. He was moving full-fledged into the starting rotation. His contract extension, which goes through the 2020 season, would pair him with Iloka for many years to come.

"We've kind of every year grown closer and closer together," Williams said. "I'm really looking forward to what we can build upon and seeing how high we can go."

As much as Williams' extension was about what he has done away from the field, the Bengals are also handsomely compensating him for what he has done on it. Despite being a rotational reserve, Williams still has been a special-teams star the past three seasons. On defense, he also had one of the most important plays of last season when he dove and picked off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger late in a 16-10 win at Pittsburgh. The interception helped push the Bengals to an unprecedented 7-0 record to begin a season.

He finished 2015 with a career-high 28 tackles and two interceptions.

Now that his opportunity for a brighter spotlight has come, the usually media-shy Williams isn't planning on changing.

"Just to continue to be yourself and stay true to who you are, and always work hard, and put forth the best effort that you can, and everything will take care of itself," Williams said. "No added pressure needed. Just go out and do what I love doing."

CINCINNATI -- After signing safety Shawn Williams to a four-year contract extension Tuesday, the Cincinnati Bengals' list of pending 2017 free agents shrank slightly to 22.

Williams was one of several key contributors the Bengals had been expected to attempt to lock up between now and next spring. Mostly a backup defensive player throughout his career, it seemed likely the Bengals would have Williams play out the 2016 season before making him an offer. That, of course, didn't ultimately happen.

Some four months before he's slated to become an every-down member of the Bengals' secondary, Williams agreed to an extension that will keep him in stripes through the 2020 season.

Shawn WilliamsAaron Doster/USA Today SportsSafety Shawn Williams is expected to move into a starting role this season.

According to ESPN's Adam Caplan, the four-year extension is worth $19.5 million in new money and has a maximum value of $21.5 million.

Williams was originally scheduled to enter the 2016 season drawing an $823,986 cap figure.

With the 25-year-old locked up long term (Williams just had a birthday last Friday), what other Bengals are scheduled to hit free agency next spring? Here's a look at the 22 Bengals entering contract years this season (seven of whom were regular starters in 2015):

QB Keith Wenning

RB Giovani Bernard

RB Cedric Peerman

RB Rex Burkhead

RB Bronson Hill

WR Brandon LaFell

WR Brandon Tate

TE/H-back Ryan Hewitt

TE John Peters

OT Andrew Whitworth

OT Eric Winston

OG Kevin Zeitler

OG/C T.J. Johnson

DE Margus Hunt

DT Domata Peko

DT Brandon Thompson

LB Karlos Dansby

CB Dre Kirkpatrick

CB Chykie Brown

CB Chris Lewis-Harris

S Taylor Mays

K Mike Nugent

Aaron Doster/USA TODAY SportsBengals cornerback Adam Jones on leading by example for rookie William Jackson III: "He'll see me working and he'll understand the mindset of the locker room and how we do things."

CINCINNATI -- On both his post-selection conference call with Cincinnati Bengals media, and during his introductory news conference at Paul Brown Stadium a day later, first-round pick William Jackson III expressed a willingness to listen to anything his new teammate, Adam Jones, told him.

"I want to get under his wing to see how he prepares and see what he did to stay in the league so long," Jackson said. "He will be a big mentor to me."

A few hours after his Cincinnati arrival, Jackson got to meet his new role model.

That night, Jones and fellow Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick organized a group that took Jackson to the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse a few blocks from the stadium. Jackson's feet had barely been on Ohio soil, but he was already getting an idea of what life inside his new position room would look like.

The M-word -- "mentor" -- has been thrown Jones' way a lot recently. As he continues evolving as a player, husband and father, the 32-year-old has no problem seeing it attached to his name. These days, he relishes it.

"It's always good when the guys pay a little bit of homage or respect or however you want to use it," Jones said this month about Jackson. "I'm eager for him to get up under my wing. I'm ready to give him everything I've got. Hopefully he'll come in here and contribute and we'll be sitting back at the end of this thing smiling."

Six years ago, many might have found it hard to consider Jones a mentor of any kind. After some serious off-field incidents and a string of suspensions defined the first five seasons of his career, Jones had countless NFL and non-NFL people ready to toss him away. He was quickly becoming another cautionary tale of a talented, promising player who would lose it all because he hadn't matured.

Fast-forward to today, some two months after he signed a three-year, $22 million deal to stay in Cincinnati, and the story on Jones has been completely rewritten. He's now a study in how patience and second chances can pay off. These days, he's known more for what he does on the field than off it. He allowed just one touchdown in 2015.

Jones wants Jackson to one day be similarly respected around Cincinnati.

"My whole thing is lead by example," Jones said. "He'll see me working and he'll understand the mindset of the locker room and how we do things."

Trying to get better !!! Everyday #nodaysoff

A photo posted by @realpacman24 on

Jones' "no days off" approach to in- and out-of-season training has endeared him to Bengals fans on social media. Regularly this offseason he has posted photos and videos to Instagram showcasing him workouts inside the Bengals' gym. But those aren't only intended for his young teammates.

"I do the videos more for my kids to let them know this is the s--- that's going to have to happen," Jones said. "I have a 10-year-old and a 5-year-old. My 10-year-old is probably the best gymnast in the country. So when I do those things, it's to show the rest of these kids that this s--- don't happen overnight.

"I've been playing football since I was 5 years old. Everybody thinks, 'Oh, you can get rich overnight.' Well, maybe if you hit the lottery. But besides that, everybody's got to work for what they want. That's my point to my kids. They see everything that we've got at the house and don't see all the work that goes into it. But every day, my kids are on Instagram seeing what daddy's doing. That's why I do that."

Adam JonesAP Photo/Joe RobbinsAdam Jones and several of his Bengals teammates were on hand Saturday to watch FC Cincinnati beat the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a United Soccer League match.

CINCINNATI -- As he took a load of passengers to the top levels of Nippert Stadium early Saturday afternoon, an elevator operator explained to the occupants what he believed the significance of the day's match between United Soccer League teams FC Cincinnati and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds was.

"We generally like the people of Pittsburgh here," the man said. "We can even appreciate the Pirates.

"But the one thing we don't like in this town are the Pittsburgh Steelers."

How fitting.

Moments before the Riverhounds and FC Cincinnati met on the pitch for the first time, a few of the Steelers' biggest rivals were on hand to help celebrate the creation of another sports-based rivalry between the two cities. Four Cincinnati Bengals -- Adam Jones, Giovani Bernard, Domata Peko and Kevin Huber -- were recognized as honorary captains during pregame introductions. Vontaze Burfict, Dre Kirkpatrick and Jeremy Hill had been expected to join the others, but didn't attend the ceremony.

"Everyone hates Pittsburgh here in Cincinnati and whatnot," Peko, the Bengals' veteran defensive tackle, said, "but the main reason we're here, man, is just to show the fans and the city that this is our city, Cincinnati, and that we want to support them and that we're excited to be a part of this. It's really cool."

Peko and his teammates were a good luck charm Saturday. FC Cincinnati, which only began play last month, won 1-0, improving to 5-2-2 in the USL standings. Pittsburgh is now 0-4-3.

The sudden darlings of the American soccer world, attention surrounding FC Cincinnati has started to build. The team drew a league-record 23,375 Saturday, besting the USL attendance mark it set earlier this season. Even the MLS is keeping tabs on FC Cincinnati.

On the football field, the Bengals and Steelers split their regular-season meetings last season, with the road team winning both games. The last time they met, though, was in a wild-card playoff game in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh won 18-16, largely due to a late fumble from Hill and penalties from Burfict and Jones. The fumble gave the Steelers, who trailed by one point with about 1:40 left, one last drive for a possible comeback. The two penalties in the game's closing seconds gifted Pittsburgh 30 yards to put the Steelers in range for a 35-yard field goal that ultimately won the game.

All three of 2015's Bengals-Steelers meetings were contentious, with numerous heavy fines levied after them.

They face each other again Sept. 18 in Pittsburgh.

CINCINNATI -- Up until almost two weeks ago, Andrew Billings had only a surface-level understanding of who Geno Atkins was.

That's beginning to change.

Tasked with getting to know Atkins better than anyone else in football, Billings, the Cincinnati Bengals' fourth-round pick at defensive tackle, has been watching copious amounts of film of his new Pro Bowl teammate. What has his study of Atkins revealed so far?

"I've seen pretty much everything I need to start doing," Billings said, cracking a smile.

As soon as Billings' name was announced during the fourth round of last month's NFL draft, the comparisons began. Shorter and stockier than most defensive tackles, Billings was built similarly to Atkins, the 6-foot-1, seven-year veteran who fell into the fourth round in 2010. The combination of Billings' own 6-1 height and his lack of pass-rush statistics (5.5 sacks for Baylor in 2015) appeared to contribute to his slide from a projected first-rounder into a mid-round steal.

"I heard how he's supposed to be a pretty top guy, and he fell into our lap," Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said.

Andrew BillingsJohn Minchillo/AP PhotoRookie defensive tackle Andrew Billings plans to learn a lot from new Bengals teammate Geno Atkins.

Dunlap and other Bengals vets, such as the often media-adverse Atkins, met Billings for the first time earlier this week.

Dunlap liked Billings the man, but he's reserving complete judgement about him as a player.

"You can tell more when he gets pads on him and he goes against the O-line," Dunlap said. "Right now, we're only going against the bags; we're not even going against each other. So it's too early to put anything out there."

Bags aside, in the limited time he's seen him, Dunlap applauded Billings' mobility. As a lineman who was known for chasing down ball carriers after they slipped into the secondary and who regularly displayed the lateral quickness to limit gains on screens or runs toward the sidelines, Billings' athleticism was one of his most laudable pre-draft traits.

"Yeah, he's not stiff," Dunlap said. "It just seems like he's solid. When he sets his feet, he's going to be hard to move. That's what it seems like."

Billings, who just turned 21 two months ago, knows he was primarily brought to Cincinnati to help the Bengals stuff opposing running games. But that doesn't mean he isn't going to try to hone his pass-rush and look for pointers from one of the best interior rushers in the NFL: Atkins.

Atkins had a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2012 before an ACL injury the next season limited his sack stats in 2013 and 2014. Fully recovered last season, Atkins had 11 sacks in 2015.

Maybe being a shorter interior lineman isn't as bad as it's supposedly said to be.

"[Our size] is a huge advantage," Billings said. "If I can get my hips low, my pads low, then it's a natural advantage. I can get leverage, I can snatch you easily, I can rip under you. Because I'm not going to swim anyways; I'm too short. So [my size] helps me with my rip."

CINCINNATI -- The night Tyler Boyd was drafted, the former Pitt receiver was jokingly asked by Cincinnati Bengals media on a conference call if there was anything he wasn't asked to do by his college coaches.

"He's carried the football, thrown the football -- he's done it all there," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said earlier in the evening.

While the quasi-rhetorical question to Boyd might have caused a chuckle or two last Friday night, he could become Cincinnati's latest do-everything wide receiver.

Mohamed Sanu was the Bengals' previous Swiss Army knife as a playmaker, catching passes, throwing them, lining up as a Wildcat quarterback and running zone-reads. While it might take some time, Boyd could play a similar role in a Bengals offense that looks to build upon the successes it had with Sanu and Marvin Jones before they left in free agency earlier this year.

"They can utilize me in a lot of different ways, create a lot of mismatches, create a whole bunch of problems the defense can't figure out," Boyd said. "I can definitely ease the stress off of A.J. [Green]. Just move me around anywhere -- slot, outside or running back -- anywhere just to create mismatches."

Receivers coach James Urban and offensive coordinator Ken Zampese are already planning to do that.

"There's Sanu-esque things in the versatility he provides," Urban said. "We think we got a good football player, and we're going to find ways to take advantage of his skill set."

Tyler BoydCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsTyler Boyd carried a huge load as a playmaker at Pitt, but knows he will have to learn new skills with the Bengals.

Even with the end-arounds and other handoffs aside. Pitt took full advantage of Boyd's skills as a receiver in 2014 and 2015. Last season, Boyd made 42.9 percent of the Panthers' receptions. According to ESPN Stats & Information, that was the nation's highest percentage. The year before that, he was only outpaced by Alabama's Amari Cooper, who starred with the Raiders as a rookie.

Bottom line: Boyd is used to having the football in his hands.

One of three Pitt receivers to be drafted in the first two rounds since 2004 (Larry Fitzgerald in 2004, Jon Baldwin in 2011), Boyd finished his college career atop the Panthers' all-time leaderboard in receptions (254) and receiving yards (3,361). And he did it in three years.

"The thing that stuck out to me was his football instincts -- his ability to separate sideways and laterally from defenders," Zampese said. "He's certainly not a finished product, but he's ours and we like him. We're going to drag him and push him and make him compete, and drive him to where we think he can be."

Although he can do just about anything with the ball in his hands, Boyd admits that off-ball blocking is area in which he could improve. At a shade under 200 pounds, he thinks his lack of bulk contributes to some of that. But bulk or no bulk, he would be wise to quickly broaden his repertoire.

"You've got to watch a lot of film to see what he does without the ball," Urban said. "He just wasn't asked to do a lot of those things that we're going to ask him to do. There will be a learning curve there. But we have full confidence that he'll do that."

Perfect his run-blocking and downfield blocking, a la Sanu, and Boyd really could be the Bengals' new Mr. Do-Everything receiver.

Russell Bodine, Andy DaltonJeff Haynes/AP Images for PaniniThe Bengals are convinced that center Russell Bodine will be a good player for a long time.

CINCINNATI -- If you see Cincinnati Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander around town, do him a favor, OK?

Don't ask him about Russell Bodine.

Alexander was trying to get his haircut recently at a popular downtown Cincinnati barber shop when he was jokingly harassed about starting Bodine at center. Now entering his third season, Bodine has been the Bengals' starting center since his rookie year. Although he hasn't really had them in games, snap issues have overshadowed Bodine's previous offseasons. He's also been criticized by Pro Football Focus for his problematic protection skills.

Like many in the Bengals fanbase, the men in the barber shop that day tried to convince Alexander it was time to draft a new center.

"I finally had to tell one to F-off. I mean geez," Alexander said, laughing. "I can't even get my haircut."

Expletives aside, maybe the barbers got their wish Saturday?

With the fifth-round selection of Arizona State offensive lineman Christian Westerman, the Bengals added to their locker room a player who has experience playing offensive tackle and guard in college. Westerman was also worked out at center during the pre-draft process, and the Bengals project him as an interior lineman.

"He's tougher than hell," Alexander said. "He's the toughest kid in the draft.

"When he's the toughest guy in the draft, I put a nice box around [his name], and in this division, you have to. It's not for the feeble."

So what does the selection of tough, non-feeble Westerman mean for Bodine? Could he one day take Bodine's job?

The short answer? No.

"Let me tell you about Bodine," Alexander said. "He's better than [Bengals guard Clint] Boling was after two years. He's similar to what [fellow Bengals guard Kevin] Zeitler was. Zeitler didn't start out all that great."

Pro Football Focus credited Bodine with a rather massive drop in pass-blocking efficiency between his first and second seasons. In 2014, he was 14th in pass-blocking efficiency, per PFF. In 2015, he was 25th. He allowed 30 pressures on 571 pass-blocking snaps, according to PFF, and he also registered nine penalties, which was the third-most among league centers.

Still, Alexander is standing by his man.

"This is a young player who's playing with a bunch of veterans who are very good offensive linemen, and he's the last one right now because he's the youngest," Alexander said of the 23-year-old. "But I don't care what anyone else says.

"I think Bodine's going to be a hell of a player."

Another year, another relatively unconventional NFL draft class for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Although practically everyone outside Paul Brown Stadium -- including me -- said the Bengals would be best served by doing everything in their power to get a receiver in Round 1, team decision-makers didn't listen. Instead, they were adamant about sticking close to their prearranged draft board. Sure, a run on the receiver position just before the Bengals' first-round pick didn't help my cause, but that didn't matter. The Bengals selected a first-round player who addressed a need and ought to fit in perfectly with the rest of the team.

If there was another theme to this draft, it was this: speed and strength. The Bengals got both in this draft.

Andrew Billings Andrew Dieb/Icon SportswireAndrew Billings will have a chip on his shoulder after falling all the way to the fourth round.

Best move: Without question, the Bengals' best draft move was selecting defensive tackle Andrew Billings in the fourth round. Chosen 122nd overall, Billings took one of the draft's biggest tumbles, as he fell well out of the first round. A little more than a week ago, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay selected Billings for the Bengals in the first round of a live televised mock draft. Once Billings fell out of the first round in real life, Cincinnati thought about taking him in the second round. It instead used the 55th overall pick on receiver Tyler Boyd, a selection also in the running for "best move." By staying patient and taking a chance on selecting the 6-foot Billings in Round 4, the Bengals picked up a physical, strong player -- in high school, he squatted 805 pounds and benched 605 -- who now has a massive chip on his shoulder.

Riskiest move: It's hard to really consider any of the Bengals' selections reaches, particularly when you look at each player's measurables, statistics and game film. That said, the riskiest move had to be selecting linebacker Nick Vigil in the third round. The Utah State product had been told he would be a Day 3 pick, likely in the middle of the fourth round and possibly as late as the middle of the fifth. Like most of the Bengals' picks, he was a versatile player in college. Vigil can play any of the linebacker positions, and he comes to Cincinnati boasting a 4.66 40 time.

Most surprising move: The first-round selection of corner William Jackson III came as a surprise, primarily because Jackson plays a position that wasn't as big of a draft need as receiver. It also came as a surprise because Jackson had been predicted for so long to go to the Steelers, who picked a spot later. The run on receivers that preceded the Bengals' pick led them to Jackson, but he's a solid pick who could contribute right away.

File it away: Look for Jackson to compete immediately for playing time at the outside cornerback spot occupied by Dre Kirkpatrick. Although Kirkpatrick has earned the right to enter 2016 as the primary starter there, Jackson could factor into a rotation at some point. Billings almost certainly should see playing time this season, even if only as an occasional two-down player.

Thumbs-up: Once again, the Cincinnati Bengals are going to receive widespread praise for the way they put together a draft class. That has been happening since 2011, when they landed A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in Rounds 1 and 2. This time around, the Bengals targeted speed and strength in an effort to bolster an already deep roster with younger talent. Jackson's selection might have been stunning, given the need for a first-round receiver, but Boyd's pick quickly took care of that. Both players have been lauded for their quickness, as has Vigil. Billings and his bench press made the Bengals stronger. Some of these picks might play this season, but their real value will be seen a few years from now.

With the 245th pick in the 2016 NFL draft Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up their efforts by adding some back-end depth to their defense.

My take: Clayton Fejedelem's name isn't the only thing that's unique about him. While the safety's college career ended at Illinois, it began at NAIA school St. Xavier. It's a rare rise from a little-known school to the NFL. In Fejedelem, the Bengals picked up a player who likely will spend any playing time he receives this fall on special teams. That said, he'll be given every chance to make the roster in the mold of Derron Smith, the 2015 sixth-round safety who came off the special-teams squads as a rookie to fill in on occasion on defense. Fejedelem doesn't come to the Bengals quite as highly decorated as Smith, though.

Tackle machine: Fejedelem was best-known at Illinois for his ability to get to ball carriers, compiling a team-best 140 tackles his senior season, the most for an Illini player since 2006. He also had seven games last season with 10 or more tackles. That tackling prowess is one reason why he would be a perfect special-teams fit.

Once the draft started entering it's final stretch, the Cincinnati Bengals began looking to bolster some of the depth they previously added at the receiver position. While Tyler Boyd should slide fairly quickly into the Bengals' No. 2 or No. 3 receiver role behind A.J. Green and/or Brandon LaFell, Mississippi product Cody Core could be used to help complement each of them.

My take: Laquon Treadwell was the big-name Mississippi receiver who was the talk of mock drafts all throughout the pre-draft process. Some of that attention took away from college teammate Core, one of four other Mississippi receivers who had more than 30 receptions last season. Each of those catches still helped him get drafted Saturday, as the Bengals selected him with their lone sixth-round pick. He's used to playing second, third and fourth fiddle in a passing offense that thrives upon the usage of a diversity of targets. Core will have to maintain that mentality in Cincinnati, where he likely will be playing behind the likes of Green, LaFell and Boyd, and more veteran wideouts Brandon Tate, Mario Alford, James Wright and Jake Kumerow. This isn't the splashiest selection, but it could pan out as the Bengals start offseason competition at receiver.

Special teams to start: Core could begin his time with the Bengals on special teams. Although he was a valued pass-catcher at Mississippi, he also was a defensive back and did play on punt and kickoff teams during his college career. He had eight tackles in both 2012 and 2013 when he played in all three phases of the game.

With their second Day-3 pick Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals turned to the interior of the offensive line, selecting Arizona State guard/center Christian Westerman.

My take: The Bengals have done a good job of using all five of their draft picks to this point on players from different positions. They've gone cornerback, receiver, linebacker, defensive line and now offensive line. These moves are all about bolstering depth, and particularly the back-end depth as it comes to the most recent three picks. That said, though, in typical Bengals fashion, don't be surprised if some of these rookies contribute in some capacity this season. Westerman probably isn't going to be one of them, but he could help jolt starting center Russell Bodine, a former fourth-rounder who has started since he was selected in 2014. A guard and tackle in college, Westerman projects to be an interior lineman. Even if he doesn't play center -- the Bengals have worked him out there before -- Westerman's arrival also could have an impact on guard Kevin Zeitler. The veteran is entering a contract year.

More Bengals versatility: After receiver Tyler Boyd's (second round) and linebacker Nick Vigil's respective versatility was celebrated Friday, the Bengals have reason to do the same with Westerman. His ability to play all over the offensive line is similar to the way the Bengals are hoping Vigil resumes his ability to play at several linebacker spots like he did at Utah State. Similarly, Boyd lined up in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield at Pitt. It will be interesting to track his development the next couple of years.

Dismiss the Cincinnati Bengals' draft efforts if you want to, but once again the franchise is quietly assembling a strong class. After getting caught in the worst possible part of a first-round run on the receiver position, they still snatched up a quality cornerback who can be disruptive in the passing game. In the second round, they got their receiver. By the third, they could have made the move for a much-needed defensive tackle, but they stood pat until after scooping up a linebacker many predicted would be a Day 3 selection.

That patience paid off Saturday afternoon when a player who was once mocked to the Bengals as a first-rounder -- yes, first-rounder -- was still on the board for their fourth-round pick. At that point, they wasted little time to snatch up Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings:

My take: Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin doesn't get anywhere near the credit he ought to nationally, but he has been successfully guiding the Bengals to unexpectedly strong draft hauls the past five years. For him and his staff to demonstrate the patience to wait on a player like Billings said something. It said that unlike some teams that might give in to popular opinion and go with the players who have been mocked to them in specific rounds, the Bengals consistently stay true to their draft board. Coach Marvin Lewis believes Billings likely slipped all the way into the fourth round because of his height. At 6-foot, Billings is shorter than most players at his position. In that way, he's similar to Geno Atkins, the Bengals' Pro Bowler who is only 6-foot-1. Atkins also fell into the fourth round in 2010. Along with Atkins and Billings, the Bengals also took defensive tackles Domata Peko (2006) and Marcus Hardison (2015) in the fourth round.

Pancake power: When Billings was in high school, he played offensive tackle in addition to the defensive line. As an offensive lineman, he had 266 pancake blocks his junior and senior seasons. Asked on a conference call just after his selection if he had ever been pancaked, the 311-pound Billings simply replied: "No." Billings' strength is what had the Bengals convinced they needed to draft him. He has previously squatted reps at 805 pounds, and benched at 605.


Comparatively speaking, the Cincinnati Bengals' Day 2 draft efforts ended without some of the punch and panache that was associated with the start of the day. Following Thursday night's first-round selection of cornerback William Jackson III -- a player some draft experts considered the best or second-best corner in the entire draft -- the Bengals scooped up a versatile playmaker in Round 2 when they picked Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd. Both players had the kind of name recognition that could appease fans.

But the third-round pick on Friday night, Utah State linebacker Nick Vigil, didn't. That doesn't necessarily mean he was a bad pick, though.

My take: Give the Bengals credit for carefully examining their draft board and then having the resolve to stick so closely to it that they selected a player at a time no one else likely would have. That takes some courage. Prior to his selection at No. 87 overall, Vigil had been expecting to be taken as early as the middle of the third round, and as late as the middle of the fifth. At the very least, he was banking on a Day-3 selection that was most likely to come in the fourth round. But no, the Bengals took him one round prior. In most instances, such an earlier-than-expected selection might be considered lunacy. But this time, maybe not. The Bengals are so secure in their roster that their only worry at this point is to lock down the back end. As a quick, multi-positional linebacker, Vigil should take care of that well.

Fast, instinctual ... running back?: The three on-field characteristics you need to know about Vigil are the ones here in bold. Timed by the Bengals with a 4.66-second 40-yard dash, he's a quick player who plays that way. Although coaches tried to shy away from comparing him to another NFL player, they do believe his game tape revealed flashes of Luke Kuechly-style instincts and pass coverage ability. Vigil appears to understand the game well, and that carries a lot of weight in the minds of Marvin Lewis, Paul Guenther and Jim Haslett, three Bengals coaches who have all coached the linebacker position at some point during their careers. Oh, by the way, Vigil also was a running back briefly at Utah State. Last season, he had 41 rushes with three touchdowns in mostly goal-line and short-yardage activity.

Bring back the rat-tail: Along with being a bit of a throwback on the field, Vigil has some of that style off it, as well. Up until the combine, he sported a rat-tail that he grew in college. When he was in high school, he always wanted the unique hairstyle that had its peak popularity in the early 1990s. Vigil cut the rat-tail just before the pre-draft period because he didn't want it to take away from any visits he had with coaches and general managers. But now that he's been drafted, maybe he'll bring it back?

What's next? Now that the first three rounds are in the books, the Bengals turn their focus to Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, when they attempt to continue bolstering the back end of their roster. Minutes after the draft ends, they hope to create even more depth by signing undrafted free agents. Last year, Cincinnati followed up its two third-round picks with a pair of Round-4 selections. Josh Shaw, Marcus Hardison, C.J. Uzomah, Derron Smith and Mario Alford were the Bengals' Day 3 draft adds.

Right after Thursday night's run on receivers that occurred just before the Cincinnati Bengals made their first-round selection, there were legitimate concerns about whether the team would be able to land a player at that position who could contribute fairly quickly. Those fears were put to rest late in the second round Friday, when the Bengals secured a prolific playmaker in Tyler Boyd. The former Pitt standout finished his college career as the school's record holder in receptions (254) and yards (3,361).

My take: The Bengals continue to quietly hit home runs in this draft. Are we really surprised, though? After all, this is the same team that caught the league off guard last year with back-to-back picks of offensive tackles in Rounds 1 and 2, then ended up giving both players legitimate playing time at the end of their rookie seasons. As quickly as Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher panned out, the Bengals are hoping Boyd will do the same now that he's in stripes. Yes, it would have been nice if the Bengals could have gotten a receiver in the first round, but this was perhaps the best alternative.

Sanu Part 2: One of Boyd's most valued traits is his versatility. If you'll recall, after Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left in free agency, "versatility" was the buzzword around the Bengals. That was specifically the case after Sanu's departure because he was Cincinnati's Swiss Army knife on offense the past four seasons. That's very much the role Boyd played at Pitt. There, he ran the ball off jet sweeps, lined up in the backfield at times, played in the slot, threw on a rare occasion, and made plays as an outside receiver. While the Bengals will want Boyd to catch passes as a traditional receiver, don't be surprised if he helps their offense showcase a few of the wrinkles that made it so unique in recent seasons.

Terrible Towel waver: Not only did Boyd play at Pitt, but he's from western Pennsylvania, meaning he grew up a Steelers fan. On a conference call with Bengals media, he admitted to having pictures in his home of him as a kid in a Hines Ward jersey. Naturally, that won't go over big in Cincinnati, but he promised to sacrifice himself for the team that drafted him. He knows he's a Bengal now, and he's proud of that. The Terrible Towel is being buried for now.

What's next? Immediately on the Bengals' horizon will be one final Friday night pick in Round 3. Once they make that pick, the Bengals will turn to Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, when they will focus on bolstering the back end of their roster. Minutes after the draft ends, they hope to create even more depth by signing undrafted free agents. Last year, Cincinnati followed up its two third-round picks with a pair of Round 4 selections. Josh Shaw, Marcus Hardison, C.J. Uzomah, Derron Smith and Mario Alford were their Day 3 draft