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Cincinnati Bengals' draft needs: Dee Ford has burst to boost D

Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.

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After making three consecutive one-and-done playoff appearances, the Cincinnati Bengals are facing a lot of pressure to mount a deeper run in 2014. The Bengals have thus far abstained from the free agency arms race taking place between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, which means that Cincinnati will have to hit a home run in the draft to compete in the AFC.

The team has a lot of depth across the board, but key losses along the offensive and defensive lines will have to be addressed in May. To repeat as AFC North champs -- and to keep Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger at bay -- look for Cincinnati to add playmakers to the secondary.

Here are four positions of need for the Bengals -- and four prospects who could fill them.

1) Defensive end

Michael Johnson, who started 15 games for Cincinnati last season, signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. The Bengals do have some young talent at the position, but I could see them taking another end in the early rounds. Missouri's Kony Ealy and Auburn's Dee Ford both stand out as players who could give new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's unit a reliable edge presence. Ealy has the versatility to play multiple positions along the line, while Ford's burst would make him a nice complement to All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

Path to the Draft
Airing weekdays at 7 p.m. ET on NFL Network, "Path to the Draft" previews the 2014 NFL Draft by providing in-depth expert analysis of the top prospects and each team's needs.

» 'Path to the Draft' videos
» NFL Network broadcast schedule

2) Cornerback

With Leon Hall returning from a torn Achilles suffered in October, former first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick still a question mark and Adam "Pacman" Jones turning 31 in September, Cincinnati certainly has need at cornerback. If Darqueze Dennard is available when the Bengals select at No. 24 overall, he would be tough to pass up. If the Michigan State product is off the board, though, the Bengals could opt for either Bradley Roby (Ohio State) or Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech). I'd lean toward Roby because of his explosiveness.

3) Safety

Cincinnati lacks a reliable playmaker in the back end of its defense. Starting free safety Reggie Nelson can make impact plays, but he's inconsistent. The chance that either Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama) or Calvin Pryor (Louisville) falls to the Bengals in Round 1 is slim, so Cincinnati might look to address this position in the second round. Washington State product Deone Bucannon (6-foot-1) has outstanding size, brings a physical presence against the run and has a history of producing in the Pac 12. And he could still be on the board when the Bengals pick at No. 55 overall.

4) Offensive line

Andrew Whitworth will likely slide back out to left tackle now that Anthony Collins has joined Johnson in Tampa Bay. But Whitworth's versatility affords the Bengals some flexibility along the O-line, so they could take an offensive tackle in the later rounds and maintain the option of playing Whitworth at guard. The big three -- Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan -- will likely be off the board at No. 24. Rather than go with guys like Morgan Moses (Virginia) or Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama) -- who have holes in their games -- the Bengals could look for Ja'Wuan James (Tennessee) in the second round.

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Projections

So what will the Bengals do with their first-round pick (No. 24 overall)? Here's what NFL Media's analysts see happening according to their mock draft projections (click here for full mock drafts):

Daniel Jeremiah: Dee Ford
Bucky Brooks: Dee Ford
Charles Davis: Kony Ealy
Matt Smith: Dee Ford
Chase Goodbread: Bradley Roby

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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