Undefeated regular season. 12-1 record. First-ever non-Power 5 playoff participant. Multiple first-round picks?
Cincinnati enjoyed a magical 2021 season, easily the best in program history. However, the Bearcats aren't done just yet. In less than a week, they may see not one, but two of their best players get selected in the first round, with more soon to follow. Cincinnati, once a destination for players rejected by college football's 'elite' programs, has become a legitimate talent pipeline to the NFL.
Top Talent Taken Early
Amongst the confusion that is Round 1 of the NFL Draft, one thing feels certain: Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner will hear his name called on Thursday night. The playmaking cornerback went his entire three-year college career without surrendering a touchdown. Gardner capped off his time at Cincy in style, blanketing Alabama's Jameson Williams, another first-round talent. In today's passing league, every team could use secondary help, but the Giants, Falcons, and Seahawks all make sense within the top ten.
Things get more interesting with quarterback Desmond Ridder, the face of Cincinnati's program for the past four seasons. Ridder saved his best for last, tossing 30 touchdowns to just eight interceptions in a Heisman-caliber senior year. Mix in some scrambling ability and football smarts, and it's clear why some front offices are high on Ridder. Although he didn't go up against many dominant defenses in the American Conference, Ridder certainly wouldn't be the first mid-major signal caller to find success at the next level. Figuring out a range of scenarios is difficult, but any quarterback-needy teams with picks in the middle or back of the first round (Houston, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Detroit) could make the move.
Wide receiver Alec Pierce projects as a short-yardage safety blanket with a solid floor at the NFL level, rather than a big-play threat like in college. A big body at 6’3", Pierce shows advanced catching and blocking skills as well as a tough, team-first attitude that should endear him to fans and coaches alike. There's certainly room to improve, but no glaring weaknesses. Expect a contender at the end of the second round to bank on Pierce's potential to be a day one contributor on offense.
Myjai Sanders was one of the key pieces on a stout Bearcats defense in 2021, even with reduced production compared to the year prior. Lining up primarily at defensive end, Sanders makes great use of his speed and nearly 6'8" wingspan to surprise offensive tackles. What holds him back is inconsistency, especially in the run game. However, Sanders' talent something most front offices are willing to gamble on; look for him to get selected as early as late Day 2, most likely early in Day 3.
Jerome Ford was buried behind Alabama's depth chart before he transferred to Cincinnati, where he became the clear-cut number one option at running back.