- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

CINCINNATI (AP) - Cornerback William Jackson III spent his rookie season as a spectator, the second year in a row that a Bengals’ top draft pick did next to nothing. Cincinnati can’t afford for that to become a trend.

In the last few years, the Bengals (6-9-1) had the luxury of using high draft picks on players who would sit and learn. Things have changed this time around. At No. 9, they’re drafting the earliest since 2011, when they took A.J. Green with the fourth overall pick and then got Andy Dalton in the second round with the 35th pick. Both made immediate impacts.

The Bengals have several holes that need filled after they lost some of their mainstays in free agency. Their top two offensive linemen - left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Kevin Zeitler - signed with the Rams and the Browns, respectively. The Bengals chose not to sign defensive tackle Domata Peko, and they released linebacker Rey Maualuga.

It’s far different from the last two years, when the Bengals were coming off playoff appearances and kept the core of their team intact. They took tackle Cedric Ogbuehi at 21st overall in 2015 even though he was recovering from reconstructive knee surgery that severely limited him as a rookie.

Last year, they took Jackson with the 24th pick even though they were deep at cornerback. Jackson tore a pectoral muscle before the season and didn’t play.

“It was devastating,” Jackson said this week. “I’d never been hurt before. For me to get hurt in my rookie season when I’ve got a lot to prove, it was a very bad year for me.”

Jackson is fully healed and ready to compete for playing time behind Adam “Pacman” Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard, all former first-round picks.

Ogbuehi started at right tackle last season, struggled mightily, was reduced to a part-time role and then moved to left tackle for one game. He’ll start at left tackle this season as the Bengals try to recover from losing Whitworth and Zeitler.

Some things to watch in the Bengals’ draft this week:

RUSH THE PASSER: The Bengals had trouble getting pressure on passers, especially in the first half of last season. They finished with 33 sacks, their second-lowest total in the last eight seasons. By comparison, they had 54 sacks in 2010 and 51 in 2012. Aside from end Carlos Dunlap and tackle Geno Atkins, they lacked a consistent threat. They’ll try to fix that in an early round.

ANOTHER RUNNING BACK: The running game was erratic last season and lost Giovani Bernard to a torn ACL. Bernard is expected back this season, but running back/slot receiver Rex Burkhead went to New England in free agency, leaving a void for a multipurpose back. Expect the Bengals to take one at some point.

OFFENSIVE LINE SHUFFLE: The group of offensive linemen available in the draft isn’t considered very deep, which works against one of the Bengals’ biggest needs. It’s unlikely they’ll get someone who can make much of a difference this season.

BUSY DAY 3: The Bengals have compensatory picks in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seven rounds, giving them eight overall on the third day of the draft. That’s usually a time to look for players who can contribute on special teams while working into a backup role at a position.

AJ STAYS: The one wild card in the Bengals’ draft is backup quarterback AJ McCarron, who could compete for a starting job with other teams. Although Andy Dalton has been durable - McCarron got into only one game last season and didn’t throw a pass - they’ve given no indication they’re willing to deal McCarron for draft picks.

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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