High fives

Posted Apr 9, 2010

Carson Palmer

With the NFL Draft 13 days away on a Thursday night (night, what is this Red Sox-Yankees?), we give you the five best value picks of the 63 drafted in the Marvin Lewis era. Which actually began two days before the 2003 draft when the Bengals signed USC quarterback Carson Palmer as the No. 1 pick.

1. QB Carson Palmer, USC, first round, first overall, 2003:  Just exactly what you want your franchise quarterback to be. Talented. Unflappable. Classy. Clutch.

In 81 career NFL starts while overcoming major knee and elbow injuries, Palmer has a 42-39 record and in the five seasons he has started at least 13 games, the Bengals have won two division titles and went into the last day of another season in contention for a playoff berth. In the five seasons before Palmer took over in 2004, the Bengals had four Opening Day quarterbacks and were 24-56.

Enough said for value.

2. CB Johnathan Joseph, South Carolina, first round, 24th overall, 2006; CB Leon Hall, Michigan, first round, 18th overall, 2007: You can’t have one without the other after a 2009 season they emerged as one of the leading cornerback tandems in the league, if not the best.

Not only did they become the first Cincinnati corner duo to each have at least six interceptions, but they were key figures for the Bengals’ highest-rated defense since 1983 that held foes to 38.6 percent on third down. Hall has yet to miss a game despite being one of the most physical corners in the league (he led Cincy DBs in tackles his first two seasons and forced two fumbles last year), while Joseph has ballhawked for a career 74 passes defensed and 11 picks despite missing half the games in ’08 with injury.

When defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer says, “We’re only as good as those guys,” that’s value.

3. LT Andrew Whitworth, LSU, second round, 55th overall, 2006: Last year he emerged as a talented player at a premium position as well as becoming a locker room leader in his role as an offensive captain. He also replaced T.J. Houshmandzadeh as the club’s NFL Players Association representative.

Some felt he wasn’t quick enough to play NFL left tackle and projected him as an elite guard. But in 16 games last year at left tackle the coaches marked him down for allowing just 1.5 sacks against such pass rush fiends as NFL sack leader Elvis Dumervil (17), NFC leader Jared Allen (14.5), and Steelers Pro Bowler James Harrison (10).

The way the Bengals stayed true to their draft board on the Whitworth pick should always be a reminder for them. Even though they already had a left tackle in Levi Jones and knew they were going to try and extend his contract (which they did three months after the draft), they have said they still picked Whitworth because he was their highest rated player on the board. The Bengals talked about Miami returner Devin Hester, who went two picks later to the Bears, but they didn’t have a position for him.

UCLA running back Maurice Jones Drew went 60th to Jacksonville and Western Michigan tight end Tony Scheffler went 61st to Denver. But Whitworth played the most valuable position and that’s why he’s been so valuable to this team. Can you imagine the Bengals without him?

4. DT Domata Peko, Michigan State, fourth round, 123rd overall, 2006: He nearly led all NFL defensive tackles in 2008 in his breakout year.

And he had a good enough season in 2009 that he was named a second Pro Bowl alternate despite missing the last five regular-season games with a knee injury. Another solid locker-room guy that took his defensive captaincy seriously enough that he gamely came back to play in the playoffs when he was clearly not himself.

5. DL Jon Fanene, Utah, seventh round, 233rd overall, 2005: Nice get for the last pick of a draft class that turned out to be unbelievably star-crossed.

After being nagged by injuries early in his career, Fanene’s relentless athleticism has translated into a valuable backup lineman that can play both end against the run and tackle in the pass rush. Fanene flashed his versatility last season when he came off the bench to replace Antwan Odom at right end in the starting lineup in the seventh game after the NFL sack leader went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. Fanene helped the stretch run with a career-high six sacks as well as a 45-yard pick off a tip for a touchdown that ignited the win over Detroit.       

We also give you the five biggest What-Ifs of the Lewis era in a trail littered by injury and fate. The impact also has to be gauged by the fallout. What did it cost them not only on the field, but in the draft room?

1. RB Chris Perry, Michigan, first round, 26th overall, 2004: Yes, the Bengals passed over Oregon State’s Steven Jackson for a guy who ended up playing 35 games in five years.

But before he severely dislocated his ankle for the injury that pretty much destroyed his career, Perry had an extremely productive ’05 when he averaged 4.6 yards per carry and was the team’s third-leading receiver with 51 catches that had you wondering what if…? Would Rudi Johnson have been cut before ’08?

But the next time Perry was healthy was in ’08 and by then he had nothing left, fumbling his way out of the starting lineup to Cedric Benson.

As they always do when injuries haunt a high pick, they impact you a few years down the road because you have to draft the position again. Which is why the Bengals felt they had to use a second-rounder on Auburn running back Kenny Irons (instead of a center they also desperately needed) in 2007. That also blew up when Irons suffered a career-ending ACL injury on the fourth carry of his career.

2. MLB Odell Thurman, Georgia, second round, 48th overall, 2005: The warning signs were there.

But he also was almost the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year for the ’05 division champs with a sideline-to-sideline performance the Bengals hadn’t had since nose tackle Tim Krumrie. But Thurman couldn’t stay out of trouble and hasn’t played in the league since. It not only cost them this second-rounder, but with his services suddenly snatched in ’06 the Bengals felt they had to spend a third-round supplemental pick on Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Brooks is being productive in San Francisco, but his immaturity here hurt his play and his standing with the coaches.

3.  SLB David Pollack, Georgia, first round, 17th overall, 2005: He had the personality to be a Boomer Esiason type of leader for the defense for a decade and the talent to provide the consistent pass rush the Bengals have never seemed to have. It was all gone after just 16 games when he suffered a career-ending broken neck in the second game of the 2006 season.

It just never seemed to get off the ground. Bengals president Mike Brown broke his rule of never drafting a projection in the first round (Pollack played defensive end in college) and a monthlong holdout slowed the transition. He did come on strong in the playoff push of ’05 and finished with 4.5 sacks (he’s still the only Bengals rookie to have a postseason sack), but how is the impact of a first-rounder playing just 16 games measured?

The defense didn’t get that type of leadership until middle linebacker Dhani Jones arrived off the street in 2007, and how would a presence like Pollack have impacted the pass rush skills of say, a Robert Geathers, on the other side?

Or, what if the Bengals had decided Pollack was more of a fit at right end? They would have been able to move him back to his regular position and let Justin Smith go a year earlier and could have spent the $7 million plus franchise tag on somebody (or some bodies) else. A costly injury emotionally, physically, financially.

4. CB Dennis Weathersby, Oregon State, fourth round, 98th overall, 2003: The overall first pick of the second day that was immediately steeped in second guess with Asante Samuel also on the board and Weathersby recovering from a drive-by gunshot wound the week before that would prevent him from playing in all but four games.

But he had all the tools and no one questioned his first-round talent as a big (6-2) corner that could cover, and the Bengals had plans to make him the nickel to open the 2004 season. But a week before the ’04 draft he was in a near-fatal car accident that ended his career when he suffered serious head injuries.
Faced with a sudden lack of corners despite a Draft Day trade for Deltha O’Neal, the Bengals had to take one high and went for Florida’s Keiwan Ratliff in the second round at No. 49. Ratliff has been a productive NFL player for several teams and he’s back with the Bengals, but he started just eight games for them in his first stint.

Weathersby’s injury probably had the biggest impact on the draft board, where the Bengals may have taken LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson at 49 if Weathersby had been healthy. And if they had Henderson, they probably wouldn’t have taken West Virginia wide receiver Chris Henry the next year in the third round.

Stretch the field? Henderson has a career yards per catch of 19.7.

5. WR Tab Perry, UCLA, sixth round, 190th overall, 2005: Talk about value. He was big (6-3, 208) and proved he could play a bunch of different positions as a slot receiver, H-back, and special teams demon. When Bernard Scott was just a baby Perry turned the tide of a division race in 2005 with a kick return in Pittsburgh when he carried a Steeler for 25 yards to the Pittsburgh 3.

But Perry also suffered what turned out to be a career-altering injury on the same day Pollack was carried from the field. It was a dislocated hip after fielding a kick in the last minute of a 34-17 blowout win over Cleveland. He played in just two more games in ’07 and it makes you wonder what would have happened if he had more than 20 games.

He certainly could have given the offense some stability in a receiver corps that took heavy losses in depth with the departures of Kelley Washington and Kevin Walter, and later T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry, as well as when the Bengals lost fullback Jeremi Johnson for one season, and tight ends Reggie Kelly and Ben Utecht for the next. Remember, they were so thin at one point at receiver and in the return game that they ended up turning to Glenn Holt, a college free agent that made the team off the rookie camp tryout.

Perry may have not been The Answer for the fullback-tight end woes, but he certainly could have been a solution for a couple of problems that cropped up through the years.

And we also give you five picks on which the jury is still simmering:

1. WR Jerome Simpson, Coastal Carolina, second round, 46th overall, 2008:  He’s got just one catch in two seasons and if the Bengals draft another receiver high, that could be all she wrote and it will turn out to be one of the biggest whiffs in club history.

But to be fair to Simpson, he has only played in seven games and it’s just not right to pronounce the guy a bust with so few chances. Everyone talks about his work ethic and his awesome physical skills, so there seems to be little doubt if he doesn’t get a shot here he’ll get it someplace else.

2. RT Andre Smith, Alabama, first round, sixth overall, 2009: Another first-rounder hampered by holdout and physical problems that didn’t start playing consistently last year until the last seven games. After suffering a broken foot in his third practice, he ended up playing, at most, 30 percent of the snaps in games. He flashed on many of them, but surgery after the season to complete the healing process in his foot puts the scrutiny back on his health and weight. Yet if he plays as well as he’s supposed to on paper, this could get him into the top five.

3.  SLB Rey Maualuga, USC, second round, 38th overall, 2009: He could also be a top five value guy after falling out of the first round.

He responded with a solid rookie season (15 starts, 80 tackles) despite moving positions, and if he eventually provides what everybody expects out of him in the middle, you would have to find a spot for him on the value list behind Joseph-Hall and maybe ahead of Whitworth. He is looking to move beyond solid and make some game-changing plays out of his heavy hitting.

Maualuga’s DUI back in January has the natives comparing him to Thurman, but he has taken a vow of sobriety and is extremely upbeat after a monthlong stay in rehab.

4. TE Chase Coffman, Missouri, third round, 98th overall, 2009: He has yet to play in a game after being unable to overcome both a broken foot and what amounts to a change in position coming out of school.

The Bengals knew about both, but they felt they had time to develop him until injuries robbed them of Kelly and Utecht. Those injuries magnified Coffman’s shortcomings and now they are probably going to end up taking another tight end high in this draft. Is he going to be the tall Dallas Clarkian target across the middle Carson Palmer has never had? Or another Tab Perry?

5. RB Bernard Scott, Abilene Christian, sixth round, 209th overall, 2009: Already on track to be one of the club’s top value picks of all-time.

He’s already won a huge division game with his kick return for a TD in Pittsburgh and he’s already got a 100-yard rushing game. The Bengals have to develop him as a receiver out of the backfield and keep him healthy because he’s not big enough to pound it 20 times a game for a month. Getting more out of him earlier this year would be a big lift for an offense desperately looking for the big play and it would go a long way in soothing the wounds of Chris Perry and Irons.



Recent Articles

  • Hobson's Choice: something old, a lot new

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted May 19, 2018

  • Bengals Give Back: Bernard's School in Haiti

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted May 17, 2018

    Running back Giovani Bernard’s endless dance card of moves has provided the Bengals offense with plenty of electricity since he arrived five years ago. But there’s one place he’s electrified where they really have no idea who he is. Bernard figures the good people in the ancestral corner of his Haitian hometown of Tabarre know him only as “The Electricity Guy,” and "The Water Guy."

  • Ross listening to think tank

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted May 15, 2018

    Just stop thinking. That’s what the vets have been telling John Ross this spring. In anticipation of next Tuesday’s first voluntary on-field session against the defense both fellow wide receivers A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell are telling Ross to just stop thinking and start allowing his enormous talent to surface.

  • Price bench pressing playbook

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted May 14, 2018

    Rookie center Billy Price, the Bengals’ No. 1 pick, isn’t scheduled to make a snap until training camp but he’s already making an impact.

  • Bengals sign three try-out players

    By Geoff Hobson - Posted May 14, 2018

Recent Videos