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This draft may be exactly what the Bengals need

Posted Apr 4, 2012

Joe has been contributing to Cincyjungle.com as their lead draft analyst for the past two years and covering the NFL draft for three years total. He watches, evaluates and grades prospects and tries to project not only their draft position but their potential NFL careers. As a lifelong Bengals fan, the experience has come in handy on many occasions.

I usually end my day the same way every day; laying in bed and thinking about different draft scenarios until I fall asleep.

This time of year my mind has been overrun by draft thoughts; prospects, value, needs, teams, trades, fits, schemes, injuries, character concerns, pro days, 40-yard dashes and mock drafts. There’s really no right answer or opinion. Ask five different draftniks about a certain prospect and you’re guaranteed get five different opinions. That’s really the beauty of draft preparations and why I decided to start studying players and eventually creating my own draft board.

Of course my board ends up with a heavy Bengals influence. As I look through my board, I’ve come to this conclusion; Not only is this draft foolproof for the Bengals, they could actually propel this franchise into Super Bowl talk for years to come. There’s absolutely no way this draft can or will be a failure.

Last year’s Bengals were young and couldn’t disappoint us if they tried. What transpired was one of the most exciting seasons to watch. They employed a heavy pass rushing rotation on defense and played ball control offense. It kept them in enough close games to see the true colors of their youngest players like Andy Dalton, who rose to the occasion several times last year to win games that were projected to be unwinnable before the season.

The future of this team rests in the hands of a QB and its defense. The same blueprint is already laid out by the last few Super Bowl winning teams. The Giants, Packers, Saints and Steelers all have QB-centric offenses and pass defending defenses. The NFL and even the AFC North isn’t as smashmouth as it used to be. Now you must provide your signal-caller with weapons on offense and load up on pass rushers on defense to disrupt the other team’s aerial attack.

The Bengals seem to be following that plan. They’ve invested high picks in A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham on offense and both will help Dalton reach his potential. On defense, they’ve kept the defensive line rotation intact by adding former first-round picks in Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey. They’re not a complete team yet, but the window of opportunity is now open.

The average age of first-time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks is 28 years old since 1998. Of those eight QBs, five were within their fourth year in the NFL. Dalton will be 25 years old in October during his second NFL season. The window is officially open. It’s now time to strike while the Steelers reload and the Ravens continue to age on defense. This draft could be even more important than last year’s because now the foundation is set; it’s time to build the house.
 
I’m not usually in favor of drafting players based on a team’s need. That rarely works out for the team and the prospect. This year is different. While looking over my draft board and talking with over draftniks, it’s apparent that this draft is loaded in positions the Bengals are most likely looking to draft. They don’t have many needs but we can all agree that cornerback, wide receiver, running back and offensive guard can all use a talent/youth injection.

Unlike last season, receiver may be the only opening spot where a rookie can come in and start right way. It’s not like the offense will be reliant on a rookie opposite Green. Dalton will have Gresham and hopefully a healthy Jordan Shipley ahead of the rookie for targets. Really the idea is to find a speedy receiver that can open things up underneath for the tight ends, running backs and the slot receiver.

Baylor’s Kendall Wright (number 12 on my board) would be the ideal fit. He’s very fast and great after the catch. Wright would create nightmares for opposing safeties because he can really stretch the field and put pressure on defenses as they’re forced to cover both he and Green deep. They could even go with a project player who needs development like Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill (31).

Jay Gruden and the offense have the luxury to take on a project at WR and still start him because the offense won’t depend on the rookie. Hill, for example, is very limited in his route-running and needs learn the finer points of playing the position. He comes from a run-heavy offense in college that only asked him to run a few routes each game. In Cincinnati, Hill would be in a similar role. He’d stretch the field vertically while also running screens and shorter routes designed to get the ball into his hands early where he can be a force after the catch.

The Bengals really can go in any direction with receiver in this draft because Green is such a dynamic talent. He can line up anywhere and run any route. That allows them to work their offense off of Green and keep their options open in the draft. With that flexibility, here’s a look at my draft board WR rankings (Bengals pick 17, 21 and 53 in first two rounds).
 
Wide Receiver Rankings
12. Kendall Wright, Baylor
13. Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
31. Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech
39. Rueben Randle, LSU
48. Marvin Jones, California
54. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
62. Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers
70. Brian Quick, Appalachian State

The other premium position of need is cornerback. While Mike Zimmer has to feel comfortable with his stable of veterans (Leon Hall, Nate Clements, Jason Allen and Adam Jones), Leon Hall deserves time to fully recover from an Achilles injury and only Jason Allen is signed beyond 2012. Adding a young corner who can slowly earn his playing time may be the ideal situation. The two prospects that could be available in the first round are South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore (9) and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick (16). Both players are very physical and will help in run support. That has to catch Zimmer’s eye.

I like Gilmore more for the Bengals because he has the physical tools to become a true No. 1 CB, but he needs time, which the Bengals can afford to provide. Kirkpatrick may never develop the ball skills to be a shutdown type, but he’s very long and great in zone coverage. But with only two real options in the first round, the Bengals may have a better shot at landing their guy in the second or third rounds. I have 14 corners among my top 100 players. By far the most of any of the Bengals primary needs. Instead of banking on Gilmore or Kirkpatrick, the better option may be in round two where I have six cornerbacks ranked in the 40-60 range (Bengals pick 53).
 
Cornerback Rankings
40. Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama
41. Brandon Boykin, Georgia
49. Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma
55. Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech
57. Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt
60. Trumaine Johnson, Montana
66. Josh Robinson, Central Florida
69. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
75. Dwight “Bill” Bentley, La-Lafayette
86. Leonard Johnson, Iowa State
91. Josh Norman, Coastal Carolina

My next deepest position of need is guard. Newly signed LG Travelle Wharton is figured to start but who wins the RG spot? Clint Boling, who I think can be an NFL starter and Otis Hudson figure to be the favorites if a high pick isn’t spent on a guard. When I watched Boling last year, I thought he needed to add strength and gain general experience to speed up his game. Pretty much what most scouting reports confirmed. If he takes advantage of a full offseason, Boling could be the guy but I’m betting offensive line Coach Paul Alexander likes the bigger Otis Hudson. Especially when you consider the time the Bengals have invested in developing him.

So how should the Bengals approach the draft at the guard position? To me, Stanford’s David DeCastro (6) is the best guard prospect I have ever studied. He has elite pulling ability and would really add athleticism across the offensive line. If he’s available at pick 17, he has to be not only best-player-available (BPA) but he would fill a need. In all, I have 12 interior offensive linemen in my top 100 prospects. There are some serious potential starters in the 3-4 round range due to the value of the position.
 
Guard Rankings
6. David DeCastro, Stanford
11. Riley Reiff, Iowa
26. Peter Konz, Wisconsin
27. Cordy Glenn, Georgia
33. Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
36. Amini Silatolu, Midwestern State
51. Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
64. Mitchell Schwartz, California
78. Philip Blake, Baylor
79. Brandon Brooks, Ohio
89. Brandon Washington, Miami
100. Jeff Allen, Illinois

Running back is a different situation because of the value of the position. I may have a first-round grade on a runner but he’ll get drafted somewhere in round two. After signing Benjarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals don’t have to reach for their guy. Who would they like to mix in with BJGE, B-Scott and third-down specialist Brian Leonard? I don’t think their lead back is on the roster. I like “The Law Firm”, but he’s been at his best in a short-yardage role. If the amount of coaches they sent to Boise State is any sign, Doug Martin (19) is high on their board also.

Marvin Lewis has spoken about wanting to become more explosive from the RB position and Miami’s Lamar Miller (24), Virginia Tech’s David Wilson (47) and Cincinnati’s Isaiah Pead (75) could provide that spark. Each one has different values. Do you want Miller at 21, Wilson at 53 or Pead at pick 83? Do you see what I mean about the value? If you can have Pead, Temple’s Bernard Pierce (73), Oregon’s LaMichael James (82) or Utah State’s Robert Turbin (98) in that third-fourth round range, why spend a top pick on a RB? Among Turbin, Pierce, Wilson and Miller, Washington’s Chris Polk (46) and Doug Martin are the few that can step in and have big roles in a committee backfield. Pead and James are probably relegated to change of pace duties early in their careers.      

As you can see this draft is deep in all the right places. There should be value across the board every time the Bengals pick. The only premium position they need is at CB but they’re not forced to take one high because of veteran depth. They’ll have the opportunity to draft BPA most of the time with the luxury of actually having that BPA be at a need position. With half of their major needs being low-value positions, they’ll have the chance to take a luxury pick that could pay off in the long run (ex: Andrew Whitworth).

Mike Brown and Lewis can sit back and let the draft fall to them, collect talent and hopefully head into the 2012 season with most of their needs filled not only for this year but for the next four seasons. It’s when their window for winning a championship will be its widest since 2004-2009. Only this time, the draft is setting up to set the Bengals up for a long time.  

Goodberry's Mock Example
» 1.17 – Luke Kuechly, LB – Boston College
» 1.21 – Dre Kirkpatrick, CB – Alabama
» 2.21 – Marvin Jones, WR – California
» 3.21 – Isaiah Pead, RB – Cincinnati
» 4.21 – Brandon Washington, OG – Miami
» 5.21 – Trevor Guyton, DL – California
» 5.31 – Evan Rodriguez, TE/FB – Temple
» 6.21 – Justin Bethel, CB/S – Presbyterian 

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