Hobson's Choice: drafting and dealing

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The drafting of James Wright reflected the balance of scouting and coaching in the draft process.

Mr. Hopson can you give us some insight on how the Bengals set their draft board? How do they find a James Wright in 2014 who was ranked I think 180th WR last year? Mike Pantano, Cincinnati, OH

MIKE: Once they get into the fifth round, most of the guys they thought were draftable are gone. But they've already discussed the other guys enough that they've also got them lined up compared to the others that are left. Each ranking comes from a discussion involving scouts and coaches and a consensus is usually reached.

So about 10 or 15 picks before the Wright pick, which was the 239th of the draft, they're talking about guys in the context of who's not only better, but their needs at that point. The Wright pick is a perfect example of how Bengals president Mike Brown views the draft process of scouts and coaches working together.

Robert Livingston, the Bengals southeast scout, was all over LSU's Wright early, particularly in his all-star game, in large part because he knew a lot about him even though Wright didn't have a catch in 2013. But he had seen him play receiver the year before and he knew he had the size (6-2) and the speed to run well enough that he was a special teams nightmare for opponents.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was headed to LSU's pro day to see running back Jeremy Hill, but he was also anxious to see Wright because of the personnel reports. When Jackson saw Wright run, he loved him, so it 239 was an easy pick because they thought they had upgraded in two ways, at special teams and at the No. 5 receiver. Because of last season's injuries, Wright was playing well enough to be the No. 3 receiver and while everyone gets caught up in A.J. Green's concussion that took him out of the Wild Card Game, Wright's torn PCL on Nov. 30 in Tampa was another devastating shot.

Hey Geoff how are you holding up with all this cold weather and no football? Longtime reader and Lifelong Bengals fan, I check the site daily. My question is front office and player personnel geared, with Marvin Lewis and the powers that be having over a decade to build a team that can compete in postseason play but failing to do so, do you see any change in strategy? We keep being sold that they choose to build through the draft and re-sign the in house players instead of taking a "50-50" chance on a top tier free agent. We all know how many times we have reached the playoffs and the "consistency" being sustained compared to the 90's but how are we supposed to expect different results with the same approach that hasn't garnered anything other than an early January exit. Thanks and WHO DEY Michael Parker, Hamersville, OH

MICHAEL: Thanks for asking. I'm doing well, except that New England wins the Super Bowl, so everyone gets its weather. We'll wake up at the combine in Indianapolis Wednesday morning in sub-zero temperatures.

I'm not sure we're being "sold," anything. Everyone knows what the recipe for the most successful run in franchise history has been. Draft well and when they perform well enough to help you win, sign them up and drop big contracts on only your own players. There's nothing to sell. It's worked.

But I hear you. If they don't change things, how can they possibly change things? I do think we're coming into a key year. The contracts for the head coach and the quarterback say that. But there are just as many reasons to stick with the formula as there are to blow it up.

They had so many key injuries last year that running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have yet to play with wide receivers Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert. Their two best defensive players, Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins and Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, either were struggling coming back from injury last year and weren't themselves, or they hardly played two and a half games because of injury.

The club also appears to be taking into account that they had a new offensive and defensive coordinator last season. So, on paper anyway, the thinking seems to be there'll be enough changes with better personnel and a more familiar way of doing things on both sides of the ball than there was in 2014. Those are more changes than we think.

If that's not enough to get them over the hump this year, I would think they have to take another look at it.  

 Thanks for taking my question. I know a lot of Bengals fans are hoping that Ndamukong Suh will don the orange and black next season, but even though from Marvin's comments it sounds like we're going to be more active in free agency, I still don't see us shelling out the money for Suh. What do you think the likelihood of us grabbing Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton are? I've watched him as a Bronco for years and have always fantasized about what a Knighton/Geno tandem would do. While he doesn't always rack up the glittery stats in pass rushing, he's a superb run defender, which is definitely something we need. Collin Cleveland, Canon City, CO

COLLIN: I'm with you and obviously you've seen him more than I have with your proximity to Mile High.  I'd love to see Pot Roast in the PBS oven. The reason this defense was inconsistent and had a league-low 20 sacks is because they were so up and down against the run.

But the market dictates what the Bengals are going to do in free agency. They've got too many needs and too many of their own guys to sign to dump a big deal on one or two guys. But if guys like Knighton are hanging around after the first wave, I think he's in play, just like any worthy defensive lineman out there, tackle or end.

Dear Geoff this has got to be the most difficult offseason since the Carson Palmer trade demand of 2011. With that being said, what can we Bengals fans realistically expect from free agency this year with so many contracts ending next year? Whitworth, Andre, Marvin Jones, A.J.,Sanu etc. Even with $33 million in cap space, and compensatory picks, this hardly seems like we can fix all the holes in one year. Christopher Higdon,  Covington, GA

CHRISTOPHER: Gee, I don't think it's that desperate, is it? They've got two stud running backs, two stud wide receivers, at least four first-round cornerbacks, and a quarterback that has won 40 games in four years. They didn't have any of that when they went to the combine in 2011 coming off that dastardly 4-12.

I hear you, though. This is a challenging offseason and my sense is they'll be more active in free agency than they have the last couple of years. That doesn't mean big deals because of the very reasons you say, but if they knock off a couple of needs before the draft (linebacker and tight end) I think they'll try and then get in the draft what they couldn't in free agency.

That said, three guys they've targeted are their own in middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, left guard Clint Boling, and kicker Mike Nugent. The guess here is tight end Jermaine Gresham is too pricey.

A lot depends on how free agency comes down. For instance, there aren't a lot of linebackers out there so the prices may be artificially elevated. But I still see them making a big play for Maualuga. He's just so meaningful in their run defense.

What is the reason the Brown family, won't spend good money on a good head coach? It seems like the only thing that is important is how much profit the family can turn, not how many titles or how happy the fans are. They need not forget who buys those tickets, and jerseys, and hats, which make them their stupid amounts of money every year.. Daniel Granger, Milton, VA

DANIEL: With all due respect, I've got a tough time with this narrative that is slightly older than the Dead Sea scrolls. And I don't mean to be disrespectful about it, but we get nowhere with it.

I mean, here's a team that has spent to the salary cap for the last three seasons while going to the postseason each year and in the last year and half has shelled out about $53 million in guaranteed money to extend core players Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap Vontaze Burfict, Domata Peko, and Andy Dalton. Go back to the end of the 2012 season and the number it is about 70 million, so I think it's hard to question ownership's financial commitment to keep this group together.

Maybe the question is, why don't they lure a big name coach like Shanahan, Holmgrem or Cowher? Their reasoning is probably the same as it is in free agency.  A lot of times it doesn't work and their philosophy is they would prefer to go with someone they know for stability's sake.

Now, there are arguments to refute that, starting with Pete Carroll. But I don't think calling them cheap is one of them.

How can you say the Bengals have drafted well when they have two 1st round cornerbacks playing special teams and getting little time with the first string defense? John Eblacker, Dowington, PA

JOHN: Easy. The reason Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard didn't play this year isn't because they are busts. The three guys ahead of them, Terence Newman, Leon Hall, and Adam Jones were terrific most of the year and when Newman started to wear down late in the season, Kirkpatrick stepped in, played well, and was AFC Defensive Player of the Week in the game that clinched the playoffs.

And by all accounts, Dennard is as advertised, a guy the coaches really like. Plus, Kirkpatrick played at a high level as a gunner and you can't shrug that off. It's a reason they had one of the top special teams in the league and he's played well enough to be in the mix for the starting job with Newman expected to move on. He struggled his first two seasons, but he's coming off his best year in his third season after he missed virtually all of his rookie year with injuries.

These guys are far from busts. Remember, they weren't a top ten pick like Cleveland's struggling Justin Gilbert, but they arrived after the middle of the first round. A year from now, I think you'll like those two picks.

A lot of QB's go to the sideline after a failed series or interception and sit with the OC and look over pictures of what just happened and work on a plan for the next series. All I ever see Andy do is stand on the sidelines with his hands holding on to his shoulder pads. Why doesn't Andy and the OC here do that? It looks like he just doesn't care.  Christopher Burger, Mason, OH

CHRISTOPHER: Well, we certainly had plenty of chances to see sideline reaction, didn't we, after 17 picks? I may be wrong, but what I usually saw was Jackson getting into Dalton's grill pretty good. Hue doesn't hold anything back (ask Chad Johnson) and I don't think this was any different.  He can't do it every second they're on the bench.

I've also seen those shots of Dalton that you're talking about, but I'm just saying Hue is no wallflower and he'll get it off his chest. Sure, I'd like to see Dalton show more emotion and passion, but just because he doesn't spew bile doesn't mean he doesn't have it. It's one of the reasons I Iove Adam Jones as a player, but he'll tell you there are times he has to dial it back so he can regain his focus.

I think most of the time looks can be deceiving and I think this is one of them. In my opinion, just because a guy doesn't go nuts doesn't mean he doesn't care.

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