MOBILE, Ala. — Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, looks at the Bengals picks in last year's draft and then at their first three picks this April and calls the 2013 draft a bonus.
"An expansion draft," he called it this week.
Mike Mayock, the NFL Network's draft doctor, calls the highly-acclaimed Bengals 2012 crop "The Redshirt Class."
Before the first practice of the Senior Bowl here Monday, one AFC personnel director said with so many young players coming off non-career threating injuries and long stints on the bench behind productive starters, the Bengals are potentially looking at two impact rookie classes this season.
With the North and South starting to mix it up among themselves in preparation for Saturday's Senior Bowl (4 p.m.-NFL Network), the league is starting to notice the Bengals with three picks in the first 54 selections in the April 25-26 first and second rounds on top of the four straight drafts that have drawn universally strong reviews.
For once, the Bengals appeared to have matched up extra picks in a draft that is deep and not shallow with just top 10 talent. And a lot of those second to mid-round possibilities are here this week, particularly in two positions that hit them in the sweet spot at running back and outside linebacker.
"They've got prime real estate," said Brian Simmons, a former Bengals first-round draft pick who is Jacksonville's northeast college scout. "This is a draft that's not top heavy with a lot of talent, but it's got a lot of good players that can make teams better."
Plus, the Bengals are expecting to get significant more playing time from five of their top seven picks from last season, anchored by first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback. Kirkpatrick, who played just five games and hardly at all from scrimmage, is expected to be ready for training camp after a procedure on his knee 10 days ago.
Defensive tackle Devon Still, the second-round pick, flashed in the first eight games but he wasn't active again after five-year veteran Pat Sims came off the physically unable to perform list (PUP). The Bengals also think their supplemental third-rounder, Brandon Thompson, can provide more NFL quality snaps than what he gave them in the pinch behind Sims, which limited him to three games.
The other third-rounder, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, caught four touchdowns in the three games he played the most of his nine appearances until a foot stress fracture ended his season. But he's expected to be running around at some point in the spring camps.
And Shaun Prater, the fifth-round cornerback from Iowa, impressed the coaches with his brains and cover ability in the brief time they saw him in the spring before a knee procedure put him on injured reserve seemingly moments into training camp. Along with 2010 third-round Brandon Ghee, who missed all but a week of training camp when he shattered his wrist, the two second-year corners figure to "young up" the position if all goes well.
"That tells you how good their depth is, that tells you how deep they are when you don't have guys like that playing and you still go the playoffs," Simmons said. "They should be happy with the way they're headed."
Rob Rang, the draft guru of CBSSports.com, believes the Bengals can go to town because while others teams are filling the most important positions, they focus on immediate needs.
"This is a draft where you don't want the top 10 pick. You want to have a number of picks in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s. The player at 35 is pretty much the same player at 10. To me, that's one of the reasons I kind of like Cincinnati's position.
"Obviously they're disappointed so many guys got hurt, but they're going to have a lot of good football players. They've got the quarterback; they've got the No. 1 receiver. They've got all these positions where other teams gamble early and Cincinnati already has them locked up. They've got what amounts to two rookie classes and talented players, too. Sanu, you just got a taste. It looks like he can be that No. 2 receiver. He's a strong kid with good hands and he's a savvy route runner."
Sanu has answered more questions than the 6-2, 195-pound Kirkpatrick, although everyone knows he's not lacking in talent. People just haven't seen him enough. As the radio analyst for the University of Alabama, Savage has.
"Does he have the height and skill to do it? Yes, he's got to do the other things," Savage said. "Can he run? I think he can run. I'm not going to say he's a blazer. He's a long strider in a way. Is he a pure man-to-man corner? Maybe not. Maybe he's more of a zone, read, react and use those long arms to knock the ball down."
What the Bengals do know is they'll get a shot at three solid players at Nos. 21, 37 (thank you Oakland) and 54. Maybe one could be an outside backer since the Bengals are in the market for a SAM and possibly a WILL as Thomas Howard rehabs from an ACL and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is looking at free agency.
"This is a good class for linebackers," Simmons said. "There are some true inside guys, some true outside guys, and there are some with scheme diversity."
Rang says the Bengals pass rush is going to enable them to get out of the high stakes game for a pass-rushing backer.
"They can look for a solid cover or run guy in later rounds," Rang said.
Potential outside backers are here in full. There is Stanford's Chase Thomas (No. 44 for the South), Southern Mississippi's Jamie Collins (No. 8 for the South) and Rutgers' Khaseem Greene (No. 20 for the North).
Another spot figures to go for a speed running back to team with the power of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Mayock says the Bengals don't have to leap for a speed back early, and maybe not even in the first three rounds. And that guy could very well be on the North, where there is 5-9, 186-pound Kenjon Barner of Oregon (No. 24), 5-10, 198-pound Jonathan Franklin of UCLA (No. 23) and 5-7, 190-pound Robbie Rouse of Fresno State (No. 28).
"They do need another playmaker on offense," Mayock said. "They really have to re-sign a couple of key guys, but they've done a hell of a job the last few years in the draft. It's one of the young teams in the league and it's pretty exciting right now. They kept the coaching staff intact. It's a pretty good, start."
The good news, Rang said, is "running back is the easiest position to find in the draft."
Mayock thinks "The Redshirt Rookies" could really pay off.
"That's good for them; they've been in the program for a year," Mayock said. "After a full year in the building with an offseason program, they can hit the ground running ready to go."