Last weekend we briefly examined the offense's makeup after free agency. With the acquisition of Laveranues Coles to off-set T.J. Houshmandzadeh's departure, and re-signing feature back Cedric Benson, we made the conclusion that the Bengals offense didn't improve, but it didn't get worse either.
Defensively, the Bengals didn't sign any players with another team in 2008. We re-signed Darryl Blackstock, Chris Crocker, and Orien Harris. Restricted free agents Rashad Jeanty and Brandon Johnson will likely be in the mix provided another team doesn't offer a deal that the Bengals won't match. They did release Dexter Jackson, who Crocker had substituted for while Jackson was placed on Injured Reserve last season.
Whether it's the defensive line, linebackers or the secondary, few free agents caught our attention. This is a combination of the team's effort to keep building the unit emphasizing youth, while an honest take of free agency, save for the hundred-million dollar defensive tackle, was limited in the scope of talent that would serve our defensive needs.
It was determined early that the Bengals would look at free agency for the offense, the draft for the defense. This doesn't mean one can't cross into the other. The offense is still expected to take the first day, with projected positions drafted at tackle and center, with perhaps a running back in the third or fourth. The Bengals could find themselves drafting the remaining slots on defense. Considering we could see at least two compensatory picks, one as early as the third round, there's a potential that the team could use six picks on defense, if not more.
But will they?
Let's examine the team's draft by positions assuming that they have at least nine draft picks (note: this is in no particular order).
First, we'll get the obvious ones out of the way. Offensive tackle and center. Seven left.
With Brandon Johnson, Rashad Jeanty, and Darryl Blackstock set to become unrestricted free agents after 2009, when it's all said and done, the Bengals could find their linebackers down to two -- Dhani Jones and Keith Rivers. Thankfully, they're effective starters. This also means that the Bengals might have to use this draft to select at least two linebackers -- perhaps one outside, one inside or both outside. With that, the Bengals would have four linebackers heading into 2010 and can focus on Jones' departure whose contract expires after that season. The benefit of picking up two linebackers this season, is that by next season, they could be effective contributors beyond 2009. This also solidifies our special teams this season, which is typically an overlooked aspect when considering the draft.
All right, two linebackers selected, five picks left.
With Cedric Benson, Chris Perry, Kenny Watson, DeDe Dorsey and James Johnson on roster for 2009, there's a feeling that the Bengals will use the draft to pick up a second running back to compliment Benson. This is based on the assumption that the Bengals will release Perry, use Watson like they have, and place Johnson on the team's practice squad. What does that mean for Dorsey? Well, ask yourself this, would you want him as your backup running back if Benson goes down for any significant amount of time? Benson is under a two-year deal, which is enough time for the Bengals to rebuild their running back depth. Dorsey and Perry are on the roster right now for depth security reasons.
One running back selected, four picks left.
Mike Zimmer has been quoted as saying:
"Everybody in the NFL is looking for cover safeties," Zimmer said. "You're playing three and four receivers, and tight ends that can run. So what's wrong with playing three corners and a safety? We're not really a Cover 2 team, but a Cover 2 corner might fit for us as a free safety."
One can only assume that this means that the Bengals will look for a cornerback, maybe as high as the third round, to compliment pass coverage schemes. After Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, the Bengals have David Jones, Geoffrey Pope and Simeon Castille. At safety, they have Crocker, Corey Lynch, Chinedum Ndukwe, Marvin White and Mike Doss. It does seem likely that the Bengals could bring in another cornerback to play a cover safety, especially on sure-pass downs. Even with no pass rush, the Bengals recorded the 15th best passing defense in the league, averaging 205.4 yards-passing per game.
One cornerback selected, three picks left.
No pass rush. None. The Bengals were the second-worse pass rushing defense in the league recording 17 sacks. In the past two seasons combined, they've been limited to 39. They recorded 35 sacks in 2006 alone, thanks to Robert Geathers' 10.5 sacks. After that season, the Bengals extended Geathers with a six-year deal, worth $33.75 million and $12.5 million guaranteed. Since then, Geathers has recorded six sacks over a stretch of 27 games played. During last year's off-season, Antwan Odom signed a five-year deal worth $29.5 million with $11.5 million guaranteed. Odom recorded three sacks during a season in which he played with a foot injury, and suffered a late season shoulder injury.
Since Geathers signing, the Bengals have nine sacks between him and Odom for two players that have signed for $63.25 million, with $24 million in guarantees. For this very reason, we don't believe the Bengals are willing to draft a defensive end with their sixth overall pick. However, could they draft a guy later in the draft?
Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene are other defensive ends, and Fanene alone has received a contract extension. So one has to assume that the Bengals would release others to make room, only if they find a player better-talented than the guys on roster.
One defensive end selected, two picks left.
With Pat Sims and Domata Peko as the expected starters, the team's defensive tackle roster is weak. Orien Harris and Jason Shirley are the remaining tackles. Harris performed well, but Shirley is a virtual unknown. There's speculation that the Bengals could draft B.J. Raji with their sixth pick, that would give them a decent three-man rotation. If the Bengals draft a defensive tackle, I believe it will be early in the draft. Otherwise, what's the point with guys like Harris and Shirley already on roster, and late-round defensive tackles likely being similar to the level of talent of both players.
One defensive tackle selected (if early in the draft), one pick left.
We're simply not convinced that the Bengals look at Jordan Palmer as the team's legitimate third-string quarterback. Having brothers at quarterback is a nice story, but if anything, I think the Bengals will draft a late-round quarterback to compete with Palmer, if not develop one into a backup quarterback once J.T. O'Sullivan leaves.
Rather than taking a defensive tackle, the Bengals could look at picking up a second offensive tackle, or a guard. Bobbie Williams will be entering the final year under contract and Andrew Whitworth could be pushed to an offensive tackle spot, forcing a necessity of drafting a guard.
There's the issue of a potential Chad Johnson trade that could force the Bengals into drafting a wide receiver. However, this doesn't seem that likely right now. Even if Johnson leaves, the Bengals will have two unproven wide receivers with Chris Henry and Laveranues Coles. Drafting another wide receiver would put that rookie into an impossible depth chart climb, and considering that the Bengals really did prepare for this scenario, it doesn't seem likely that they'll overreact to Johnson's departure drafting another unproven wide receiver that would need time to catch up to the NFL and Bob Bratkowski's playbook. We're not saying that they won't draft a receiver; only that it seems unlikely.
Projected Positions the Bengals could draft (with nine picks possible)
- Offensive Tackle
- Running back
- Linebackers (2)
- Defensive Tackle (or second offensive tackle)
- Defensive End