Previously, we projected what positions that the Bengals would target during this year's NFL Draft, including possibly two compensatory picks. More or less, it's a guessing game -- but we're confident enough that we're informed enough to make the projections. We're not ranking them in terms of where they'll draft the position -- rather, we're listing them based on the certainty that we feel that position will be drafted.
Offensive Tackle - Considering that the Bengals didn't sign any offensive tackles during free agency, and the uncertainty surrounding the position, along with the increased urgency (and recognition) that keeping Carson Palmer healthy contributes towards a significant chunk of the team's success, the Bengals have to work on solidifying the line. In the past calendar year, they've lost Willie Anderson and Stacy Andrews while Levi Jones will be reportedly released after the draft. The only offensive tackle that they've acquired during that time with projected starting talent is Anthony Collins. It might not be in the first round, but we're fairly certain that the Bengals will address the position in the draft.
Running Back - Even though the team sealed Cedric Benson for two seasons, there's not much depth on the team's roster in which the Bengals feel comfortable with. If Benson goes down, the Bengals are back to the talent they had sporting one of the league's worst rushing offenses in 2008 with Chris Perry, Kenny Watson and DeDe Dorsey -- all, but one, projected to make the team's roster in 2009. We feel that the Bengals will draft a running back to backup Benson, that can carry the workload if Benson goes down, and replace him after two seasons. This is simply a matter of planning and improving depth at a position that struggled so much in 2008.
Center - With guys like Shaun Rogers (350 lbs, three Pro Bowls), Casey Hampton (325 lbs, four Pro Bowls) and Haloti Ngata (345 lbs) , all of whom play a 3-4 variation, averaging a combined weight of 340 pounds, the Bengals need a strong center to neutralize the AFC North's nose tackles who have combined for seven Pro Bowls. Former center Eric Ghiaciuc's best attribute was his speed, not his strength -- even that was negligible at times. This time, the Bengals need strength. However, recent quotes by Marvin Lewis have pointed out that the team feels confident in Dan Santucci and Kyle Cook, so we dropped this one spot.
Outside Linebacker (Middle Linebacker) - Middle linebacker Dhani Jones will be 32 years old this time next year -- a season in which he'll enter the final year under contract. Brandon Johnson, Rashad Jeanty, Darryl Blackstock, Jim Maxwell and Abdul Hodge will be free agents next season, leaving Jones and Keith Rivers as the only linebackers signed beyond 2009. There's a good chance that the Bengals could take as many as two linebackers in the draft this year and maybe a third in the 2010 NFL Draft to refit the position. One target could be a linebacker/defensive end tweener that Lewis has tried to experiment with in Eric Henderson and Rashad Jeanty -- who really turned out to be a better rush stopper than pass defender (and rusher). Lewis is also given another opportunity to discover the coveted middle linebacker that he seeks to be the defensive leader, like Ray Lewis. Don't be fooled with linebackers, this position will quickly disappear by this time next year and could be addressed heavily in this draft.
Safety/Cornerback - A month ago I would have said that the Bengals are set with their secondary. However, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said that the Bengals would like a cornerback that plays safety, so passing downs have quality cover-men. Then the Bengals put their hat into the Roy Williams sweepstakes. Ironically enough, Williams is a much stronger rush defender than pass defender; so the polar opposites are well noted. Either way, the search is there and the Bengals are looking to address safety and could draft a cornerback to improve coverage during passing downs.
Defensive End - Even though I've pointed out that the Bengals are unlikely to draft a defensive end in the first round based on salary reasons, the Bengals will be in a situation like linebacker, but for different reasons. After 2009, the Bengals will have Robert Geathers, Antwan Odom, and Jonathan Fanene. Not a very intimidating group. Frostee Rucker is entering the final year of his contract, and Eric Henderson has respectively struggled to get playing time (mostly because of injury). In truth, they're possibly looking to rebuilding the position's depth, likely around Geathers and Odom (unless the team figures that they're just not working out). We don't think that much (if any) rebuild will happen this year, but the team could draft an end for the purpose of departing players like Rucker.
- Defensive Tackle - Normally I wouldn't suggest this position being so far down -- I still think the combined unit comes up a little short compared to the AFC North counterparts in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. However, they have improved and there is plenty of upside that we might not have seen yet. There's a lot of optimism with Pat Sims and Domata Peko shows signs -- when he's not double-teamed -- that he could be the team's defensive tackle leader. Speculation is that the Bengals could draft B.J. Raji in the first round to have a hell of a three-man defensive tackle rotation. All things considered, the Bengals could also feel that the position is set, with four tackles signed in 2009 and three into the 2011 season. If they do draft a defensive tackle, we feel it's on the first day -- otherwise, drafting a defensive tackle on Sunday would likely be replacing equal talents of Orien Harris and/or Jason Shirley -- and thus no point.
There are other positions that the Bengals could look at. For instance, the team could use their lowest draft selection for a third-string quarterback to compete with Jordan Palmer. They could also look into drafting a fullback; which, of course, depends on whether the Vikings match the Bengals offer for Naufahu Tahi. They could also look into drafting a guard that would eventually replace Bobbie Williams, who's entering the final year of his existing contract -- as well as prepare for an Andrew Whitworth transfer to tackle if that's the plan.
There's a lot of unknowns; with several being so integrated with more than one position that this projection could literally change radically -- such as their plan with Andrew Whitworth.
Remember, this list isn't a projection of where a position will be drafted, or the order in which they are selected. That would be way to narcissistic for us to try. However, this is an educated list, ranking probability (unscientifically) on whether or not the position will be drafted during the 2009 NFL Draft.