Breaking down Cincinnati's draft since 2003, I wanted to see how many players were left at each position and the strength of that position based on the foundation of the team's drafted players. There were some positions I didn't bother listing. Like quarterback, since there's no emphasis of improving the position after the team drafted Carson Palmer. I didn't list Tight Ends, because the last Tight End taken before Matt Sherry in 2008, was Matt Schobel in 2002. We're not going to grade positions based on arbitrary made-up numbers and letters; rather simply point out how many players are left, and perhaps some equation of how many are (and were) starters. I placed a strong emphasis on where the team is today based on these draft picks; not how they've performed during their Cincinnati career, other than possibly being starters. We can have that discussion if you'd like, but that's not the heart of this post.
I am, however, going to rank the positions we've drafted. This is nothing more than my opinion, and not some concocted Football Outsiders formula.
Dating back to 2004, the Bengals have drafted eight defensive backs -- six of whom have multiple starts, two of whom are first-round draft picks. During the 2006 and 2007 draft, Lewis drafted four guys at all four defensive back positions that started at one time in multiple games. Of the nine defensive backs since 2003, five remain, one signed a rich contract with the Vikings and another helped the Colts into the playoffs. There has been talent drafted by the Bengals at defensive back.
If you look at the list of offensive linemen, there is a lot of good. Eric Steinbach wasn't just a starter -- he played tackle and center. He was signed to one of the richest contracts in NFL history as a guard. Andrew Whitworth took over Steinbach's departed role as the team's starting guard, that can play tackle at a moment's notice. Anthony Collins was perhaps the biggest surprise when he was asked to block some of the league's best pass rushers at the tail-end of 2008. Stacy Andrews started several games, and left for more money in Philadelphia. While we're generally not happy about the way Ghiaciuc's career panned out, he has been the team's starting center since 2006 -- perhaps that's just lack of options? Of eight drafted offensive linemen, four remain and only one has significant starting experience -- however, Collins is on pace to be the team's starting tackle for this season and beyond.
The problem with the offensive line is the lack of players drafted that are starting today. Levi Jones was a 2002 draft pick and has possibly already played his final game in a Bengals uniform. Bobbie Williams was a free agent and Ghiaciuc and Andrews are likely gone. Heading into this season and next, the Bengals are lacking a core of drafted players because most of them have already left Cincinnati, or are, at best, backup talent.
I was conflicted with our defensive line. Since 2003, we've drafted ten defensive linemen -- six of whom remain with the team. Both of our projected starting defensive tackles are our draft picks, and the team's best pass rusher, Robert Geathers, was drafted in 2004. Toeaina was favored with some -- but having placed him on the practice squad for a significant period of time in 2007 opened the door for the Chicago Bears to sign him away. Pat Sims has a high ceiling and could be the team's starting defensive tackle for some time, while guys like Frostee Rucker, Jonathan Fanene and Jason Shirley remain fixed as backups. I don't believe we've drafted great with defensive linemen, but there we have picked up a few pieces that figure into the team's long-term vision.
I realize that ranking wide receivers could be the most premature of all positions. First of all, there was little reason to draft the best wide recever in any draft because the team had already invested in Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh -- even Peter Warrick was figuring into the team's long-term vision until a degrading knee condition suffered in 2003 ended his NFL career. Between 2003-2007, the teams drafted six wide receivers, primarily looking for depth and that viable #3 receiver. Even though he's embarrassed the team, and stunted his own growth, Chris Henry had both the talent and size to be the league's best #3 receiver. He's still with the team and reportedly working hard to have his talent and potential realized. During the last off-season (between 2007-2008), Chad Johnson cried and negotiations for T.J. Houshmandzadeh weren't going well. So the Bengals drafted three wide receivers, two of whom were thought to be replacements for both 30-plus year-old receivers. The 2008 draft was definitely considered a rebuilding draft for wideouts, therefore it's hard to really grade this. You can't based their projected careers on their rookie season's because of the talent that they had to leap-frog to get there. This season and next will be critical for them.
Linebackers have always been cursed during the Marvin Lewis era. David Pollack, Odell Thurman, Ahmad Brooks and A.J. Nicholson never really had their careers realized for one reason or another -- ranging from injury, off-the-field issues to simply not being good enough. Landon Johnson started many games, led the team in tackles then left. Of the nine linebackers drafted since 2003, six have started. What makes linebackers ugly, is that only drafted linebacker remains on the team today.
Drafting running backs has been terrible for this team. If you exclude Jeremi Johnson, the Bengals have drafted Kenny Irons and Chris Perry since 2003. That's it. Irons' NFL career is likely over and Chris Perry has suffered through several season-long injuries that's hampered his production and development. Our ranking of running backs is mostly degraded based on the fact that we've picked up so few, and of those we did pick up, have been disappointing at best. Perry's 2005 season was cause for hope that he'd become the team's "two" or a one-two punch with Rudi Johnson -- or another powerback. That vision never fulfilled itself and if Perry isn't cut by the regular season, he's likely playing his final season in a Bengals uniform.
That's my opinion guys, what's yours?