If Charley Casserly is even remotely correct in his assessment that this year's draft is the best since 1983, then a quality team with limited immediate needs like the Cincinnati Bengals may want to trade down and gain even more picks from such a stockpile of treasure.
Take a look at the 1983 draft. The list includes six Hall-of-Famers and 40 Pro Bowlers, such as: John Elway, Dan Marino, Eric Dickerson, Tim Krumrie (10th Round), and punter Reggie Roby (Reggie's name is historically glossed over in that draft, but he was a three-time Pro-Bowler and one of my very first football cards so he makes this list. It's also worth mentioning that he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds as a pitcher when he came out of high school).
The idea that any draft can live up to that kind of stardom is an unfair expectation, but that isn't to say that this year’s is not a doozie. What makes it so formidable, experts say, is its depth at so many positions. Watching the NFL Combine on television, I heard the phrase "can find a good one in the middle rounds" countless times. Many positions are loaded to the gills with starter-caliber talent. That means teams choosing later in the first round don't need to feel pressured to move up to cover that one worrisome position. In fact, with talent pouring out from every orifice, the third-best player at a certain position may only be marginally ahead of the top-rated player, which really takes the pressure off of the front office to make that crucial pick.
The most urgent area of improvement for the Bengals is their passing game—no secret there. It is widely believed that if the twenty-first pick rolls around and Dez Bryant remains on the board, Cincinnati will choose him and make him the newest member of a revamped wide-receiving corps. The pick makes sense—Bryant could very well turn out to become an electrifying play-maker with his impressive size and speed—but what about the other receivers rated closely behind him? If all the really coveted prospects are gone by the time the Bengals pick, including Bryant, I like the idea of trading if possible to move back and get another middle-round pick.
Signing Antonio Bryant sheds some of the need to draft a receiver with the first pick. Tight end Jermaine Gresham could both help the passing game and also become a starter right away, but with Reggie Kelly apparently on the mend, the insistence of Bob Bratkowski to ignore the tight end in the first place, and Marvin Lewis' concerns of the heath of this year's tight-end crop, it all leads me to believe that the team is not that worried about radically improving the position.
Any rookie receiver the Bengals might draft would become the third-receiver at best when they begin their career. Identifying starting receivers in the NFL can be tricky as teams often use multiple wide-receiver sets, but Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, or anyone else would likely not be too involved in the majority of snaps. Seems to me that if they aren't going to compete for a starting job, they aren't worth a first-round pick in such a rich draft. An early second-round receiver could provide a similar short-term impact to the offense and passing game, and that is what this draft should be about: winning now.
Cincinnati already has nine picks thanks to the third and fourth-round compensatory picks for losing Stacy Andrews and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free-agency last offseason. Since the defense is exactly the same as last year's top-five unit, and the successful running game only lost Larry Johnson, the Bengals can inject huge doses of top-notch depth to a bruising, physical team and focus on the limited roster concerns that currently exist. I say that if the first-round wish-list is depleted once the Bengals are on the clock, Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis, or whoever else is in charge at the time, should get on the phone and make a deal that gets them another pick or two later on.
With the unknown future of the league, coupled with Mike Brown's curious football operation decisions, the best plan of action for the Bengals is to stock the shelves behind the starters with some worthwhile product. That way, once other teams start buying Cincinnati's players once they become high-priced free-agents, a nice replacement awaits to undergo the same process. The Bengals might not ever go 14-2 that way, but at least they can consistently be somewhere near nine wins a season and be considered a perennial winning team. After 2010, I'm afraid we may slip back into the darkness of losing if Cincinnati cannot compete financially. Playing it smart, trading down for more picks and adding more depth in this bumper-crop draft could help the Bengals make a run next year while simultaneously buying them a couple more seasons of fielding a competitive team in the future.
Mojokong—April is the cruelest month.