The conversations have been similar. Cincinnati will draft a Tight End. No, no. They're going to draft a safety. No, no. We've spent the last month justifying the points we've made when deciding which position that we think they should draft. But as Marvin Lewis has said, the team will draft the best available. What could that mean?
What if that best player is at a position that we don't expect the Bengals to draft? What if that best player is a running back within the first two rounds? Or a cornerback? What about a middle linebacker? Positions that are firmly held by players that could be considered foundation pieces surely wouldn't be addressed in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Right?
Let's examine possible draft day surprises by selecting three positions that the Bengals could draft in the first two rounds.
RUNNING BACK. There's no arguing Cedric Benson's contributions. Simply put: Benson was the team's best offensive weapon in 2009. Averaging 96.2 yards-per-game, Benson's 301 rush attempts ranked sixth; if he played all 16 games, Benson would have easily been the top workhorse in the NFL. Only five running backs recorded more plays of 10 yards rushing or more and of the running backs that averaged 20 carries-per-game, he's the only one that didn't record more than one lost fumble.
And which running back recorded a post-season high 169 yards rushing against the league's best rushing defense? That's right. Benson.
You know his accolades. You know how critical he was when this team transformed from a finesse passing offense to the team that was handing out softball sized bruises.
With all of that said, Benson is entering his final year under contract.
How the prospect would help this year: If the Bengals believe that Benson will be impossible to sign beyond 2010, Cincinnati could draft a running back high in the draft. On a roster that included eight combined games missed with all three running backs in 2009, a new back would provide added stability and depth.
A running back this year would give the team options if Benson leaves. Not only would a new running back this year help the squad in case of injury, he would have a year under his belt in the system.
...why not one of the backups on the roster already? Backup running back Bernard Scott recorded 206 yards rushing in a two-game stretch against the Oakland Raiders (119 yards) and Cleveland Browns (87 yards). So we know he can carry the ball when needed. However, there's questions as to whether he has the durability to be a workhorse and Brian Leonard is primarily a third-down back.
CORNERBACK. For the exact same reason as Benson, the Bengals will be faced with a dilemma at cornerback. If they sign Johnathan Joseph, who's entering the final year under contract, to a long-term deal, then they could very well lose Leon Hall. The question here is, will the Bengals want to sign two cornerbacks to big-time deals? This blogger says they should. This blogger says they better!
How the prospect would help this year: As a top-rated cornerback, the prospect would instantly be the team's nickel cornerback with a schedule against some of the league's top rated passing offenses in 2009.
...and Beyond. If the Bengals can't sign Johnathan Joseph beyond 2010, they'll need someone to step in immediately. Rather than having David Jones or Morgan Trent, the team could figure to be better off in the long run drafting a cornerback high in the 2010 NFL Draft if that cornerback is the best player available.
LINEBACKER. Yes, the Bengals signed their full compliment of linebacker from 2009. They're good too. But there's much room for improvement.
How the prospect would help this year: Cincinnati could always use linebackers, especially with a team that's banking on riding the defense's back again. Cincinnati hasn't been completely without their share of injuries at linebacker, with Maualuga and Keith Rivers suffering long-term injuries in their respective rookie seasons.
However, unless that linebacker is a known pass rusher, the most a rookie linebacker can help on defense this year will likely be on special teams.
...and Beyond. Dhani Jones, Brandon Johnson and Rashad Jeanty are all entering the final year under contract. The general thinking is that Rey Maualuga will move back to middle linebacker once Jones leaves and the Bengals will need to figure out what to do with strong-side linebacker.
While one could argue that the team's linebackers are solid, there's plenty of room for improvement and planning if half the team's linebackers leave for free agency after next year.
Again, we're not suggesting that the Bengals are going to draft any of these positions in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft.
If one had to choose three positions that the Bengals would draft that we're not expecting them to -- positions that makes sense -- what would yours be?