There has been enough team practice to get a general idea of who looks good and who doesn't. For some veterans, such as Chad Ochocinco, who have delivered time and time again, spring doesn't mean much. They may come in looking a little rusty but when push comes to shove, they'll give you everything they have, just like they always do.
Rookies are a different story. Being a good enough college football player to be drafted doesn't mean much. Just because you tear up the the college field doesn't mean you'll ever step foot on the professional field. Zac Jackson of FoxSports.com made a list of the top ten rookies in the AFC North that will make the biggest impact for their teams.
We scroll through numbers ten through seven and stop at six. Carlos Dunlap. It was widely believed that Dunlap would have been a much higher pick had he not gotten a DUI the week before the SEC Championship game. He may not be an every down player right now but there seems to be no doubt that Dunlap will add some speed around the edge to help the defense rack up some more sacks this season.
If he doesn't get the DUI the week of the SEC Championship Game, is Dunlap a top 15 pick instead of a back-half of the second-round guy? There's no sense debating that now, but the talent-first Bengals added a player who's NFL ready. He probably won't be a starter, but he fits nicely in a deep group of very athletic pass-rushers who will end up playing a variety of roles in Mike Zimmer's complicated and multiple schemes. The Bengals have a bunch of guys who already have a strike (or two) on their records but can really play when the whistle blows, and Dunlap is a massive, talented player who might fit right in.
Then we pass up number five and stop once again at number four. Jordan Shipley. Shipley seems to be a true slot receiver and will give Carson Palmer something that has been missing since T.J. Houshmandzadeh left for greener (rainier) pastures. Consistency. I see him as Cincinnati's own version of New England's Wes Welker. He's going to be a large piece of a hopefully rejuvenated Bengals passing game.
Smart, sure-handed and proven productive player at the college level finds a great fit in Cincinnati with a veteran QB and true threats all around. He has the advantage of having plenty of experience as a slot receiver -- many college #1 receivers play strictly on the perimeter -- and the Bengals showed this spring that if he's ready, he'll be very much in the plans. Also brings value as a backup return man and should be able to exploit inside matchups against backup defensive backs early in his professional career.
And then we scroll down past two and three and, what's this.... coming in at number one.... Jermaine Gresham. Gresham is the missing piece of the puzzle. He's big enough to run over safeties and cornerbacks and he's fast enough to elude linebackers. He's a mismatch nightmare for any team. Think of all the teams with a really good tight end. Indianapolis (Dallas Clark), San Diego (Antonio Gates), Dallas (Jason Witten) and Atlanta (Tony Gonzalez). Now think about how successful those teams have been... pretty successful. Gresham has the power to help the Bengals in so many ways.
He looks the part, has all the skills scouts scour the country looking for and had Chad Ochocinco stumbling over his words during minicamp attempting not to overlabel him as "the missing piece." Expectations are high for a reason. Gresham already has an NFL body -- yes, he has injury history, too -- and has been getting first-team reps since his first practice. He's not your average rookie, and this certainly isn't the average situation a rookie tight end steps into. If he stays healthy and develops a rapport with Carson Palmer, the sky is the limit.
It's been a while since the Bengals had a rookie class like this and by a while I mean it's been one year. One year helped the Bengals transform from a 4-11-1 team into a 10-6 team. That is six more wins, five less losses and one less tie. Is it possible for this rookie class to help the 2010 Bengals have a record of 16-1- -1? Is that even possible? I'd like to find out.