My entire offseason thought process changed on one play in the San Diego game. It was a deep pass late in the third quarter. With 7:11 left to play in the third quarter, Palmer threw deep. It was incomplete maybe 5 yards beyond Andre Caldwell's reach, 65 yards or so down field. Until that throw my thought was we could trade Palmer and Chad and maybe pick up 2 3rd or 4th round picks. That throw made me rethink all my assumptions about Palmer's dead arm. It helped me understand Palmers poor QB play between the Chicago game where he had a 146.7 rating and the Chargers game when he had a 157.2 rating. Two games with nine passing TDs that bookend 23 games with 28 touchdowns to 24 Interceptions. The contrast is so stark it hurts the eyes. The Bears game was Chris Henry's last full game. The San Diego game was the first without TO. In those two games we had a deep passing attack. I had thought Palmer's arm was dead. He had completed some deep passes, but they always seemed short. TO and Chad had to pull up and that gave the coverage time to adjust. That throw made me realize our top two receivers were now slow. Carson's arm isn't dead, he has been trying to put touch on his deep passes because our receivers can't run under them, can't adjust to them as they need to. Palmer needed to put his passes at the exact right spot or TO wouldn't catch them. Simpson and Caldwell can run under Palmer's passes, as Henry did. That's what made Cincinnati's passing game so dangerous early last year. The Bengals passing game was broken along with Henry's arm. We didn't need aging stars like Coles and TO, we needed young guys who are hungry and can run and catch. It looks like the Bengals will bring back Chad, but I think that they will have a good set of receivers in Chad, Simpson, Caldwell and Shipley. Chad was still 26th in yards this year, despite TO's shadow. Simpson finished the year with 120 yards a game his last 2. Caldwell had 90 yards a game his last three. Shipley was second among rookies in catches. Gresham looks to be our TE for years, and Coffman finally showed something. Our running game was better with the addition of Pressley.
I say all of that to preface my evaluations of our needs. Since I now think that Palmer remains our QB, there are only 6 possible picks I see with the 4th pick. De'Quan Bowers, Patrick Peterson, Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley, Voin Miller, and AJ Green.
That said I rate our needs in this order: LG, Safety, LB (SLB or MLB), RG, RT, DE, WR, DT, RB, CB.
QB: As I said above, I think Palmer's arm was hidden by lack of receiver speed. Since starting QB is not an immediate need, I would like to see what Lefevour can do rather than bring in another. He was highly rated in the Draft, but fell partly because of his decision not to throw at the combine.
RB: I think Benson has some good years left in him. Scott and Leonard fill niches, and Peerman has looked adequate as Benson's back-up. I can't see a RB as a need for a 4th round or higher pick, and I don't think we get better than Peerman and Scott after that, but we should draft a PS player or sign a highly prized rookie free agent.
FB: I think Pressley is good and nothing more than a rookie free agent should be considered.
WR: If Chad stays we need a new project receiver that can be taken in later rounds. If Chad goes we need a polished possession receiver that can contribute to go with the project.
TE: We could use a blocking TE to replace Kelly and contribute on teams, but not until the late rounds. Gresham is a star in the making and Coffman looks ready to be his back-up. (Please stop using TEs as FBs, That is stupid. IF you want a FB, carry a FB.)
LT: Whitworth should go to the Pro-bowl and Collins has always looked solid in his place.
LG: This is the position that could be most improved in the draft. Undrafted guys are fine as back-ups but this position should be addressed in the second round, third at the latest.
C: I don't really have anything to say at center.
RG: If Otis Hudson is ready he should start, Williams has been a great player for us but his time is done. If Smith can play Guard and stay healthy this is no longer a need.
RT: Smith is our most talented lineman and needs to stay healthy; Collins finished the season well as a starter and could compete this year. We could use a better back-up than Roland.
DE: I know a lot of people dislike Geathers, but I like him on running downs. Dunlop could be a star on the other side, and MJ has great aptitude at knocking down passes. I could definitely stick with a DE line-up of Geathers, Dunlop, MJ and Fanene, but 4th round or later talent would be nice for depth.
DT: I know Fairley has looked great this season, but I think Atkins is the proverbial bird in the hand in comparison. Sims and Peko can hold the line to allow the LB to make tackles as cover 2 tackles should. McDonald showed enough to me to be our 4th DT, but more depth is always nice.
WLB: I am not a huge Rivers fan, but the combination of Rivers and Brandon Johnson may be the deepest position on the team. Johnson must be resigned.
MLB: Rey is not ready, Muckleroy may be the next Dhani Jones. He played well on teams and I would like to see him get some snaps.
SLB: If Rey is ready to move inside, then I think we need a new SLB.
CB: More depth is always nice, but J-Jo must be resigned. I am nervous about our injuries at CB this year, and you can never have too many.
Safety: I like our safeties except for injury. I think Crocker's ship has sailed. Patrick Peterson may project as a better Safety that CB, and we could use safety who can cover.
Three Draft Scenarios:
Most preferred: Take Robert Quinn or Von Miller in the First round in the mold of David Pollack. This is even better if we can trade back 2-3 spots to allow someone to take a QB. Then move Rey to MLB, Draft a LG in the second, a Safety in the third then for depth.
Second Choice: Draft Peterson as the defensive center piece as a safety and provide insurance if J-JO or Hall walks. Take a LG in the second and draft for depth the rest of the way with an eye towards LBs.
Third Choice: Take Fairley or Bowers whose pressure will make the entire defense better. Then Draft a LG in the second, a Safety in the third, then for depth with an eye toward LB.