Conventional wisdom would say when you have the fourth overall pick, you can expect to pick the fourth best player in the draft. Right? But what if the Bengals still had their top three players on the board when they're on the clock? That would be crazy because nothing good like that ever happens to this team. Well recent events around the league may have made this dream scenario possible.
Since the national championship game, the common thought was defensive tackle, Nick Fairley (Auburn) would be the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Panthers have a need at defensive tackle and Fairley is one of the top rated players. Until Wednesday, this was pretty much still the consensus around the league. Yesterday, the Carolina Panthers decided to use the Franchise tag on center Ryan Kalil instead of stud defensive end Charles Johnson. Also, highly respected draft guru Gil Brandt said, "I would be shocked if Cam Newton wasn't the first pick." Where does this leave the Panthers with the first pick? I think it opens their options up to three players, Cam Newton (QB, Auburn), DaQuan Bowers (DE, Clemson) and the previous favorite, Nick Fairley. If Cam Newton is the pick, this could possibly push down a player for the Bengals.
The Denver Broncos re-signed future Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey to a four-year d eal worth $43 million. The thought was Denver possibly didn't value Bailey enough to pay him this type of money at his age. Draft analysts have been pegging LSU CB Patrick Peterson to the Broncos with the 2nd pick in the draft. This is still a possible match because Denver needs more help in the secondary, including at safety where Peterson can play also. But the biggest change in Denver's draft philosophy is the transition from a 3-4 base defense to a more traditional 4-3 defense that new head coach John Fox ran for the past 8 years while with the Carolina Panthers. So now Denver must focus on their defensive line. They could use help across the entire line. This is where we could see the aforementioned Bowers or Fairley taken if they haven't been already. Alabama's Marcell Dareus and North Carolina's Robert Quinn also figure to be in the mix. I'm inclined to say they go defensive end with DaQuan Bowers being atop many draft boards and Robert Quinn is ready to blow up the combine. (Not really. That would be bad.)
Where does this leave the Bills? Let's say Cam Newton makes it past the Panthers. He could go first overall, or at the very least to Buffalo with the 3rd pick. For the sake of this argument, we're going to say Newton goes first overall. Then Denver goes defensive end. With Buffalo picking 3rd, they're as big of a wild card as you can get. I wish they weren't picking right in front of the Bengals. The Bills seem to go best player available, and with the biggest upside. They've thrown character out with picks like Travis Henry, Willis McGahee, Marshawn Lynch, Aaron Maybin, J.P. Losman... the list really goes on. That's why I truly believe they would jump on Cam Newton if he were available. If he isn't, they go biggest defensive front-seven play maker available. (Say that five times fast.) Players who fit this are Bowers, Fairley, Quinn, Dareus, and Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. I don't think they go Patrick Peterson. They might be the front-runners to land free agent safety Bob Sanders, and that could be their way of solidifying the secondary so they can focus draft needs on the front seven.
So let me lay this scenario out for you. The Carolina Panthers get a shot in the arm and a new face of the franchise in quarterback Cam Newton. The Denver Broncos help make the transition back to a 4-3 base defense with defensive end DaQuan Bowers with the second pick. Bowers can play strong side, while former Pro Bowler Elvis Dumerville goes back to right defensive end. The Buffalo Bills with the 3rd pick get a guy that can fit their hybrid defense. Robert Quinn can play DE in a 4-3 or OLB in a 3-4. Either way, Quinn severely upgrades Buffalo's ability to rush the passer.
This is where the Bengals have a decision to make. It's possible that the top three players on their big board are available at the fourth pick. A.J. Green (WR, Georgia), Patrick Peterson, and Nick Fairley. All three are immediate impact players, with elite potential, and starters on the first day of training camp. So whom do you take?
AJ Green- A Calvin Johnson-Larry Fitzgerald type of wide out that starts right away and forces defenses to double him from the get-go. Add Green to a lineup with second-year studs Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley. There will be a new QB at some point for the Bengals. If you're trying to attract a free agent or you need to put talent around a young draft pick. What QB could fail with that group of raw and upcoming talent?
Patrick Peterson- The Broncos may have also hurt the chances of the Bengals re-signing free agent to be Jonathan Joseph. I don't think the deal that Champ Bailey got was crazy, and I would be willing to give the same deal to Joseph, but Bengals management probably won't go there. So there's a need for a starting corner back and starting safety on the Bengals. Peterson can fill both while adding punt return abilities that can change the game. Mike Zimmer's defense was at its best when it had two good and healthy corners. If we want to get back to that, Peterson needs to be heavily considered.
Nick Fairley- Would it be a stretch to call him a fan favorite around here? Some teams classify his rough playing style as dirty, but I think the majority of Bengals fans just call it nasty, and I mean that in a good way. He's big man that can also create pressure up the middle while also bringing attitude to a defense? Sounds good to me. Defensive tackle might not be a big need, but Nick Fairley would make some veterans expendable. Is it possible Tank Johnson or even Domata Peko could be out if Nick Fairley were drafted? Maybe, but Fairley, Pat Sims and Geno Atkins sound like a good, young rotation that can give opposing offensive lines fits for years.