From day one, Jerome Simpson's career has been something of a disappointment. With everybody knowing that the Bengals needed a WR and with DeSean Jackson still on the board -- the electric wide receiver out of California who had just burned up the combine, running a 4.35 in the forty yard dash -- they chose instead to go with the small college guy from a school called Costal Carolina.
Revisionist historians and I-told-you-so'ers like to look back on this pick and declare it as one of the biggest second round blunders that the Bengals have made in the draft. During the same span that Jackson went on to be a pro bowl player, averaging 22.5 yards per catch last year while going for over a thousand yards in each of the past two seasons with the Eagles, Jerome Simpson's career was marked by one catch for two yards over the first 45 games (cue the wa-wa-wa music, slap your forehead and mutter 'typical Bengals' under your breath).
Though the pick seemed a little out of the box at the time, I don't think that anybody predicted the train wreck that has been Simpson's career (until the final three games of the 2010 season where he recorded 20 receptions and 277 yards and three TDs). But my question, and the question that I think we all should be asking is, "Should Simpson really be shouldering all the blame for his slow start?"
I want to suggest that the answer to that question is no. Here's why:
WRs often need a couple of years to develop: Most of us could probably name about a handful of examples of guys that didn't need three years to become good NFL wide receivers, but the fact is that not all WRs can come into the NFL and make an impact the way DeSean Jackson did his rookie year. It took Sidney Rice three years before he ever went for more than 400 yards receiving, but in his third year he hauled in 1300 yards and 8 TDs. Before his third season, Roddy White had never caught more than 30 balls, but in year three he exploded for 80 catches and 1200 yards. The fact is, it's not uncommon for receivers to take that that long to develop, and as a small school WR, Simpson needed time to develop.
Free agent wide receivers kept him off the field: If the last three games of 2010 prove anything, it's that Simpson was a lot more ready than most people thought. It was clear from the outset of his career that Simpson was going to need some fine tuning, so in 2009, the Bengals decided to pick up veteran wide receiver Laveranues Coles who played the entire season as the number two receiver behind Chad. Next, of course was Antonio Bryant, which was nothing less than a debacle. And finally the Bengals decided to throw in their chips and pick up Batman, aka Terrell Owens. During that time span, the Bengals picked up three proven and accomplished veterans, and to top it off, he was playing behind Chad. So to recap, in 2009 and 2010, Simpson was stuck behind three former pro-bowl wide receivers.
Marvin Lewis is old school: To be honest, I like the way that Lewis approaches rookies. He demands that they first learn how to be a pro before they step foot on an NFL field. They need to learn how to prepare, how to practice, and how to study -- and in the long run that's a good thing. But last year it became apparent that certain guys should have been on the field based on talent alone. It took injuries on the defensive line for Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap to see some snaps, and it took injuries to TO and Chad before Simpson saw the field. And the proof that these players should have been starting is, as they say, in the pudding. In the two games that Simpson started, he was able to do something that Chad hadn't done all year: put up back-to-back 100 yard receiving games.
Simpson's career has been on hold for three seasons now. We can't tell you that we know for a fact that he has the ability to be a number one wide receiver in this league and we can't say with any certainty that the Bengals have made the wrong decision keeping him on the sidelines. But we can say with confidence that Simpson hasn't had much opportunity so far in his career.
And given his enormous upside (as evidenced by the end of 2010), we think he deserves a shot.