We've been working with a number of assumptions for this upcoming draft - some of which seem to be more likely than others. It goes without saying that the fourth pick in the draft has the benefit of having fewer variables than what the Bengals had last year with the 21st pick, but that doesn't halt the seemingly endless speculation of who might be available by the time Marvin Lewis and Co. go on the clock.
If you take a look at most mock drafts these days, the most common pick at the #1 spot in the draft is Cam Newton, the hotly debated quarterback out of Auburn. The next pick that most draftnicks have pegged as the closest thing to a lock that one can find in a very uncertain 2011 NFL draft is Marcell Dareus who has commonly been mocked to the Denver Broncos at the #2 spot in the NFL draft. The pick would make an awful lot of sense -- Denver just hired the defensive minded coach John Fox and are likely going to switching back to a 4-3 defense after a disastrous season in which the team finished dead last in total yards allowed last year. Dareus who is rated as the highest defensive tackle in the draft, and on some boards the highest rated player in the entire draft, would make sense for the Broncos.
But just because Dareus makes sense there, doesn't mean that he'll be picked there. As we've seen time and time again, the NFL draft can be wildly unpredictable. Patrick Peterson would also make a lot of sense for a team that finished the year 25th in total passing yards allowed. And just because the Broncos just signed Champ Bailey to a multi-year deal doesn't mean that they don't need to shore up their defensive backfield -- after all, they finished 25th with him in the lineup last year. Combine that with the fact that Dareus actually has never played a 4-3 Defensive tackle (he was a DE in a 3-4 at Alabama) and that might be enough for Denver to pass on him.
I say all this only to point out that there doesn't seem to be any certainties in this draft (which is why the Browns brought him in for a visit recently), and if Dareus were to fall to the Bengals at #4, then I would argue that they shouldn't pass on him.
Before I make the case for Dareus, I want to acknowledge that there are some good reasons not to draft him. The primary one being that the Bengals are relatively set at the DT position going into next year. Tank Johnson and Geno Atkins are signed through 2013, Domata Peko is signed through 2014 and Pat Sims and Clinton McDonald are signed through next season as well. And relatively speaking that's not a terrible rotation of players, particularly if Sims and Atkins progress like they did at the end of last season.
That said, here's why I think the Bengals should jump on Dareus if they get the chance:
Tank Johnson has been overpaid and under-productive. Last year Johnson, who will be turning 30 in December, missed most of the season due to injury and as Josh pointed out in an article about a month ago, he was also rated by Pro Football Focus as the teams worst defender on the defensive front in 2009. In the same year, Peko scored an overall grade of -5.5 and a grade of -7.6 against the run (negative #s are bad, zero is average, and positive #s are good), which indicates that the Bengals had some big holes at the DT position that year. And although Pat Sims and Geno Atkins graded favorably last year, Sims is on the last year of his contract and it remains to be seen if Atkins can be productive in a starting role. So for those of you who think that our line doesn't need to be upgraded, think again.
The Bengals won't win next year with their offense, but they might with their defense. Let's face it, the offense has been a mess for the last three or four years, but this next season it'll probably just get worse. They've brought in a new offensive coordinator, they are probably going to be starting a rookie QB, and nobody on offense will get a chance to learn the playbook until the lockout is ended. Instead of trying to fix all their weaknesses through the draft, the Bengals should concentrate on their strength, which has the potential to be an elite group if they add a few more key pieces like Dareus.
If the Bengals want to be a rushing team, they'll need to upgrade LG . Despite all the talk, I think the Bengals biggest needs on offense are QB, OG and WR in that order. If Jay Gruden and Marvin Lewis are really serious about becoming a running team why use a top pick on a WR? Furthermore, if the Bengals pick up Green with their first round pick, a QB with their second, then they'll almost be forced to go defense in round three. Though that's not bad per se, it would mean that the Bengals would have to wait until the fourth round to draft a guard - not exactly a spot where the team could find a sure-fire starter. However, if the Bengals picked up Dareus at number four, a QB in the second round, they could feel free to pick up a talented guard at the top of the third round.
Whether or not Dareus will be there at #4 is a completely different story. However if he is, he'd be hard to pass up.