Isn't the post-draft high great? Just look at the latest weekly Fan Confidence Poll (left side of the page, usually towards the top) that's come out. Emerging from the doldrums of a miserable 2010 campaign, the draft brought all of us fans a renewed sense of hope in our favorite football team. For a few weeks during the summer, we can all take a deep breath and proclaim that this year, we really see things turning around for the franchise.
Coming off a miserable season like 2011 we are well aware of the team's flaws, but the NFL Draft provides the cure for our post-season blues and replaces those holes that we saw the year before with fresh blood, hope and a lot of Mountain Dew.
Day by day during the draft, we saw those holes disappear.
On day one they grabbed AJ Green:
WR, RB, K, SS, OLB, DLine, CB.
On day two, they picked up Andy Dalton, the QB from TCU and Dontay Moch, the linebacker from Nevada:
QB, OG, WR, RB, K, SS, OLB, DLine, CB.
Finally on day three, they grabbed Clint Boling the OG/OT from Georgia, Robert Sands the SS from West Virginia, Ryan Whalen the WR from Stanford, Korey Lindsey the CB from Southern Illinois, and finally Jay Finley the RB out of Baylor:
QB, OG, WR, RB, K, SS, OLB, DLine, CB. (if I could double cross out WR, and half cross out CB and RB, I would).
The point being, of course, that the Bengals basically went into the draft this year and grabbed good talent at positions of need. All-in-all, I would consider that to be a pretty successful draft. However, as Football Outsiders recently pointed out, that doesn't necessarily mean that aren't any soft spots on the team.
The Bengals demonstrate the difference between "a team with few holes" and "a championship contender." If they can re-sign their major free agents, the Bengals don't seem to have big holes on the roster. But the surface covering those non-holes is very thin.
Let's dig in shall we? The only gaping hole left over from the draft is the kicker position. Watching Clint Stitser kick last year was like watching an episode of 24 -- you never really know what's going to happen next. Though an early favorite for the job is Mike Nugent, whom Jason reported to be off to a good start this offseason, it's hard to trust a kicker coming off of reconstructive knee surgery. Look for the Bengals to bring in some kickers to compete for the job again this year, but I wouldn't count on them bringing in a big name FA like David Akers.
As for the 'thin' spots on this team, you don't have to look far or hard to find them. As much as I love the acquisition of Andy Dalton and AJ Green, it's hard to imagine them getting off to a fast start this year. Between the lockout and the fact that they are rookies, it's hard to expect too much from either of these players right out of the gate.
The free agent situation has also left the Bengals with some tough decisions to make. If Jonathan Joseph leaves via free agency that leaves a gaping hole at CB. Leon Hall will fill in admirably as the #1 defensive back, but Adam Jones is a big question mark after recovering from a herniated disk injury in his neck. While there is depth at the position with Morgan Trent and Brandon Ghee waiting in the wings, few believe that either player can be the shutdown corner that Joseph is.
Though we expect that signing Cedric Benson is one of the Bengals offseason priorities, it's not a guarantee that he'll be back and if he walks out the door then the team is left without their 'bell-cow' running back. We've always promoted the idea of giving Bernard Scott more touches, but durability concerns seem to loom over him like a thundercloud.
At safety the team may have filled a need by drafting Robert Sands, but there are still only three players signed at the position if you count him in the mix. Reggie Nelson flashed brilliance last year, and Chris Crocker is a generally solid (if unspectacular) player, but there is serious need of adding depth at the position.
The defensive line is also a bit of a thin spot for the team. Though Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins and Pat Sims emerged towards the end of last season, earning them the nickname "The Fisher Price Kids," there have been questions about whether or not this is really an every down type of unit. Domata Peko and Tank Johnson proved to be unspectacular last year as well, even when they were healthy enough to stay on the field. All of this begs the question whether or not the Bengals are in need of a true every down superstar at the tackle position.
And although the words "thin" and "offensive lineman" aren't often used together in the same sentence, this might be an occasion splice them together. Andrew Whitworth is the most trustworthy lineman on the team, but the rest of the line is shaky. The addition of Boling should help solidify the left side of the line, but an aging Bobbie Williams and an injury prone Andre Smith on the right side of the line are cause for concern. Though I'm a proponent of starting Anthony Collins at RT, expect Smith to get every opportunity to start given the teams hefty (get it?) investment in him.
Post draft, the Bengals might not have a lot of 'holes' per se, but it'd be hard to argue that they don't need improvement. Still, I find myself getting into full post-draft hype mode and feel optimistic about the players that this team has assembled. Maybe they won't be championship contenders next year, but why not hope?