Looking ahead to the draft, a lot of what the Bengals do will depend on what they do in free agency, as they have a LOT of free agents this year who could potentially leave the team. Looking ahead at the draft and at 2012 from a free agency perspective, knowing who for sure will still be on the team:
A Dalton & Bruce Gradkowski are both under contract, and are likely going to be retained.
No unrestricted free agents
Fortunately they are set at QB and the backup knows the system.
They could use a better QB3 to groom as a quality backup other than Zac Robinson.
B Scott & B Leonard are both under contract.
C Benson is an unrestricted free agent
A lot of fans would like to see Leonard & Scott get more carries. I’d like them draft a RB in round 2, 3, 4 like a LaMichael James type (best available at that point), to initially combo with Leonard & Scott in a 3-headed rotation, and who could eventually take over as the main guy.
AJ Green, J Shipley, A Hawkins, R Whalen, B Tate are all under contract
J Simpson & A Caldwell are unrestricted free agents
Our Pro-Bowl rookie WR and our good slot WR’s will still be here, but we’ll need to find a legit WR2 opposite AJ Green. Baby Hawk seems more of a slot type subbing for an injured Shipley, and Whalen is more of a 4th WR. If they look for a solid WR2, that’s the type of player you target in the middle rounds or sign via free agency.
J Gresham & C Cochart are both under contract
D Lee is an unrestricted free agent
They are ok at TE with their starter and a backup returning.
I can see them singing another veteran journeyman like Utech, Lee, Scaife again if Scaife doesn’t return.
A Whitworth, A Smith, C Boling, K Cook are all under contract
A Collins, D Roland, B Williams, M McGlynn, N Livings are all unrestricted free agents
First off, that is a LOT of defection from the O-Line if they all leave. As little as they play Collins, I think he’s gone. Roland may stay as a backup as I don’t see anybody signing him as a starter. Livings & McGlynn are serviceable bodies, but easily replaceable.
O-Guard is a big need if they all stay, but if they leave, that makes O-Guard an even bigger need.
Regardless, the interior of the offensive line needs to seriously be addressed – especially if they want to run the ball and block vs. the stud D Tackles in the AFC North.
Someone like DeCastro in round 1 would be a solution to this big problem. But even if they do draft him, they’ll need another interior O-Lineman somewhere (late in the draft or via free agency). If they pass on a DeCastro type in the draft, then they will seriously need to do something to fill the O-line holes.
C Dunlap, R Geathers, M Johnson are all under contract
F Rucker, J Fanene are unrestricted free agents
Our starters (Dunlap & Johnson) both return. I think Fanene would be a huge loss. He is an underrated player who can play DT and DE. If they can retain Fanene or Rucker, they probably don’t have a need at DE in the draft other than as a depth chart addition.
G Atkins, D Peko are both under contract
P Sims is an unrestricted free agent
P Sims is a good player, and the run defense did worse after he was hurt. Hopefully that can re-sign him to use in their DT rotation. If he signs elsewhere, they will need to either sign or draft a DT (in the early/middle) rounds to rotate with Atkins & Peko.
R Maualuga, T Howard, D Mouch, D Skuta, K Rivers, R Muckelroy are all under contract
B Johnson, M Lawson are unrestricted free agents
The core of Maualuga, Rivers & Howard should all return. Skuta showed competency as a replacement, and Mouch & Much both have good talent. They should be set pretty well at LB and any mock draft with them taking a LB is just ridiculous.
L Hall, N Clements are all under contract
A Jones, K Jennings are unrestricted free agents
Our depth in Jones & Jennings could probably get signed to start elsewhere, so they could both possibly leave via free agency, meaning there is no depth behind an aging starter, and a starter returning from injury. Therefore, CB is a huge need. They will probably need to draft somebody and bring in somebody via free agency. They need to get somebody who can be a starter, as Clements isn’t getting any younger, so that would probably require a 1st round selection.
C Crocker, G Wilson, T Mays, R Sands, J Miles are all under contract
R Nelson is an unrestricted free agent
While none of the safeties are anything special, they have a lot of them returning. Nelson was probably the best of that group, but is a free agent. Since they use him as a starter, they may be able to re-sign him. We don’t know what they have in their strong safties Mays or Sands, yet. With so much depth at safety, and their history of not placing much emphasis on drafting safeties, I think they may take one late, or sign a serviceable veteran free agent, but that’s probably it.
So with all this in mind, what does that mean for the draft?
I think they need to get an elite Guard and a top CB with their two 1st round picks.
After that, they need to find:
QB3 to groom into a career backup
RB to rotate with Leonard & Scott (probably a free agent or 2nd / 3rd round pick)
WR2 to start opposite Green (their history of L Coles, A Bryant, T Owens indicates they probably address this via free agency)
DT to plug into the rotation with Atkins & Peko (if Sims doesn’t resign)
DE to backup the starters if Rucker/Fanene don’t return
So if I were drafting for the Bengals, I’d go:
1a OG DeCastro
1b CB Jenkins/Dennard/etc...
6 backup QB