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By consensus opinion, the Cincinnati Bengals had the strongest 2012 draft of any other NFL team. Six games into 2012, the Bengals have yet to rely on the bulk of their draft haul. On a two game losing streak, it might be time to to look at utilizing the rookies in a bigger role for the rest of the year.
Under Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals have struck gold with a number of players in the draft. Some of the players who have paid off were gambles and others were safe bets and usually that's the formula for building a successful team. There is a bit of irony with Lewis and his draft picks though, as he has often displayed a reluctance to get some promising players immediate playing time. Sometimes this reluctance comes back to bite the team and it has hindered their growth.
One of the more notable and recent examples of this hindrance was with defensive end Carlos Dunlap. Lewis reportedly wasn't pleased with Dunlap's practice habits and attitude as a rookie and decided to keep him inactive for the first four games of the season. When Dunlap was initially activated, he was in a limited role but later burst onto the NFL scene by posting 9.5 sacks, giving the Bengals a solid threat on the defensive line.
This year, the Bengals drafted ten players who were picked to fill a variety of roles, both starting and otherwise. To this point, only Kevin Zeitler and Devon Still. Orson Charles has been making more appearances, but has yet to make a significant impact in a game. Ironically, the rookie who has arguably made the biggest impact, Vontaze Burfict, wasn't drafted and didn't play in the first couple of games. There have aldo been flashes from other rookies, namely Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, so it might be time to explore the opportunities that could be hiding there right now.
At 3-3, the Bengals are on a two game skid and are in need of an injection of youth, talent and playmakers. There are two areas that the team is currently struggling in: converting third downs on offense and creating turnovers on defense. Three rookies could help immensely in these areas.
With Jones and Sanu, the Bengals could have solutions to the offense's woes on third downs. Sanu is known as more of a possession type of receiver (even though he's thrown a touchdown this year), and Jones is more of a big-play threat. With Armon Binns doing nothing to make himself a truly consistent receiving threat, one of these two should be given more looks. Personally, I would take a long look at Jones as he has the ability to make acrobatic catches and stretch the defense.
Unfortunately, the Bengals haven't had their top pick from the 2012 draft, as cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has been injured all season. Recent reports have him on the mend and close to returning to the lineup and he could provide a nice spark. There are no guarantees that Kirkpatrick will come in and light it up, but with the defense having only two interceptions in six games (none by cornerbacks), it seems as if it would be a wise idea to get Kirkpatrick in the lineup as soon as possible, given that he's healthy enough.
Every NFL team has a small window to build a dynasty of sorts and make a playoff run. It would seem as if the Bengals are in the midst of their respective window and at 3-3, they need to make some critical decisions to keep the franchise on the right track. Marvin Lewis will have to swallow his pride and allow some of the youngsters to prove their worth to the team. At this critical point in the season and in the overall direction of the franchise, it might just have to be sink or swim for some of these newbies.