Paul Frederiksen-US PRESSWIRE
The Cincinnati Bengals arguably drafted some of their best talent during the 2010 NFL draft, some of whom haven't worked out. The first part of the two part series follows the biggest producers from that class.
TE JERMAINE GRESHAM (First Round, 21st Overall): Each year Gresham's numbers have improved, currently on pace to record a career-year in receptions (64) and yards receiving (743). Additionally he went on to play in his first Pro Bowl during only his second season, replacing starter Rob Gronkowski and first-alternate Aaron Hernandez, both of whom played in the Super Bowl last year.
Along with a statistical upward trend every year, Gresham has also made crucial receptions during key moments. With 3:53 remaining against the Jaguars last year, Gresham hauled in a nine-yard reception on fourth and six, sustaining a drive that would result in a touchdown, giving the Bengals a 23-20 lead on the short side of the two minute warning. Against the Bills he posted a 17-yard touchdown, reducing Buffalo's 17-6 lead, and another 17-yarder sustaining a game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth. Another touchdown against the Redskins this year gave Cincinnati a 31-24 lead, following that performance with a career-high 55-yard touchdown reception against Cleveland.
Yet the third-year tight end has struggled to find a compromise with consistency issues that's led to durability questions and dropped passes. Additionally he's often targeted during heated discussions asking "who is going to step up" to help Andy Dalton and A.J. Green? On the other hand, there are some that would also argue that Gresham is being unfairly judged because of the spike of athletic tight ends in the league, like Jimmy Graham, Gronkowski and Hernandez, all of whom play with Hall of Fame bound quarterbacks within sound offensive systems.
TO SIGN OR NOT TO SIGN: His athleticism and talent remain relatively high, evident with impressive receptions (when he makes them) and the effort on yards after the catch, which could inflate his value in the open market. If the Bengals plan to bring him back after his contract runs dry next year, they need to sign him during this offseason to prevent a spike in value, which normally comes with young unrestricted free agents.
DE CARLOS DUNLAP (Second Round, 54th Overall): A path of redemption in the eyes of his coaches, struggling to get on the field early during his career with questionable work ethic issues, Dunlap powered his way into the good graces of the defensive coaches and the hearts of Bengals fans. Midway during his rookie season, Dunlap went on a tear, generating 9.5 quarterback sacks during the second half of the season, falling one sack shy of Ndamukong Suh's rookie lead that year.
Since then his sack numbers have failed to impress. Though he generated 24 quarterback pressures and 10 hits on the quarterback during his first eight games in 2011, Dunlap didn't record his first quarterback sack until Week Eight. And of his 4.5 sacks last season, two were against the Tennessee Titans, leaving 2.5 sacks for the remaining 11 games (one of which he didn't last long, trying to return too quickly from a hamstring injury).
A hamstring limited Dunlap to only 12 games last year and a knee injury held him out during the team's opening two games. Of a possible 39 games, Dunlap has missed ten with injuries and gameday inactives via coach's decisions early during his rookie season.
THE NEXT LEVEL: Obviously the Cincinnati Bengals will put something together in an effort to keep Dunlap in Cincinnati for a long time. Well, they frakkin' better. The question for Dunlap now is, when will he be ready as a three-down defensive end and at what point can the durability concerns cease to highlight an otherwise promising young career?
DT GENO ATKINS (Fourth Round, 120th Overall): Let's see. Geno Atkins has generated 17.5 quarterback sacks in his young career, playing every game since joining the Bengals while recording a team-high 45 quarterback hurries since 2011
THE BIGGEST QUESTION: How much more badass can he be?
[Part 2 will follow the less-successful players]