Some NFL call the first few weeks of February the "dead period". Others, who look at their glass as half-full, prefer to look at these next couple of weeks as a precursor to the critical moves that their team will make in an effort to better their squad next year. Some NFL fans abhor this period, while for others it's like being a seven year-old during the beginning of December.
For a team that went 9-7 and made the playoffs, there's a lot of work to be done in order to give the team an opportunity to have back-to-back playoff seasons--something they have been trying to attain for quite some time.
Since the Bengals have two first round picks, some are wondering if the team will trade up to get a particular player. I was recently tweeted by Ryan Burns (a good Twitter follow, for the record), editor of Football Sickness and fellow Orange County native, about whether or not I think the Bengals will trade up in the first round:
Under the ownership of Mike Brown, the Bengals' strategy in the first round has been a complete mystery. We've seen them move up and give up picks to grab Ki-Jana Carter (ouch), we've seen them trade back and accumulate picks while drafting Chris Perry (another ouch), and we've seen them stay put with two first round picks and grab two solid players in Brian Simmons and Takeo Spikes. With two late first round picks, nothing would surprise me.
My prediction (and sincerest hope) is that they won't sacrifice those two picks to move up. While there are a number of roster holes, none are so devastating that they need to trade away picks which could become other potential starters. They have their franchise quarterback of the future. They have their monster No. 1 wide receiver. Those are positions that would seem tempting to trade up for and they don't need either in 2012.
Some are suggesting that the Bengals trade up in an effort to get the premier running back in this year's draft--Alabama's Trent Richardson. I think that this would be a grave mistake, even with Richardson's talents. The NFL has put less of a premium on the running back position, so it's remotely possible that Richardson could fall to the Bengals. This draft is also very deep at that position, so with upgrades on the offensive line and other defensive positions, they could draft a back who is deemed a "lesser prospect" than Richardson and have similar results without having to potentially give up another player who could become a major contributor.
Even with the examples I mentioned above, Brown very rarely gives up high picks. Since he isn't very active with the big-name free agents, he holds drat picks in higher regard than most other owners because it's his only sure-fire way to hang on to a talented player for four or five years. So, no, I expect the Bengals to wisely hang onto their picks and take two late first round prospects that could become major 2012 contributors.
One of the areas of need going into the 2012 season for the Bengals is that of a No. 2 wide receiver. Recently, Cincy Jungle's own Jack Cassidy brought up the topic of Mario Manningham potentially filling that role opposite Pro Bowler A.J. Green. A lot of our readers are adamantly opposed to Manningham stepping out of his No. 3 role with the Giants and into a true starting job here in Cincinnati. Images of David Tyree are being evoked with Bengals fans when speaking of Manningham and there are some similarities, though this may be an inaccurate comparison.
Both Tyree and Manningham were Super Bowl heroes for the Giants and both had incredible catches that were crucial to their teams' respective victories. Tyree fizzled out of the NFL after his moment in the sun, and with rumblings of the Bengals possibly being interested in Manningham, these same worries surround this wideout five years later. Take these stats for example: in the 2007 regular season, Tyree had four catches for 35 yards and no touchdowns all season. It was only until the Super Bowl that Tyree had any kind of impact.
By comparison, Manningham had 39 catches for 523 yards and four touchdowns. The year before, Manningham had 60 catches for 944 yards and nine touchdowns. Given these stats, Manningham is by no means in the same league as Tyree and could put up comparable stats to those that Jerome Simpson did in 2011. He wouldn't be my first choice to take over the second wideout spot on this roster, but he has been productive and has performed extremely well on the big stage while becoming a world champion. My gut feeling is that Manningham won't go the way of the David Tyree's, Dexter Jackson's, or Larry Brown's of the world, but rather will be a solid veteran contributor to an NFL roster.
While some positions are becoming less of a priority in the NFL, cornerback is still held at a premium. As I mentioned before, I don't imagine that the Bengals will use picks to trade up in the first round. However, cornerback could be the one position that I see them coveting so badly that they package a deal to move up in the first round for a premier prospect like LSU's Morris Claibourne. I still think that that would be foolish though, give the depth of the cornerback class this year.
The Bengals should be able to grab a quality cornerback where they currently stand--at the middle and end of the first round. There will likely be a run on drafting corners from around fifth pick to where the Bengals sit at Nos. 17 and 21. Even with prospects coming off of the board, the Bengals should be able to grab South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore and North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins. There's also an outside chance that Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick would be available.
Given the potential choices, I hope that the Bengals stay away from Jenkins because of the character concerns and size. If you listened to the Cincy Jungle podcast this week, you'd have heard that I'm big on Gilmore (as is our own Joe Goodberry). By most accounts, he's got size, can run and tackle pretty well and is scheme-diverse. These are all qualities that Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer like out of their defensive backs, so I expect them to give a long look at Gilmore.
Regardless of who they pick, they should have a veteran corner that they target in free agency. Since Stanford Routt became available this week, it added to the deep pool of veteran cornerback talent that will be available. With Kelly Jennings and Adam Jones set to become free agents and Leon Hall nursing an Achilles injury, the team absolutely must bring in a solid veteran that can start, as well as a rookie who can immediately contribute. The AFC North is suddenly stacked with wide receiver talent, so the Bengals need as many talented and able-bodied defensive backs as possible. Routt, Courtland Finnegan, and Brandon Carr could all be guys that are targeted in free agency.
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