Even though the season finished just under two weeks ago, today the Bengals personnel department is meeting at Paul Brown Stadium to discuss who to watch for at the NFL Draft combine in Indianapolis next week. The combine is an important time for many players as their stock can rise or fall as a result of their performances. A player like Jonathon Joseph, who was in the shadows for many teams, can come out and run a 4.3 40-yard dash and have it push them into the first round. Or, a player can have a combine like Andre Smith, who ran a horrible (and topless) 40-yard dash and was able to bench press 225 lbs a meager 19 times (the top number in 2009 was 39).
As we all know, Joseph was an immediate success with the Bengals and has gone on to have a wonderful career and, this past year, ruined the Bengals' chances at winning their first playoff game in 21 years. Smith, on the other hand, had a bad combine, the Bengals still drafted him at no. 6 in 2009, didn't play at all in 2009, and he has had two lackluster years until this past season when he decided to get in shape and start caring about football. Even though the combine can show coaches everything they need to know in order to properly value their draft prospects, as we can see with the case of Andre Smith, that doesn't always matter.
A consensus among fans and analysts is that the Bengals will use one of their first three picks on a cornerback, regardless of their activity in free agency. By pick no. 17 Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick, the two top CB prospects in this years draft, will be long gone. Along with this, the rest of the CB class of 2012 is very deep with talent but no one stands out in particular like Claiborne and Kirkpatrick do, so, what are the Bengals to do? First, if someone from the rest of the group emerges at the combine as Joseph did in 2006 it makes the Bengals decision very easy. Second, what do they do if that doesn't happen? Well, because of the depth of this draft it would be probable that the Bengals would draft for other position needs and wait until the second round to pick up a CB. But, would the cornerbacks available be a reach in the second round? The last time the Bengals took a CB in the second was in 2004 when they drafted Keiwan Ratliff out of Florida and, obviously, that did not end well.
Out of the deep CB class, here are two cornerbacks that might be available and would not be a reach in the second round: Chase Minnifield from Virginia and Brandon Boykin from Georgia. Here is what Russ Lande, sportingnews.com, had to say about both corners (and he even has them ranked at no. 38 and no. 39, respectively):
Chase, the son of former Browns cornerback Frank Minnifield, is underrated. His smooth athleticism, size at 6-foot and ball skills make him good in all types of pass coverage.
Boykin is a special athlete who can cover any receiver in tight coverage. When you add in Boykin's return skills, it's clear he'll make an impact.
Minnifield is a player that some mock drafts have predicted the Bengals to take with their no. 21 pick in the first, but he is more of a second round talent. His size is a perfect fit for the Bengals (6-0, 185) and he has superb athleticism. Although his numbers were down this year, that could be due to opposing teams targeting other, weaker aspects of the Virginia defense and leaving Minnifield alone. Minnifield could be a player easily groomed by Clements and Hall for a season before he starts becoming a go-to player in the Bengals secondary.
Brandon Boykin is one of my favorite players coming out of this draft. If he were two inches taller, there would be a strong case for the Bengals to draft him with their second first round pick. Literally, the only thing going against him is his size (5-9, 183). He is very fast (4.4 40), he is as athletic as anybody else in the draft, and he is quick and instinctual (see: his safety in the Outback bowl). Speaking of the Outback Bowl, in that game Boykin scored points for the Bulldogs every way that he could, literally: safety, punt return and receiving touchdowns. He is an all-around player and can take over KR and PR duties in his first season and can be a game-changer, unlike other players the Bengals have previously had at this position (Houshmandzadeh, Ratliff, Caldwell, Cosby, and Tate). Boykin might already be gone by the Bengals second round pick, because of his returning abilities, but if still available he is a player that could certainly make the Bengals a better overall team.
Both of these players, if they have a good combine, could rise in the draft and no longer be a viable option for the Bengals in the second round, but they could be available at, and worth, the no. 21 pick. Or, they could have a horrible day and be available in the third round; you never know. The combine is one of, if not THE, most important period during the NFL off-season, and there could be five CB's that emerge and are all picked in the first round. You can never know what will happen when it comes to the combine and THAT is what makes the NFL off-season great.
In a perfect world, the Bengals would use one of their first three picks on a CB and he would be the second coming of Deion Sanders, but we are all Bengals fans and have become accustomed to expecting the best and finding the worst. That is no longer an issue for Cincinnati because we have a coaching staff that has had three straight years of above-par drafts and, as loyal fans, we must recondition ourselves to expect good results on draft day. Mike Brown may have a lot of issues, but Andre Smith (this year), Maualuga, Gresham, Dunlap, Shipley, Green, and Dalton will all agree that he is heading in the right direction with the Bengals on draft days.