It's a strange time for me as a Bengals fan. Over the last twenty years or so, usually this team appears to be in tatters at this point in the season. Frequently the team looked so bad that the draft was the only ray of hope, and frequently I found myself at odds with the front office's approach after the fact. Over the years, that made the draft season less interesting and more frustrating. That's changed a lot over the last few years, especially the last three years.
This year the Bengals are in a potentially strong position. Depending on what happens in free agency and the draft, the Men In Stripes could walking into the mini-camp season loaded with young talent balanced across a variety of positions. I'm very excited about this off season, because many of the potential scenarios result in a radically different looks for the Bengals. Here are a look at three scenarios of varying degrees of plausibility.
I've kind of categorized these into how Days One and Two of the draft would look. Everyone expects first rounders to contribute, even start, from opening day. I think it's reasonable to expect nearly the same from second rounders and not entirely crazy to expect significant contributions from third rounders. Once you get to Day Three of the draft, it's much less predictable in terms of potential picks and how they pan out. Each of these different scenarios has a likely free agency prerequisite, as well. So without further ado, these are the draft scenarios that pitter-patter through my head as I daydream (in no particular order):
Gruden gets his toys.
FA Prerequisites: Free agency would have to net us at least one serviceable CB, and a starting guard would need to come from somewhere, perhaps Bobbie Williams or even Clint Boling, assuming that the staff was satisfied with his development (for what it's worth, I think his biggest issue last year was core strength, which is something that can be developed from below-average to above-average with a dedicated, aggressive off season program). If negotiations with Reggie Nelson drag on and he is not tagged, I would be shocked if we don't snag a safety in the first three rounds. If he is signed or tagged, I would be shocked if we do.
Draft Day: Other teams, looking intently at their team needs, prioritize position-of-need (PON) over a best-player-available (BPA) strategy; this aligns the Bengals' PON with the BPA nicely. Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Kansas City and the Jets are the teams that are most mocked to snag Richardson, and the Cowboys are the team I have been seeing mocked as snagging DeCastro before us, but Kansas City pops up every now and then as well. So for this to play out, these five teams, at a minimum, would have to really prioritize some other needs. For Tampa that would probably be CB, for Cleveland that would likely be QB or WR, for the Chiefs it's a tough call, but I would think that WR and possibly even a sneaky reach for a QB. The Jets have a lot of gaps to fill, but I think they may be looking for a quality LB. As to the Cowboys, their secondary is just crap so it's easy to see them grabbing one of the top CBs.
1a. Trent Richardson (RB) - The game changer, the upgrade, the last piece of the skill position trinity... whatever you want to call it, drafting this guy, who many compare favorably to Corey Dillon, would lay an offensive foundation to be reckoned with. He's solid-to-elite in every major skillset.
1b. David DeCastro (OG) - He is supposed to be the epic guard this year, and it would mark a radical change in thought for this franchise to draft a guard in the first round.
2. Stephen Hill (WR) - Looks like a solid prospect, who some have even gone so far as to compare favorably to AJ Green (?!?), that would likely make defenses take a long, hard look at how they are going to handle two young, fast and huge receivers before they got a chance to think about Gresham and Shipley.
3. Markelle Martin (FS) - A football-smart, ball-hawk type of safety. He was really a cornerstone of OSU's defense and is the kind of guy who can be the quarterback of the secondary. He would be a fantastic compliment to Nelson, Mays and Sands. Very good coverage guy who could solidify our weakness against big plays across the deep middle.
This draft class would be quite a haul. I'd be surprised if Hill dropped to us in the second, given his recent combine showing. I can easily see Richardson going top 5 and just as easily see him falling to us at 17. I am skeptical of any scenario where he falls past us at 17. This scenario would leave Zimmer without any real new toys to play with besides Martin, however Martin would allow the Bengals to be young and set at the safety spot (if Nelson is retained) with Nelson, Martin, Mays and Sands (again, assuming that Sands and Mays pan out). As an OSU homer (Go Pokes!), I was impressed with Martin's contributions all year to a very team-oriented, do-your-job defense that was built for takeaways rather than domination - I can see him fitting right in with the defensive game plan from the very first day he shows up. Crocker would likely be a cut-down day liability or even a last minute trade (which would rock). I could live with this draft.
Zimmer gets his toys.
FA Prerequisites: If we land a stud guard (or two), re-sign Nelson and snag a legit WR to play across from Green, then that opens up the draft to solidify an already impressive defense. A serviceable CB coming to town in free agency would also open things up a bit to let up just go BPA.
Draft Day: We surprise a lot of people by targeting some defensive positions of need. The players I select here would likely not be viewed as slipping, but neither would we be reaching. This is a draft that we probably could get, if we chose to do so, with Gilmore being the least likely to make it to the projected spot.
1a. Dont'a Hightower (MLB) - Looks like an athletic, mean middle linebacker. Almost certainly an instant upgrade over Rey-Rey, especially if he's suspended. Color me interested.
1b. Dontari Poe (DT) - This guy's nickname should be Gregor, because is a gigantic, athletic defensive tackle. With Peko, Atkins, a resigned Sims and Poe our DT rotation would be second to none, Lions included.
2. Stephon Gilmore (CB) - From what I've read, this guy would fit our scheme perfectly.
3. Isiah Pead (RB) - I'm not from Cincy, but from what I gather most Bengals fans would be OK with this pick, especially if James Devlin turned out to be able to play the part of the bruiser.
This would essentially re-craft our defense, yet put some explosiveness in our offense. It would be a complete surprise to most people, including me, if we went this way. The key to this scenario is signing two guards, and having a receiving corps we could deal with. Pead would be that elusive back in the Bush/Sproles mold and we'd officially have running back by committee. The two first round picks projected here are completely reasonable in terms of position, and I would absolutely love to see the Bengals go this route. Poe looks like an absolute Monster. I could live with this draft.
Everyone gets a lil' sumpin' sumpin', if ya know what I'm sayin' - and I think you know what I'm sayin'
FA Prerequisites: If the Bengals meet their strongest needs (OG, WR, SS, RB) with good players that don't tie up a ton of cap space long term, then I think we'd be more likely to see a balanced BPA approach to the draft.
Draft Day: Here I assume that DeCastro and Richardson are gone by the time we pick, as is Kirkpatrick..
1a.Cordy Glenn (OG) - A giant of a guard that would (just barely) fit between Kyle Cook and Andre Smith, Glenn would also be a potential tackle if anything were to happen to Smith or Whitworth, should Collins not be re-signed. Would be an instant starter and fit the offensive line philosophy of the Bengals as I understand it.
1b. Janoris Jenkins (CB) - All indications are that his days of livin' young and wild and free are behind him. He's scouted as an elite shutdown corner, which is exactly what we need. He would be a fantastic fit for our defense.
2.Doug Martin (RB) - May not last this long, but if we snag a guard and a defensive back in the first, I think we'd be looking at running back in the second. So far Martin looks like the real deal.
3. Kendall Reyes (DT) - Lots of mocks have him going all over the third round. From what I've read, he's a versatile lineman with a lot of upside and great work ethic and attitude. He's put on a lot of weight since he came to UConn, so it seems that he knows his way around the iron room. In short, I think he would fit right in to what we are building along the defensive line. We need a 4th tackle.
This is the kind of draft I would expect to see if the Bengals were in a position to just let the draft come to them and not have to reach too much. Someone is going to fall a little bit, sometimes there is one of the best players available at a position of need, and sometimes someone who matches your scheme and philosophy is just staring you in the face. I could live with this draft.