Stop me if you've hear this one before--the Bengals two most pressing position needs going into 2012 are/were cornerback and offensive guard. Injury, age and ineffectiveness of previous players have led the team to that point today and many think that their two first round picks will land a player at each position. That could change however, as they've landed one of each of those positions in free agency.
Some would argue that even with those recent additions, the team is still in need of investing high picks in each position. But, the question that nobody is asking is "are those players already on the roster?".
In the 2009 draft, the Bengals selected Wake Forest cornerback Brandon Ghee in the back end of the third round. Ghee was a solid college player and ran well at the Combine, which helped his stock. Some felt as if getting Ghee where the Bengals did was a steal and he'd be a solid contributor. Aside from running well, Ghee was a physical corner in college and was an able tackler. The red flag he came with was that he didn't have any interceptions as a senior, though some attributed that to him not being thrown at all that much in his last NCAA season. At the time, the pick made sense because it was forward planning for the impending expiration of the contracts for Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph in the next few seasons.
Now entering his fourth season, Ghee has yet to do anything of significance, much less get playing time. He's battled a number of injuries and the biggest disappointment of his career had to be last season where he saw the team trade for Kelly Jennings and opt to put him on the practice squad. This sequence of events told Bengals fans that Ghee had regressed and couldn't be counted on in even a No.4 cornerback role. Even more telling was that no other team tried to sign Ghee off of the practice squad and he remained there until Hall's injury late in the season.
This is a make-or-break season with Ghee. He is in the final year of his contract, but based on recent history the team may not keep him around long enough to let him see it through. Between the Jennings trade last offseason and the acquisition of Jason Allen this year, it's not looking like the team has much hope in the former third-rounder. There's also some rumblings that the team could bring back Adam Jones once again and he'd work in as the fourth corner. Throw in a possible high pick on a corner and that looks to leave Ghee out of a job.
Then again, Ghee could prove valuable on special teams and if fully healthy, could prove to the team that they don't need to draft a corner and/or bring back Jones. It's possible that he finally "gets it" this year and is able to contribute at a level that Jennings did in 2011. The more able bodies at the position, the better, and it looks like Ghee will have to win a roster spot during Training Camp.
Clint Boling has a similar story with the team, though he's only been here a year. Drafted out of the University of Georgia in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, the team and its fans were excited at this pick. He was someone that could compete with the unpopular incumbent, Nate Livings, or at least be groomed as an eventual replacement for Bobbie Williams. A versatile player, Boling had a reputation as having a mean streak in him and everyone was hopeful that he'd make an impact last season.
With Williams' suspension early in the season, the team decided to plug their rookie into that starting role in his absence. He performed well in his first start against the Browns and followed that up with a mediocre start against the Broncos. He was benched during his third game against the 49ers for Mike McGlynn and didn't start a game again--even when Williams was hurt late in the season.
Where Boling is at in his progression as a pro is going to dictate whether the team drafts a guard in the first few rounds or not. With newly-inked free agent Travelle Wharton likely manning the left guard position, the right side is left open with McGlynn leaving for Indianapolis and Williams rehabbing an injury and dealing with getting older. Is Boling poised to take over the starting right guard spot and play effectively? We don't know.
The Bengals need to find out these answers in the next month, as it will go a long way in determining their draft plans and solidifying their roster. If the staff doesn't have confidence in Ghee and Boling, they'll likely go the route that many mock drafts have them taking in getting other players at their positions in the first round. If the Bengals think they can finally tap the potential of these two players, then that would go a long way in opening up the draft and allowing them to take the best player available, regardless of position.Some feel that Boling still has a decent shot at making an impact while Ghee might be close to being cut.
We'll see how this plays out, but the good news is that the team has a variety of options to explore. They just might want to get as much of a handle on things before the draft so they don't end up wasting picks and coming back to this same road in just a few short seasons.