The Combine in Indianapolis is over and the NFL is now gearing up for the beginning of free agency in a couple of weeks. Staffs across the league got a closeup look at some of the best college prospects that will be available to them at the end of April. Some of these prospects helped their stocks considerably last week, while others hurt themselves with poor 40-yard dash times or underachieving drill performances.
Obviously, some roster holes will be filled via free agency. But if the recent comments by Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer are as candid as we all fear that they are, then that means that this year's draft will yield most of the players to plug those roster holes. Both routes are a crapshoot and the results of those routes will determine the franchise's success or failure over the next few years.
Lately, there's been a lot of talk about Alabama running back Trent Richardson landing with the Bengals in April's draft. And, by "a lot", I mean ad nauseum. The most recent bit of news surrounding Richardson and the Bengals is that the team is allegedly trying to work a trade with the Arizona Cardinals to move up and draft the running back. This, in my humble opinion, would be a bad idea. If you've been reading this feature regularly (and why wouldn't you have?), you'd have already known my opinion about trading up for Richardson--in short, I'm not a fan of the idea.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, for a 9-7 playoff team, the Bengals have quite a few positions that they need to address this offseason in an effort to maintain the momentum that they built last year. Every pick that they have is at a premium to fill these spots to push them into a legitimate perennial contender, so trading up a few spots and sacrificing a pick at a relatively valuable round could potentially hurt the team's overall goal of building a truly deep roster. Just because the team has more picks to play around with this year, doesn't necessarily mean they should trade them for a single player--even one with the potential of Richardson.
There's some things surrounding Richardson that concern me. First, he's had two knee issues before he's even played a snap of pro football. For those of you who don't know, Richardson lost a year of high school football after he blew out one of his knees. Some of you may render this fact as a moot point, given his production in college after the injury. I'd agree with you to an extent, but it shouldn't be overlooked completely.
Now, we recently found out that Richardson is having another minor knee issue that forced him to not be able to participate in the Combine. It was a reportedly simple procedure in which the running back had his knee scoped and will keep him sidelined for a few weeks. The recovery is supposed to go smoothly and he should be able to participate in his Pro Day later this month. But, we've all seen these "simple" scopes turn into lingering problems for various players around the league, with infections and slower-than-expected recoveries occurring. Heck, this type of simple procedure and subsequent recovery problems ultimately ended Peter Warrick's short career.
I give the youngster a lot of credit for still showing up in Indianapolis and interviewing with teams when he didn't have to, but the fact remains that he didn't work out. Call the drills at the Combine overhyped if you'd like, but we have no idea how fast or strong Richardson really is at this point, except for game film (which is impressive, of course). If the knee procedure doesn't heal in a timely manner we could see Richardson perform poorly at his Pro Day, or forgo the workout altogether. If that were to be the case, more questions would surround him and he'd likely tumble even further on draft day.
Some are calling him "the next Adrian Peterson". I can see some of the comparisons--tough, physical runner that doesn't shy away from contact. Those attributes tend to catch up to Peterson, as he's had a number of injuries in his productive NFL career. It seems as if the same issues are beginning to surface with Richardson and with the short shelf life that NFL running backs have, the thought of using a high pick and/or trading up for Richardson worries me a bit.
Look, I like Richardson and what he brings to the table--I don't want to make it seem as if I'm totally turned off by the idea of drafting him in the first round. He's one of the few elite talents in this draft and is the consensus top running back prospect this year. There's a chance that he could come to Cincinnati and dominate the league, and if that happened, I'd be ecstatic. But, if last weekend's Combine taught us anything, it's that a number of good backs will be available after the first round. Are they of Trent Richardson's talent? Probably not. But a player like Doug Martin is a productive, three-down player that will likely be able to help the team immediately in a big way and should be available in the second round. Lamar Miller is a speedy home run threat and Robert Turbin looks to be a good back that can be had in the middle rounds.
No 2011 true Pro Bowl running back was a first round pick (Ryan Mathews made it but was a low alternate). Some would argue that Peterson would have made it if he was healthy. The point is that he wasn't healthy and Richardson's track record already has me worried that he's headed down an injury-riddled road.
I had a recent discussion with one of our commenters via Facebook (you following us there yet?) about who I think the Bengals will draft in April. Since we've had the benefit of watching the Combine, I've thought about what I think that the team will do in the first few rounds on the draft. Who I hope they will draft varies a little bit from my hope. I'll give you my breakdown of what I hope they'll do first, based on no free agency moves and I'm giving the benefit of the doubt that some of the "fringe" players will still be available when the Bengals pick.
What I hope that they'll do:
Round 1, Pick 17: David DeCastro, OG, Stanford: The best player at his position this year, DeCastro would be a perfect fit for the Bengals line and would be the best guard that they've had since Eric Steinbach. I have a feeling that Richardson won't even be an option for the Bengals here, as he'll get selected early even with the injury. This is the part of the first round where we start to see guards get drafted, like Mike Iupati and the Pouncey brothers in the last couple of years. This would be a huge pick (figuratively and literally) for the Bengals and would help their cause to compete with the Steelers and Ravens for the division.
Round 1, Pick 21: Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Some may feel that this is a little high for him, but I think it's right where he fits. He had a heck of a Combine and has great size, speed and physicality. Zimmer hasn't had his way in recent drafts and is still upset with Johnathan Joseph leaving, so I think the Bengals will grab the No. 3 corner in the draft here. He'll likely come in and start right away, fitting the mold of a physical cover corner that Zimmer and Lewis like.
Round 2, Pick 53: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: I really like this kid and was impressed by his workout. I think he's slated as the third or fourth best running back in the draft and the only reason that I think he lasts this long is because teams won't put a premium on the position and there will likely be a couple of teams that fall in love with Lamar Miller and David Wilson's speed. Martin is a three-down back and I view him as the second best all around running back behind Richardson.
Round 3, Pick 84: Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt: I know what you're thinking--"another corner so early?!". Indeed it is. In case you haven't heard, I like this guy a lot as a mid-round prospect. He's physical, tackles well, makes plays and is a real "gamer". He'll fall this far because he's not an elite athlete and didn't perform all that great at the Combine. So, why two corners in the first three rounds? Because they are in a division that's loaded with wide receiver talent and the Bengals are in bad shape at the position. They're set to lose both Kelly Jennings and Adam Jones in free agency and it's unlikely that they'll return. Hayward has the makings of a nickel corner who'll eventually become a No.2 starter in the NFL. The adage is that "you can never have enough good corners" and the Bengals would be in a lot better shape with Nate Clements, Gilmore, Hayward and Leon Hall, when he's healthy.
Round 4, Pick 116: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma: Broyles, like Gilmore, brings mixed opinions. Had he entered the draft after his junior year, he would likely have been a first or second round player. He was off to a productive start and then blew out a knee. Landry Jones sorely missed Broyles and his played really slipped late in the year. Broyles is the prototypical NFL No. 2 wide receiver and would fit well into Jay Gruden's run-after-the-catch West Coast Offense system. If he's healthy, he'll be the guy opposite A.J. Green that they need.
What I think that they'll do:
Round 1, Pick 17: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Personally speaking, I'd hate this pick, but I think it will ultimately come down to Gilmore and Jenkins here. Jenkins will win out because of his Combine workout (it was amazing, in case you didn't hear), and Mike Brown didn't get his way with Ryan Mallett in last year's draft, so he'll pound the table here. With the returns of Adam Jones and Jerome Simpson in doubt, Brown will feel that he's done enough to rid the team of "problem children" and take a chance on Jenkins.
Round 1, Pick 21: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami: The Bengals will likely get a bigger back at some point, whether it be in free agency or later in the draft, so they'll want a quick guy that can be the game-breaker that Cedric Benson wasn't. Miller, who posted the fastest 40-yard dash time for running backs at the Combine, is a great athlete but questions of durability and the ability to catch the football arise.
Round 2, Pick 53: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: While the Bengals know that they need major help at the guard position, they'll still value the skill positions more and go with those in the first. They've already talked to Zeitler at the Combine, so the interest is there. Zeitler would be a solid pick and would help out the line.
Round 3, Pick 84: Juron Criner, WR, Arizona: The Bengals are looking for a legitimate target opposite A.J. Green and Criner could be a good No. 2 NFL WR. He had a great Senior Bowl week and showed that he has good hands and route-running skills. If the Bengals are looking for a possession-receiver, Criner fits the bill--he's not a burner.
Round 4, Pick 116: Tyrone Crawford, DL, Boise State: Who? Crawford is a versatile defensive lineman that the Bengals like to use in the mold of Jonathan Fanene or Frostee Rucker. Even though there's a good chance that they'll re-sign both of those guys, they are getting up there in age and they can never have too many good defensive lineman. With Sims, Fanene, and Rucker all being free agents this year I could see a defensive lineman here in case they can't re-sign all three. They've had good luck drafting defensive linemen in the fourth round with Sims and Geno Atkins really paying off in the last few years.
I'm sure that I'll have a new mock draft in this feature in a few weeks once free agency has begun. Next week, I'll be talking about the situation surrounding the safety position among other topics of interest. I always welcome your tweets to @CUIBengalsFan, and your emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep the comments and questions coming!