Heading into the 2012 season, one of the bigger needs for the Bengals is the addition of a No. 2 wide receiver to play opposite of A.J. Green. Last year, the second receiver was Jerome Simpson, who had a handful of exciting plays including his flip into the end zone, but after legal troubles and extremely inconsistent play, the team is likely hoping to find a different receiver. The way I see it, the Bengals have four options when it comes to figuring out who they will have at wide receiver opposite of Green in 2012.
The first option is free agency. However, since the Bengals haven't been major players in free agency, especially when it comes to wide receiver, the majority of talented free agent wide receivers are off the market. Since guys like Mario Manningham, Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Lloyd have been signed, the top guys remaining are Braylon Edwards, Early Doucet, Ted Ginn Jr. and Plaxico Burress. While there are some interesting options there, including Burress and Edwards, the team may feel that signing one of these guys may not be a significant upgrade over Simpson. Also, more than one of these guys has some baggage that will be coming along with them.
I personally think that the Bengals have waited too late to find a free agent wide receiver to replace Simpson.
The second option is to look within the organization to find Simpson's replacement at the No. 2 receiver position. Other than Green, the wide receivers on the roster for 2012 are Jordan Shipley, Ryan Whalen, Andrew Hawkins, Vidal Hazelton, Armon Binns and Brandon Tate. Guys like Shipley and Whalen are built to be slot receivers and Hawkins is a specialty receiver used in certain situations. Tate is mostly for special teams, which leaves Binns and Hazelton, both University of Cincinnati products. Neither Hazelton nor Binns have caught a pass in the regular season or post season, but Binns does have two catches and a touchdown in preseason play.
Binns has the right size, at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds and he ran a 4.50 40-yard dash in the 2011 Combine. He doesn't have any experience in the regular season, but if the team was going to look within to replace Simpson, they'll probably promote Binns.
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has had some very flattering things to say about Binns in the past.
"I think he can do a lot more than maybe people anticipated him doing," says Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. "If he shows up in shape and in the right frame of mind, I foresee him making a major impact with our offense next year. I think he's got a great feel on how to get open. He's a big guy and a great target and the quarterbacks like him because he's such a good target and he's proved he can run inside and outside routes."
The third option is, of course, to just re-sign Simpson. Simpson has a ton of talent, which is easy to see, but he has been so inconsistent since joining the Bengals that he is a risk to bring back. In 2011, the Bengals decided to go with Simpson as one of their starters and while he had a couple big games, he had less than 50 yards receiving in 12 of the team's regular season games, 13 if you include the playoff game. He also didn't record a single catch in both of the games against the Steelers.
If you combine that with his drug investigation, which he will surely be suspended for, he is a major risk. If the Bengals are unable to find somebody else as the season grows near, don't be surprised if they re-sign him for the minimum price if he's still available.
Finally, the fourth option, and the one that's beginning to look like the route the Bengals will take, is to draft a wide receiver to start opposite of Green. The Bengals hit a home run when they selected Green with their first-round pick in the 2011 draft and they may be able to find some young talent early in this draft as well. With two first-round picks, the Bengals could likely pick up a guy like Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd or Stephen Hill. However, the teams badly needs help at cornerback, guard, safety and running back and they may not feel that the need for wide receiver outweighs the other needs.
If the Bengals wait until the second or third round to grab a wide receiver, guys like Joe Adams, A.J. Jenkins or Mohamed Sanu could be available, but one would question whether those guys would be ready to start at the next level.
Either way, the Bengals need help at wide receiver. In the past they have used guys like Laveranues Coles and Terrell Owens as their No. 2 receiver, but the last time they had a truly good second receiver was when T.J. Houshmandzadeh was still on the team. If the Bengals can get somebody like that to play opposite of Green, they team could have one of the better groups of wide receivers in the league.
Which way do you think they'll go?