ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 3: Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers returns an interception for a touchdown against the Georgia Bulldogs during the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
"There’s research that says the best starting corners are first-round picks. Year after year if you had 70 corners the best ones and almost all of them are going to be first-round guys."
- Marvin Lewis, per the Cincinnati Enquirer
Over the course of the past week the Cincinnati Bengals signed Jason Allen and Adam Jones, giving the team a total of six cornerbacks signed into the 2012 season. Some might think that the moves Cincinnati has made eliminates the team's need to select one of the top cornerback prospects in the NFL draft. We enthusiastically disagree.
Along with the fact that Hall is the only cornerback signed beyond the 2013 season (and the other being Brandon Ghee), the level of talent, while overall better than last season (if one assumes Jason Allen is better than Kelly Jennings), is a band-aide solution to keep the overall depth at cornerback strong. That's not to say we're ripping the moves, or the roster because we're not. But cornerback still needs the infusion of talent that was depleted when Johnathan Joseph left for free agency last year.
If you approach it with a case-by-case examination of the team's current cornerback roster, the feeling of confidence that this year's roster is strong with long-term visions is nonexistent. But the talent is overall talent is still lacking and if this team can obtain a prospect first-round cornerback this year, not only does the team improve their overall talent, it installs a sense of relief that cornerback is settled once again, much like it was in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Here's the point. The Bengals can, and must, do something about it this year.
Leon Hall: Still rehabilitating a season-ending Achilles injury, starting cornerback Leon Hall is reportedly on schedule for a training camp target. However Achilles injuries take time for full recovery and there's no telling how it will react when Hall is forced to make cuts and football moves. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Hall starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.
Nate Clements: Entering the final year of a two-year deal, veteran cornerback Nate Clements will turn 33 this December. Clements allowed four touchdowns in 2011, though a respectable 78.7 opposing passer rating. There's little question that Clements will start in 2012, but beyond that is very unknown.
Adam Jones: The famous (not so much for football) cornerback signed a one-year deal and will become a free agent again after the 2012 season. Even if Jones plays well it's hard seeing him signing anything more than one or two-year contracts for the rest of his NFL career.
Jason Allen: Signed more as a replacement (and hopefully upgrade) over Kelly Jennings, Jason Allen has only 22 starts in his seven-year career. He's not a future starter for this team, save for the obvious injuries that pushes him up the depth chart. There's also some suggesting that he could make a move to safety, where he played a handful number of snaps in 2008 with the Miami Dolphins.
Brandon Ghee: Somewhat of a mystery and certainly not a sure-thing for 2012. Ghee is signed through 2013 but hasn't been able to dispatch with the durability issues. Even so there's no reason to suggest Ghee is a long-term solution on this team, likely making the team as a special teams player if he makes the cut.
Rico Murray: Only played one game in 2011, signed to the practice squad on January 3, then to the offseason roster after Cincinnati's 2011 wild card loss to the Houston Texans. Has only played nine games in his career, with a strong outing during the 2010 season before being placed on IR in early December.
Even if the Bengals select a prospect cornerback in the first round, it doesn't automatically suggest that this rookie would receive much playing time. He would be the team's action on foresight, perhaps building his experience through three and four-wide formations before an eventual promotion as a starter in 2013.