Last year's draft seems like a few years ago already. Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco were still officially Bengals. The team was in disarray after a very disappointing 2010 campaign. Now, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green raised our expectations of a normal rookie season and that's only two of the Bengals eight selections from 2011. This class still has a few more gems waiting to emerge. Let's take a look back at what our thoughts and grades were right after the draft concluded and re-set our expectations just before the 2012 draft begins.
A.J. Green: WR from Georgia (first round, 4th overall)
What I said after the draft:
Green was the best player on not only my board, but on many experts' boards. To get the best player in the draft with the fourth pick is a rarity, and the Bengals shouldn't have any doubts about the selection. Green is a phenomenal natural athlete. He was born to play the WR position. For all of Green's greatness, his biggest contribution to the Bengals could be the end of the Chad Ochocinco era.
Green was even more than I expected. He was the number one player on my board and he didn't disappoint. Green looks to be on the path of greatness and he's truly one of those once-in-a-decade type players. Let's keep the same grade: A+
Andy Dalton: QB from TCU (second round, 35th overall)
Any Dalton was the Bengals target all along. With all of the recent Dalton media hype, the Bengals even considered trading up to get him in the first round. Even if you don't like Dalton or feel like this pick was a reach, you have to be comforted by the fact that the team wants him to be their franchise QB. Just giving him that title and building a team around him will give Dalton every chance to succeed. He will need every bit of help to shake the horrible success history of past second-round QBs. This is our QB; it's an exciting time for Bengals fans. Goodbye Carson Palmer, you get your wish.
Carson Palmer did get his wish; this selection allowed the Bengals to ship him to Oakland and start fresh with Andy Dalton. Dalton was my 5th rated QB heading into last year's draft but I didn't know four quarterbacks (Newton, Locker, Gabbert, and Ponder) would be drafted in round one. Still, the Bengals should earn points for holding their water and waiting for their guy in Dalton. He went from being Quarterback of the Future to Franchise Quarterback within the first 8-games. A tremendous rookie season after the worst off-season in franchise history has opened the window for the Bengals again. Now what is Dalton's upside? That was one of his knocks coming out of TCU. Will the Bengals surround him with the talent necessary to completely max out his potential? As far as the selection goes, they couldn't have made a better choice and for that, I give them the highest grade possible: A+
Dontay Moch: OLB from Nevada (third round, 66th overall)
Dontay is a physical freak and he defies the laws of what a normal human can do. He's the fastest LB I can remember. His specialty is rushing the passer as he mostly played DE at Nevada, but he will make the transition to strong side LB for the Bengals. I wasn't surprised by the selection of an OLB because I believe Marvin Lewis has been searching for his David Pollack. He wants to use a LB to rush the QB and be able to put his hand down in nickel situation to apply even more pressure. Moch is five times the athlete Pollack was, so hopefully he can make an easy transition to LB and give the Bengals an added boost to their young pass rushers. The only thing I personally didn't like about the pick was the value. Moch was the 95th ranked player on my board, and we took him at pick 66. They obviously liked him more than me.
I still like Moch and the pick because his potential is crazy. Moch missed pretty much the entire 2011 season with various injuries and severe migraine issues. Now, Manny Lawson has been re-signed and looks to have the SAM LB spot locked up in 2012. Can Moch still provide something as a pass rusher? He'll have to beat out Derrick Harvey and DeQuin Evans, so there's a good chance he sees some playing time in his sophomore year. I just hope he hasn't fallen into Chase Coffman/Brandon Ghee territory and gets released after training camp like those former 3rd round picks did after injury riddled rookie seasons. I'm worried about Moch's future with the team and that will dramatically decrease this grade from me: D-
Clint Boling: G/T from Georgia (fourth round, 101st overall)
Clint Boling was a guy I thought the Bengals could take with their third round pick. He was the 63rd ranked player on my board heading into the draft. He should be able to start day one at left guard while also having the ability to back up RG and RT. This was a great pick for the fourth round. They found a solid starter and did it with getting good value for the pick.
This didn't work the exact way I predicted it. With a shortened off-season, Boling didn't beat Nate Livings for the LG spot, but he did start the first 3-games at RG for the suspended Bobbie Williams. He was eventually replaced due to poor play but Boling's arrow is still pointing up for me. When I scouted him, I thought Boling needed added strength and general experience. These were my same feelings after his three NFL starts. With a full off-season training program, Boling should win a starting spot unless a first round pick is used on the offensive line. Boling also took some snaps at center, so his value has increased. Because of his poor play and the competition for a started job has increased, this pick's grade will be downgraded: B-
Robert Sands: S from WVU (fifth round, 132nd overall)
I didn't like Sands as a player coming into the draft. I thought he was stiff and played with too much finesse for a guy his size. I had him in the sixth round and my 158th overall player. So the value was low for me, especially when there were other players on still available that I thought could come in and contribute to this team. After the draft, Sands has warmed up to me. He seems to have a huge chip on his shoulder for being taken in the 5th round. I also believe that Zimmer gets every bit of production out of his safeties and Sands has a lot of talent to work with. The Bengals need safety help and hopefully Sands is the guy.
In his rookie season, Sands didn't contribute very much and was mostly relegated to the inactive list or special teams. I still feel as down about Sands as I did pre-draft. I think he can be a core special teams guy with some spot-starter abilities. It's been said that the Bengals had a 3rd round grade on Sands and it looks like he'll get a chance to compete for the starting safety spot opposite Reggie Nelson. If it's a fair fight, Sands can beat Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles, but I don't see him as the long term solution. This selection's grade won't be changed just yet: C
Ryan Whalen: WR from Stanford (sixth round, 167th overall)
This was the biggest shocker in the draft. I'm fine with them taking another WR because they always take one in the late rounds. The problem I have with this pick is that Whalen is another inside/slot WR. He's too much like Shipley and Cosby, but maybe that's exactly why they like him. Whalen is a good route runner who knows how to get open in zone coverage. I would have preferred an outside WR, and there was some good talent still available in the sixth round.
This selection is still funny to me. With Cosby getting cut and Shipley ending up on injured reserve early, Whalen had the chance to make some plays. Whalen really showed his potential in a handful of snaps. Still, the Bengals really needed an outside WR when Green and Caldwell got hurt and Simpson was inconsistent and almost got suspended and/or arrested. Now, the Bengals' biggest hole on offense in the number two WR position and Whalen isn't the type who can fill that role. He'll fight for slot snaps with Shipley and Andrew Hawkins. There's no guarantee he makes the roster in 2012, but I will increase this selection's grade because Whalen proved to have some value last year: C
Korey Lindsey: CB from S. Illinois (seventh round, 207th overall)
This was a great pick. I had Korey Lindsey as my 149th overall player in this draft. I was expecting him to go somewhere in the fifth round. To help further my pre-draft ranking, I talked to Josh Buchanan (JBScouting.com) who is the best small school expert in the draft world. This is what he had to say about the Korey Lindsay selection.
"He's a good cover two corner who can play nickel and provide help in the return game. His size and the hamstring injury forced the slide but he will prove to be a very good steal. I saw him as a 5th or 6th round pick so the value was outstanding in the early portion of round 7."
Shows how much I know, right? Lindsey didn't make the final roster like most 7th round picks, but he was claimed before he made the Bengals practice squad. A wasted pick in the final round isn't mob-gathering material but it doesn't help this grade: F
Jay Finley: RB from Baylor (seventh round, 246th overall)
This was easily their worst pick of the draft. I know we shouldn't get upset over a seventh round pick, but when you consider the fact that the Bengals can't sign undrafted free agents, this pick was important. In my opinion and in the opinion of everybody I talked to, Finley wasn't even the best RB on the board. I don't know why this pick was made. Finley isn't very fast or big. He doesn't grind out many yards after contact and doesn't make people miss in the open field. Barring injuries, I would be surprised if he made the team.
No surprise here. Finley didn't stand a chance. He wasn't NFL material and it was easy to see. I've lowered the grade because he wasn't ever heard from again after the pre-season: F
Overall Grade B+
This draft will ultimately come down to the success of Andy Dalton. If he becomes the franchise QB, this draft will be a win no matter what. Through in some great value picks like Green, Boling and Lindsey-Woods, and you have the making of a very solid draft that should contribute early and often. I didn't like the Bengals waiting until their last pick to draft a RB in a deep class. If they want to help Dalton, they need give him a strong running game to work with. You can't address every need, so overall this was a good draft.
The Bengals may have only really hit on two picks (Green and Dalton), the Bengals still have a chance with four others (Moch, Boling, Sands and Whalen). I wouldn't be surprised if only Green, Dalton and Boling were on the roster in 2012. That should lower the overall grade but hitting on your top two selections and finding a franchise QB makes this draft invaluable. Still, you can see some of the team's 2012 holes directly relate to the 2011 draft. They missed on a CB and RB and didn't get much production from their drafted G, S and WR (Whalen).