Ranking Bengals Offense Heading Into The NFL Draft: Who Is Safe And Who Is Out

Now that we've entered April (the month), we've quickly approaching the 2012 NFL Draft. The countdown for the rest of us non-draftniks has begun. So in preparation we've decided to create a list of players on the current roster that we broke down into four categories, much like the weekly injury lists. They are: Safe (100 percent certainty of making the roster), Probable (75 percent certain), Questionable (50/50) and Doubtful (25 percent certain). In truth there's little to differentiate between "safe" and "probable", used as a not-so-sure measure to hint that the NFL draft may generate some affect at that particular position. We also broken this down into offense and defense (kickers and long snappers are probably "safe"). First offense, later defense.

SAFE

Quarterback (2): Andy Dalton, Bruce Gradkowski
There's always a chance that the Bengals could select a quarterback during the late rounds with the intention of grooming a young quarterback to replace backup Bruce Gradkowski, entering the final season of a two-year contract, as the future second-teamer. But if that happens, the actual replacement won't take place until next year, allowing Gradkowski's existing deal to expire.

Running Back (1): BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Unless you have an injury that the medical staff missed (Bengals fans stopped momentarily to let out a defeated sigh), there's no way the Bengals will sign someone to a three-year contract worth $9 million and let that player leave during the first year.

Full Back (1): Chris Pressley
Much like Green-Ellis, the Bengals signed Pressley to a two-year deal worth $2.1 million in early March. Considering they could have simply tendered Pressley for a one-year commitment, they didn't feel it was worth risking another team signing him to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

Wide Receiver (2): A.J. Green, Jordan Shipley
Green is obvious. Shipley is less so, only because of his torn ACL and how that translates into a full recovery. Though we've heard nothing but positive news regarding his rehabilitation and if he's healthy, he's a Cincinnati Bengal next season.

Tight End (1): Jermaine Gresham
Gresham has only improved since coming into the league from Oklahoma during the 2010 NFL draft, promoted to the Pro Bowl thanks to a vacancy last season.

Center (1): Kyle Cook
Has four years remaining on a five-year contract worth $15.8 million.

Guard (1): Travelle Wharton
Already the team's best run-blocking guard and like Green-Ellis, there's no way Wharton isn't on this team, save for an injury, after signing a three-year deal worth $10 million during free agency.

Tackle (3): Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Anthony Collins
A strong trio of offensive tackles with Collins perhaps being one of the best backup offensive tackles in the NFL.

PROBABLE

Running Back (2): Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard
Both running backs are probably safe, but we can't help think about the domino affect if the team selects a running back during the early rounds. If a rookie prospect is molded to a running style similar to Bernard Scott, one has to assume Scott's job security is significantly threatened. And if we had to choose who is safer between the two, we'd pick Leonard over Scott without hesitation for his third-down contributions as well as his heavy special teams role.

Wide Receiver (2): Andrew Hawkins, Ryan Whalen
Hawkins is strong candidate for a gadget player, backup slot receiver and special teams returner. If the team is planning to run a bubble screen, you can be certain that Hawkins is somewhere on the field.

But it was Ryan Whalen, not Andrew Hawkins, that became the team's slot receiver at the end of the year. Against the Rams, Cardinals, Ravens and Texans (playoff game), Whalen averaged just over 26 snaps on offense per game. That alone makes us believe that Shipley's backup will be Whalen at the start of the season. And if Shipley isn't ready, a strong candidate to replace him in the starting lineup (during three-wide formations).

Tight End (1): Colin Cochart
Though the Bengals did take a look at tight ends during free agency, they decided to head into the NFL Draft with Gresham and Colin Cochart, a strong blocker and H-back candidate, as the only tight ends. Even if they draft another tight end, Cochart is probably safe. But history dictates Cincinnati will head into training camp with four, if not five, tight ends for competitions behind Gresham.

Guard (1): Clint Boling
When Bobbie Williams missed the first four games in 2011, Boling was propelled to the top of the depth chart at right guard. Though he didn't play as well as hoped, he wasn't awful either. Even with three total guards on the current roster, the Bengals will likely forgo a backup center and use a guard behind Cook. This doesn't qualify Boling as a safe bet, but the Bengals need a steady talent-base on the depth chart as much as they need talent-injections at the top.

QUESTIONABLE

Quarterback (1): Zac Robinson
Robinson replaced fan-favorite Dan LeFevour, spending the 2011 season on the team's practice squad. If the Bengals only go with two quarterbacks (which is expected with the new CBA rules), then Robinson likely returns to the practice squad, maybe being groomed as the eventual Gradkowski replacement. At the same time history dictates that the Bengals love veteran backup quarterbacks and not projects. And really, does the team have the time to groom someone with their complete attention on developing Dalton?

Running Back (1): Cedric Peerman
Peerman may be questionable, but in our mind he's as much a safe-bet to make the team as he is to be cut during roster trimming. The thing that saved Peerman in 2011 was his special teams role, but it might not be enough if the Bengals select a talented running back early during the NFL Draft.

Wide Receiver (2): Armon Binns, Brandon Tate
There were times we could see what the coaches saw in Brandon Tate as a kick and punt returner. We also saw how Tate struggled to fully integrate himself as a return man, often becoming too indecisive when hauling in the punt or kickoff. However we have to wonder how long that patience will last, thinking that if a better all-around option comes along (not named Adam Jones), Tate could miss the cut.

If not for Marvin Lewis mentioning Armon Binns twice during press conferences, we're not sure if Binns would even make it this far up the list. But with Binns we're at a decided disadvantage, having not seen how well the wide receiver is progressing during practices.

Guard (1): Otis Hudson
Paul Alexander called him the second-most improved offensive lineman during last year's training camp before an injury speed-bumped his progression. He's got the body to be an eventual Bobbie Williams replacement at right guard,

Tackle (1): Matthew O'Donnell
The six-foot-forever replacement of Dennis Roland is a long-shot but depth is an issue at offensive tackle.

DOUBTFUL

Running Back (1): Aaron Brown
WWE CEO Vince McMahon's entrance music.

Full Back (1): James Develin
Develin will make a candidate on the team's practice squad, a replacement player in case Pressley has an issue.

Wide Receiver (1) Vidal Hazelton
(see above)

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