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

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - DECEMBER 18: Running back Steven Jackson #39 of the St. Louis Rams runs the ball ahead of defensive tackle Domata Peko #94 of the Cincinnati Bengals and guard Bryan Mattison #67 of the St. Louis Rams in the first half of the game on December 18, 2011 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

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"). Earlier today it was offense; now let's take a look at defense.

SAFE

Defensive End (3): Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Jamaal Anderson
We only included Anderson for his contract, worth $6 million over two years. Unlike Derrick Harvey (below) the contract Anderson signed indicates that he's likely making the roster, at least given a one-year tryout that will reward the Bengals for a second-year if he bounces back in 2012.

Defensive Tackle (3): Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Pat Sims
Atkins might be the most effective defensive tackle pass rusher in the NFL, while gaining considerable production as a run stopper. That being said Sims and Peko are this team's best defensive tackles against the run. Last year's squad was more effective when all three defensive tackles were rotating based on the situations.

Linebacker (3): Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard, Manny Lawson
It's one of the more unsurprising roster predictions (like quarterback) with last year's starting linebackers expected to start this year's regular season opener -- unless Maualuga is suspended. And even if he is, he'll remain with the Bengals.

Safety (1): Reggie Nelson
Without a doubt Nelson was Cincinnati's most productive safety in 2011, signing a four-year deal worth nearly $19 million as a reward.

Cornerback (2): Leon Hall, Nate Clements
Leon Hall is expected to make a full recovery by training camp and Nate Clements is entering the final year of a contract, typically labeled a "contract year".

PROBABLE

Defensive End (1): Robert Geathers
If this were a cash-strapped team with a payroll pressed against the salary cap, we think it would be questionable, even doubtful, that Robert Geathers' contract would survive into the 2012 regular season. However cash isn't a problem and no defensive end started more games than Geathers in 2011. We know fans simply want Geathers gone due to his lack of production compared to the contract he received after his breakout season in 2006, but defensive coaches like Geathers and if the team doesn't make a serious run for a defensive prospect during the NFL draft, then he's likely returning for the final year of his overvalued contract.

Linebacker (2): Roddrick Muckelroy, Dontay Moch
These guys are virtually safe, barring a dramatic shift at linebacker that we're not expecting to take place. Muckelroy and Moch are the only linebackers signed into 2013, except for Keith Rivers with an out-clause on his contract for that season.

Safety (3): Taylor Mays, Robert Sands, Chris Crocker
Crocker should probably be listed as a sure-thing, but we're not 100 percent confident that he is (more like 99.9 percent). That being said Sands and Mays are this team's younger core of safeties that spent 2011 developing. We imagine that development will have to translate into some form of production during training camp and the preseason. However the coaching staff likes big safeties and they're both big safeties.

Cornerback (2): Jason Allen, Adam Jones
Adam Jones showed enough filling in for the injured Leon Hall last year, earning a one-year deal during the offseason while Jason Allen signed a two-year deal to help strengthen the team's depth chart at cornerback.

QUESTIONABLE

Defensive End (1): Derrick Harvey
We're well aware that the Bengals signed Harvey only weeks ago, but his $760,000 salary indicates (in baseball terms) that he signed more of a minor league deal than a guaranteed spot on the 2012 roster. If the Bengals find help at defensive end through the draft, Harvey could be the one getting axe. Sure Geathers could also, but he has a greater cap hit and a history of being far more productive overall (not just the category of pass rusher).

Defensive Tackle (1): Nick Hayden
We'll be completely honest. We know very little about Nick Hayden, who took part in 33 defensive snaps in the span of two games (Texans, Rams). Defensive tackles, especially run-stoppers are hard to gauge because their role isn't so much based on noticeable production -- it's allowing other players to get the recognition for it.

Linebacker (3): Keith Rivers, Vincent Rey, DeQuin Evans
Rivers probably should be listed as probable, but I'm not 100 percent confident that he's 75 percent certain of making the roster (did you totally follow that?). Vincent Rey is a special teams contributor and the longer that Dan Skuta remains unsigned, the better Rey's chances are to make an eventual contribution to the defense next season (think possible Maualuga suspension). Evans is somewhat of a dark horse, after spending 2011 on the practice squad while signing as an undrafted free agent.

Cornerback (1): Brandon Ghee
Injury issues have stalled Ghee's development since suffering a scary head injury during the preseason of his rookie season. If his durability concerns are behind him, he could be a riser on this team's depth chart, but his job security will be severely threatened if the Bengals draft a first-round cornerback during this month's NFL Draft.

DOUBTFUL

Linebacker (1): Micah Johnson
To be honest the only time I remember he exists is when I check out the Bengals.com roster chart.

Cornerback (1): Rico Murray
Probably a bit unfair, graded so poorly. But a first-round cornerback prospect would hurt his already slim chances of making the 2012 roster. However his two saving graces would be special teams and his versatility; depending on how well Ghee responds this year, I wouldn't necessarily count Murray out just yet.

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