The Bengals have played their cards well so far during free agency. They haven't made a big splash to sign a top-tier player to fill one of their holes. Instead they have taken the approach of re-signing some of their key players from last season then addressing other areas of needs with "bargain" bin players.
While doing all of this, it appears as though Cincinnati has put some of their other needs on the back burner. According to Pro Football Weekly's Mike Wilkening, the Bengals biggest needs heading into the draft are: cornerback, wide receiver, and defensive line.
The top need for the Bengals according to Wilkening is cornerback.
"Former Texans CB Jason Allen strengthens the depth here. Also, the Bengals re-signed veteran Adam Jones, who finished the year as a starter after Leon Hall's Achilles injury. However, the Bengals are still not as strong as they were at this position when Hall and Johnathan Joseph were the starters. Hall and Joseph were first-rounders who lived up to their billing; could the Bengals add at this position again?"
This is a reasonable assessment of the Bengals situation at corner. Last season after Joesph departed for Houston, the Bengals signed veteran Nate Clements to try to fill the void. His overall numbers were respectable. Nothing spectacular, but nothing to be ashamed of. He had his share of lapses on the field, but he was still a reliable player. While Clements isn't the long-term solution he was an adequate replacement that provided veteran leadership for a young Cincinnati secondary.
But the Bengals still lack a long-term solution to start at cornerback opposite of Leon Hall, who is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury that he suffered during Week 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Hall undoubtedly won't be 100 percent when the season starts, it's expected that he will be a contributor during the 2012 season. Addressing cornerback early in the draft is going to be vital for the Bengals as there is a lot of first round talent in this year's draft class.
The second area of need for the Bengals heading into the draft is wide receiver according to Wilkening.
"The Bengals lost Andre Caldwell to Denver, and unrestricted free agent Jerome Simpson faces the prospect of prison time and NFL discipline after pleading guilty to a drug charge in March. With the Bengals failing to add a wideout in free agency to this point, the draft might be their best bet to find an impact wideout. However, it is worth noting that they added Terrell Owens late in free agency in 2010."
Three weeks ago I would have completely disagreed with this notion. But after the first initial wave of free agency concluded the Bengals have failed to sign a wideout to play opposite of A.J. Green. There have been rumblings that the Bengals will entertain the idea of having Armon Binns be the No. 2 receiver. But he hasn't made a catch during the regular season which has caused some to shy away from the idea of having Binns start.
At this point there aren't many impact receivers left on the market. Sure there is Mike Wallace, but he would cost a first round pick and that's something the Bengals probably don't want; to surrender to a divisional foe. And hopefully they learned their lesson from signing guys like Antonio Bryant and Owens, players that never panned out for them.
This year's draft class for receivers features some first round talent and second round talent that could intrigue Cincinnati. The Bengals need some more offensive weapons to take the pressure off of Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham.
And the final area that the Bengals need to address in the draft according to Wilkening is the defensive line.
"The Bengals lost DEs Frostee Rucker (Browns) and Jonathan Fanene (Patriots) in free agency and replaced them with two former first-rounders (Derrick Harvey, Jamaal Anderson). Still, the Bengals' DL depth was a strength a season ago, and if Harvey and Anderson don't pan out, Cincinnati won't be as strong up front. Another lineman or two would be a big help. Someone with position versatility would be desirable, as Fanene could play end and tackle."
Now I don't agree with this assessment. The Bengals have bigger needs other than the defensive line. Cincinnati has added Travelle Wharton this offseason, but there is still a need to add more firepower and depth to the front line.
The Bengals let Nate Livings and Mike McGlynn depart for other teams (and all of us Bengals fans are celebrating their exits). Bobbie Williams, who has been a mainstay for the Bengals for years remains unsigned, so there's still a possibility that he could return next season.
Heading into the 2012 season the Bengals front line will feature starters: Andre Smith, Andrew Whitworth, Kyle Cook, and reliable back-up Anthony Collins. As of now the Bengals lack depth and still have some holes on the front line. The draft is the Bengals best route to address this need.
While the defensive line was one of the Bengals biggest strengths last season they have retained vital role player Pat Sims and brought in a couple of reclamation projects in Anderson and Harvey. The Bengals hope Anderson and Harvey discover their potential and blossom into significant contributors under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The Bengals have at least taken some steps to fill the holes left by the departures of Rucker and Fanene.
For the Bengals there are endless possibilities in which direction they could head in for the draft. And in roughly three weeks fans will finally know what direction the Bengals will head in.