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This will likely become one of my favorite mailbags that I've done over the past half year or so because it's the last one before the draft and it will hopefully generate a lot of discussion. As Josh noted a few days ago, we have no inkling as to what them team is going to do in the draft. And as I've noted in previous mailbags, the Bengals are armed with a multitude of picks with which they can grab a number of starters and/or maneuver around to get who they want.
I was asked an interesting question about a particular incoming prospect by one of my new Twitter followers, Josh. He asks:
Man, that's an intriguing image, isn't it? It would seem that the value for Fleener in the second round at where the Bengals pick would be enormous. If you're not familiar with Fleener's skill set, take a look at this pretty neat breakdown from National Football Post. In seeing some tape on Fleener and glossing over some draftniks' reviews on his game, I believe Fleener is similar to another former-first round tight end, Greg Olsen, though I believe Fleener is a superior blocker over Olsen.
Will Fleener be a Bengal if he's available for the taking in the second? Based on past draft history in the Marvin Lewis era and in the team's history in general, one wouldn't think that that would be the case. In 2010, the team chose a tight end in the first round for the first time in Jermaine Gresham. Behind him, they have two pretty solid players in Colin Cochart and the recently re-signed Donald Lee. The issue is that the two behind Gresham don't really strike fear into opposing defenses.
If Fleener were to paired with Gresham in a two tight end set with A.J. Green and Jordan Shipley, there would be four legitimate receiving weapons on the field at the same time. There were times last year that Gresham was both split out wide and in the slot and that gave the Bengals offense the mismatches that they wanted. If you remember the heyday of the Bengals in the 1980s, a major reason for their offensive success was because of the contributions of three tight ends--one being a Pro Bowler. We see it now again today with the Patriots (as you mentioned) and when used correctly, two capable tight ends on the field at the same time is formidable. WIth a player like Fleener and Gresham both on the field, they would create these same match ups any time that they wanted. I suppose the better question is "why wouldn't they draft Fleener in the second"?
I believe that the Bengals have attempted to find this formula, but haven't had it work out. They spent a third round pick on Chase Coffman and I'm sure that they envisioned that he would be paired with another tight end in goal line packages to ensure efficiency in the red zone. Unfortunately, another aspect that the Bengals covet in their tight ends is the ability to block. Coffman didn't have this ability, Gresham has developed it, and Fleener is somewhere between the two.
I just also feel that the team and its staff doesn't value the position as much as they do skill positions. At running back, they've always wanted "the guy" and they love collecting wide receivers. They also still have arguably four or five positions that need addressing early in the draft and tight end isn't one of them. While I think Fleener would be an interesting and valuable pickup, I don't see it happening next weekend.
Speaking of next weekend, it's time for my AFC North three-round mock draft. I'll be making the first few selections for each team, including the Bengals, and provide explanations for each. Keep in mind that this is not indicative of how I want things to go, but rather how I see things playing out. Here it goes:
Round one, pick four: Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama: And the collective groan from fans of the rest of division will be heard around the country. Richardson is a quality player and one of the best in this draft. While this is an extremely high pick for a running back in today's NFL, he will come in and provide a new dimension to their offense. With Peyton Hillis leaving for free agency this season, this pick makes a ton of sense.
Round one, pick 22: Rueben Randle, wide receiver, Lousiana State: In a bit of a shocker, the Browns take Randle before Kendall Wright. Why? Recent reports have teams grading Wright in the third round and the Browns could very well be one of those teams. Randle will come in right away and start alongside fellow first-rounder Richardson. It may not be the flashiest pick, but a solid one.
Round two, pick five: Brandon Weeden, quarterback, Oklahoma State: The Browns played their hand early in the draft process when they attempted to trade up for Robert Griffin, III. They're not sold on Colt McCoy, and while he could be a different quarterback with a player like Richardson at his disposal, they can't take that chance. With Weeden they now have their trifecta Weeden is a solid player and can make most of the NFL throws. If he wasn't 28 years old, there would likely be a major discussion about if he'd be picked ahead of Ryan Tannehill. Weeden could be selected at No.22 by the Browns, but the teams that sit behind them until this pick in the second don't have a need for a quarterback, so I think he lasts. He's a mature guy and if he pans out, he can give a club a solid six seasons or so.
Round three, pick four: Kelechi Osemele, offensive guard, Iowa State: The Browns continue to build their offense in an attempt to be able to contend with the rest of the formidable defenses of the division. Osemele is widely-regarded as a top-five talent at the guard position in this year's draft. He's huge at 6'6" and 347 pounds and is just the type of player that the Browns are looking for, now that Eric Steinbach has been released.
Round one, pick 24: Dont'a Hightower, inside linebacker, Alabama: Hightower is one of likely five potential first round picks from the University of Alabama in 2012. The pick makes a lot of sense for an aging Steelers defense where they cut loose veteran mainstay, James Farrior, this offseason. Hightower is an imposing figure and a very able tackler. Often considered the best inside linebacker prospect behind Luke Kuechly in this year's draft and will (unfortunately) man the middle of the Steelers defense for many years.
Round two, pick 24: Brandon Brooks, offensive guard, Miami University (OH): This kid has flown up draft boards over the past month or so, thanks to a stellar workout he put on at his Pro Day. Brooks was snubbed of an invite to the Scouting Combine, but teams have noted his size, athleticism and ability lately. With the Steelers always seeming to have injury and depth issues at the guard and tackle positions, Brooks is a quality selection.
Round three, pick 24: Casey Hayward, cornerback, Vanderbilt: The Steelers don't pick skill positions with high picks that often and I believe that 2012 won't be an exception. The Steelers got torched against the Denver Broncos in the playoffs and their secondary was exposed. Ike Taylor isn't worth a paycheck anymore since he doesn't have Chad Ochocinco (catch his cameo in the American Reunion movie, yet?) to push around twice a year anymore. The Steelers usually get things done with their front seven which allows their two great safeties to make a lot of plays. Hayward is a solid player, who is a willing tackler and a knack for making plays. He's not the most exciting corner in the draft, but he'll help the Steelers' secondary.
Round one, pick 29: Peter Konz, center, Wisconsin: Konz is the top center prospect in this year's draft and is slated to go anywhere from the late first round to the middle of the second. He also provides value as he will be capable of playing guard at the next level, if necessary. Konz is a bit better in run blocking than he is in pass protection, but he's a solid all-around prospect. He makes sense for the Ravens because he can play the guard position vacated by Ben Grubbs and/or take over at center when Matt Birk retires, which is likely to be in the near future.
Round two, pick 29: Brian Quick, wide receiver, Appalachian State: Opinions vary on this kid and if you ask three different draftniks, you'd likely get three very different takes. Like Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech, Quick is raw and comes from a basic offense. What's interesting is that he has similar measurables to Hill, but Quick isn't getting the same love that Hill is by scouts. With Lee Evans getting the axe and Anquan Boldin getting older, the Ravens will need another playmaking wide receiver to pair with Torrey Smith.
Round three, pick 29: Bruce Irvin, outside linebacker, West Virgina: Irvin is one of those "'tweener" linebacker/defensive end players that fit oh so well into the Ravens' scheme. Irvin was a disruptive player for the Mountaineers defense, but size is a knock on him at only 245 pounds. He is very quick with his initial step, but is limited with the pass-rushing moves that he uses. With the Ravens losing Jarrett Johnson to free agency, they'll need a quality replacement and Irvin ca be that guy.
Round one, pick 17: Riley Reiff, offensive tackle/offensive guard, Iowa: Recent reports have Reiff slipping in the draft, with some saying he could be making a tumble towards the second round. I doubt he'll slip that far, though he could be available to the Bengals here. For all of the draftniks that point the Bengals in the direction of Cordy Glenn, Reiff provides all of the same qualities with a more solid resume. He's a tackle that can kick inside to guard and that's likely where they would put him to start. With Andre Smith entering the final year of his disappointing contract, Reiff could be the replacement at right tackle in 2013, if the team opts to let Smith walk. A solid player with good value here.
Round one, pick 21: Stephen Hill, wide receiver, Georgia Tech: I believe that the Bengals will use one of their two first round picks on a risky player and I think that that player will be Hill. With Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd likely off of the board early, Hill is just too promising to pass up. There seems to be one of these types of players that make an annual appearance in the draft (Jon Baldwin and DeMaryius Thomas, most recently) and with some interesting news surrounding Kendall Wright recently, the Bengals will opt for this workout warrior. Now, for those screaming "he's Jerome Simpson 2.0!", hang on a second. First, Hill is two or three inches taller than Simpson (6'2" versus 6'4"/6'5") and weighs fifteen pounds more (190 versus 205). Though he's raw and comes from a primitive offense like Simpson, he played much better competition in the ACC than Simpson did at Coastal Carolina and still produced when given the chance. He also won't be relied on to be their No.1 guy, but rather a deep threat to take pressure off of A.J. Green. Picture two 6'4" wide receivers on the outside with Jordan Shipley and Andrew Hawkins as slot players. Hill is a "boom or bust" prospect whose floor is around what Chris Henry provided and if he's a hit, he'll be the answer they need opposite Green.
Round two, pick 21: David Wilson, running back, Virgina Tech: Some might be surprised if/when the Bengals take Wilson over Miami's Lamar Miller. But, when reviewing tape of each player, Miller seems more suited for a zone-blocking scheme, which the Bengals don't employ. Wilson has the ability to be a more complete back in the NFL, and while Miller's speed is incredible, he's more of a one-trick pony. Wilson will need to learn how to pass protect and hold onto the football better (seven fumbles last season), but he provides help both immediately and for the future at the position. Regardless of your opinion on him, this would be a good value at this spot and would really improve the offense along with Reiff and Hill.
Round three, pick 21: Alfonzo Dennard, cornerback, Nebraska: What about the defense? Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will likely be irate that his unit hasn't received any attention until the third round, but he also received a bunch of toys in free agency (three cornerbacks, a safety and two defensive ends), but that will end here. With Dennard's recent run-ins with the law, he'll be available in "the middle rounds" and this spot is likely to be the range that teams will debate selecting him. Some could argue that Dennard's transgressions are worse than that of Janoris Jenkins, and there's merit to that argument. However, it still seems that Jenkins will be selected in the first two rounds and the back end of the third for Dennard is still pretty good value, given his talents. His poor Senior Bowl and Combine performances aside, Dennard has the abilities to line up against wideouts in the slot or on the outside and has the ability to be a quality starter in the NFL.
Check out my previous mock draft from a few weeks ago to compare and contrast. I think the Bengals will address safety in the fourth round with a player like Boise State's George Iloka or South Carolina's Antonio Allen. Don't be surprised if Janoris Jenkins is picked by the Bengals as far down as the third round, as I see him taking a tumble much like Ryan Mallett did last year. Some other names to keep an eye on in the first for the Bengals are: Quentin Coples, Dontari Poe and Doug Martin. Some mid-round guys to keep an eye on with the Bengals are Marvin McNutt and LaMichael James. Feel free to weigh in on the mock draft I've presented and keep the tweets and emails coming! Next week, I'll be doing a recap of the Bengals draft, how it compares to this mock and what it all means for the team.