It's safe to say that the Bengals have caught the eye of many NFL analysts after their extremely productive offseason. After a slow start to free agency, they added some key pieces and then grabbed ten quality college players in the draft--half of which could push for starting jobs with the club. The most highly-contested position battle during Bengals Training Camp will be that of the starting wide receiver job, opposite A.J. Green.
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks recently wrote a column titled, "Seven Strong Hunches For the 2012 Season", and wouldn't you know it--the Bengals are included on the list.
Aside from the bold assertions that the Bills will push to unseat the Patriots in the AFC East and the Buccaneers being a surprise team for 2012, Banks also touches on the Bengals wide receiver situation in his bold predictions.
Mohamed Sanu will be the second consecutive Bengals rookie receiver to show up and show up early. Karma owes Sanu a little something-something after he endured that cruel prank phone call on the first night of last month's draft, and I believe he's going to wind up having the last laugh when it comes to his career in Cincinnati starting roughly 24 hours later than he was first led to believe. The ex-Rutgers receiver is already off to an impressive start, easily standing out at last weekend's Bengals rookie minicamp, drawing both praise and a prediction of early contributions from head coach Marvin Lewis.
Cincinnati has a decent history of rookie impact from receivers, getting that monster debut season from first-rounder A.J. Green last year (65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns), and a seven-touchdown showing from third-rounder Chris Henry in 2005. Sanu is an ideal complement to Green's outside speed and vertical game, and he'll work the inside and underneath routes with both precision and determination, pulling down plenty of catches in a crowd or despite solid coverage. NFL scouts worried about his ability to separate this spring, but come September, Sanu will be putting plenty of distance between himself and most of the league's other rookie receivers.
Though some project Sanu to be a better fit as a slot type of receiver instead of on the outside, the bottom line is that he's a possession guy who can make plays to take pressure off of Green. He's being pushed by fellow rookie Marvin Jones and first-year man, Armon Binns, but it's a safe assumption that he looks to be slightly ahead in the competition. He may not make the highlight reel catches of his predecessor, Jerome Simpson, but he'll make the tough catches across the middle and move the chains.
What's likely to happen is a rotation and/or "receiver by committee approach". In two wide receiver sets, it's likely that Green and Sanu will be the outside guys. In multiple wide receiver sets, Sanu and Shipley will likely be the inside slot guys, with Green and either Binns or Jones on the outside. The Bengals have done a masterful job overhauling this position group (among others on the roster), who needed a big injection of talent this offseason. Sanu will definitely be a big part of their success.
Additionally, Banks makes an assumption on Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Chad Ochocinco (or whatever he's calling himself these days) won't be around to see another burst of fall foliage in New England. Unless the Patriots make NFL history and decide to keep eight receivers, or a couple pass-catchers go down in camp with season-ending injuries, the math doesn't add up for Chad. In English or Spanish. New England is beyond loaded with bodies at receiver, and Ochocinco was essentially dead weight all of last season.
That realization is only going to get driven home all the more dramatically once training camp opens and No. 85 is out there trying to compete with the likes of Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Deion Branch, Anthony Gonzalez, Julian Edelman, Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney and Matthew Slater. Pay cut to $1 million or not, Ochocinco is still over-priced by New England's typical produce-or-be-gone standards. He and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick have always been chummy and all, but shockingly, there's a limit to B.B.'s warm and fuzzy side. And in this case, it's a 53-man limit.
It's a common opinion and isn't very far-fetched. The former Bengals star has really fallen from grace over the past few seasons and we could easily see Ocho in the NFL's unemployment line very soon.