Almost two weeks ago, I posted a piece on whether or not Bengals fans should trust offensive line coach Paul Alexander's coaching abilities. One of the commenters on that article, "smirker", raised an interesting point about the team not investing high picks in offensive linemen. It got me to thinking and I set out on a little research project.
I wanted to see just where the Bengals rank in terms of drafting linemen in the first two rounds of the draft compared to the rest of the NFL. Why, you ask? Most of the teams in the NFL have become champions because of having formidable offensive and defensive lines. Since the Bengals haven't experienced much success in the Mike Brown era, I was curious to see just how high the owner values those positions.
The following is a breakdown of the investments by each team. A big thanks to our own Nick Crago for compiling a lot of data here, making this post possible.Since Alexander joined the Bengals coaching staff in 1994, the Bengals have invested six draft picks in the first two rounds. In the first round, the Bengals selected two right tackles, Willie Anderson and Andre Smith, as well as a left tackle in Levi Jones. Anderson and Jones became the team's bookend tackles, but what's interesting to note is that they were drafted six years apart from each other (Anderson in 1996 and Jones in 2002). In the wake of Anthony Munoz leaving after the 1992 season, one would think that the team would spend a high pick on the second-most important position on a football team sooner than a decade later.
The team's ownership finally caved on selecting a guard for the first time in their 44-year history this year in Kevin Zeitler. This speaks volumes as to the coaching staff's opinions on the former Wisconsin Badger, as does the report that the staff had Zeitler and David DeCastro rated evenly in this year's draft. He's expected to step in and start right away at right guard.
In the second round, the team has invested two picks in the Alexander era. In 2003 the team almost broke the "Zeitler streak" by taking Eric Steinbach with the first pick in the second round. He played four solid seasons in Cincinnati, before leaving for the Cleveland Browns after the 2006 season. The team showed some foresight with the Steinbach situation, as they drafted Andrew Whitworth going into the 2006 season. Before manning the left tackle spot, Whitworth was initially used as a guard and then took over the left tackle spot once Jones began breaking down because of injury.
So, six players in 18 seasons with Alexander means, on average, the team invests a first or second round pick on an offensive lineman every three years. By comparison, the Seattle Seahawks have invested in ten offensive linemen in that same timespan. In all, 13 teams have used more picks on offensive linemen in the first two rounds since 1994 than the Bengals, with five teams investing the same amount of picks in those rounds. It's important to note that three of the teams that invested less picks on offensive linemen were expansion teams (Texans, Browns, Ravens).
Of the 13 teams that invested more in offensive linemen than the Bengals, six won the Super Bowl and six others went to a Conference Championship game in that period. Tough to call that a simple coincidence, right?
"Smirker" continued the discussion with a breakdown of the other picks that the team has made and Alexander was charged with developing:
This is a staggering list of a who's who of "never were's". I still have hope for players like Stephens, Boling and Hudson but the rest just reek of disappointment. The two most disappointing players are Collins and Luigs. Since playing well for half of a season in 2008, Collins hasn't been able to crack the starting lineup and signed a contract this offseason to remain a backup with the club. He's a great fallback option at either tackle position if either Whitworth or Smith went down with injury, but at this point that's about it.
Luigs was a former Rimington Award winner in college, making one believe that he'd be an effective NFL center. Unfortunately, injuries caught up to him and he didn't last with the team. Luckily, the Bengals found their diamond in the rough in Kyle Cook, who has manned the position since 2009.
Given this data, the question has to be asked once again on if some of the offensive line problems have been attributed to Alexander. The team placed right around the bottom-third of the league in investing first and second round picks on offensive linemen in his tenure, so one has to think that the Bengals haven't given him enough talent to work with.
Then again, Alexander has always loved project players. The Bengals have shown the confidence in Alexander's ability to develop players by investing a large number of picks on offensive linemen in the middle and late rounds of the draft in his tenure. And, given the above-mentioned list of failed projects, one also has to wonder if the team is overstating Alexander's coaching abilities.
The bottom line is that Alexander isn't going anywhere in 2012. But, with two new starting guards and a right tackle entering a contract year, this season should be one where Alexander is watched carefully. Though he's a "Mike Brown guy", if the line underachieves once again in 2012 and Marvin Lewis gets another contract extension, we could see Alexander shown the door.