Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Why Manti Te'o? The idea that the Bengals draft troubled players and turn them around is becoming tired. Unfortunately, "draftniks" all over the country don't seem to realize it.
Maybe it's just me, but it seems more and more apparent that mock drafts are conveniently placing Manti Te'o in Cincinnati. Why do I call this "convenient"? Because it's one of the laziest, half-baked excuses for a projection I've seen for the Bengals in some time. It's not difficult to point out why Te'o won't be a great fit for the Bengals. Whether it's the fact that the Bengals don't unconditionally covet an inside linebacker with or without free agent Rey Maualuga, or the fact that he's better suited in a 3-4 defense versus the 4-3 preference of Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, or even the fact that I don't believe he's truly a first-round talent (which is debatable, I know). My discomfort with the leanings of many mock drafters is simply due to the fact that the general perception of how the Bengals operate, or will operate in 2013, is grossly misguided.
I get it: The Bengals go after "value," and the team has experienced its share of hit-or-miss investments in players with a troubled past or present. It's no secret - obviously - but NFL Insiders aren't exactly operating from the inside when they make these lethargic projections. Let's revisit the commentary from NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah on his prediction that the Bengals will select Te'o at number 21 overall:
"Is there a team better equipped to handle the Te'o situation? Marvin Lewis has dealt with Chad Johnson/Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, the late Chris Henry, Pacman Jones and Vontaze Burfict. He'll gladly welcome questions about a fake girlfriend. All of the craziness aside, Te'o is a solid player and would fill a need for the Bengals."
Now, let's break this down for a moment. "Is there a team better equipped to handle the Te'o situation?" I'm sure there are, but I see Jeremiah's point. Where Jeremiah's logic begins to falter is over his remaining few points: He lists a handful of players to compare with Te'o and his off-the-field issues in an attempt to play matchmaker for the Bengals. The thing is, Terrell Owens was picked up for a one year deal worth approximately $2 million with plenty of performance incentives on the back end. There was minimal risk to the team for a player of Owens caliber even at age 36. He also mentions wide receiver Chris Henry. Let's even set aside the fact that the Bengals no longer fulfill their stereotype of swinging for the fences on troubled players. Henry is a prime example of a troubled player and may be one of the better comparisons to a Te'o-to-Cincinnati situation, but he was taken in the third round. That's not to say that a third-round pick doesn't come with high expectations in the NFL, but the Bengals were operating with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at the time and they had the ability to groom Henry who, aside from his mediocre blocking, was a high-ceiling prospect as a receiver. Finally, cornerback Adam Jones was signed to a two-year contract in 2010 with language built in to protect the Bengals from his off-field issues, and he was even resigned for another year at practically the veteran minimum.
Don't even get me started on comparing Te'o as a first round pick with Vontaze Burfict. Burfict was an extremely low risk signing that wasn't even drafted, so let's put that to rest right now. However, it's worth mentioning that Burfict will more than likely be moved to middle linebacker. Assuming that does happen, the Bengals will seek out an athletic outside linebacker that can handle tight ends and running backs much better than the mess that occurred in Houston during the playoffs. Just because there's a desire for help in the middle on defense doesn't mean that the Bengals take any linebacker they can get their hands on as early as possible. But I digress. The point I'm choosing to focus more on is the poor judgment being directed toward the Bengals based on a few low-risk decisions over the past few years.
So, how does this all tie in to Manti Te'o? As I've mentioned before, I don't consider Te'o a first-round talent, at least not for the Bengals. Regardless, just because Te'o has some peculiar issues to deal with heading into the draft it doesn't mean that he's immediately a target for the Cincinnati Bengals. We're talking about the first round here. So, if a renovator is known for buying properties at $20,000 each and turns a profit, that same renovator is the "ideal" buyer of a $300,000 house that could potentially turn a profit? Good luck with that sales call, Mr. Realtor.
As Jeremiah even said, "Te'o is a solid player and would fill a need for the Bengals." The Bengals don't need a "solid" player in a position that isn't really a need if they handle their current players' contracts appropriately. I think the real problem may lie in the fact that no one really knows where to place Te'o. It's an awkward scenario: Where does he fit and where is any given team's breaking point on where it no longer matters how bizarre Te'o's off field issues are? So, by default, we are assuming he goes to the Bengals? It's lazy, and it needs to stop.
Let's put a little more effort into these mock drafts, NFL Insiders. The perception you have of the Bengals is becoming tired. Manti Te'o isn't a consolation prize (there should be very few "consolations" when it comes to the first round of the NFL Draft), and he certainly isn't a need for the Cincinnati Bengals. If Te'o is available in the second round, that may be a whole new argument.