The scouting combine is in full swing at Lucas Oil Stadium and speculation about what the Bengals will do in the draft is running high. Prior to free agency, however, all of this speculation is about as solid as a (Leon) sandcastle during high tide. There are simply too many unanswered questions to definitively state how the Bengals will approach this year's draft.
On March 12, free agency will officially open, and a couple weeks later we might finally start to get some answers to some of our burning questions. At the moment, safety, linebacker, defensive end, and running back are a few of the Bengals' biggest needs. As March turns to April, however, this may no longer be the case. Sitting on around $60 million in cap space, the Bengals are primed to fill many of their perceived needs by signing outside free agents or re-signing their own guys. For example, at the defensive end position, the team currently has three pending free agents in Robert Geathers, Wallace Gilberry, and Michael Johnson. Depending on how free agency shakes out, the Bengals may come away with either excellent continuity and depth at the DE position or they might find themselves in dire need of rebuilding their defensive line. Until the new league year actually starts, we will be left guessing and speculating about which positions the Bengals will need to fill through the draft.
The scouting combine also has its share of shortcomings when it comes to trying to project draft strategy. Part of the combine process is conducting interviews with players, and the Bengals have reportedly already held meetings with a number of different players, from offensive linemen to safeties and even tight ends. Each NFL team is allowed a certain allotment of formal, 15-minute interviews. The limited number of these interviews, however, forces teams to also utilize impromptu meetings, where they grab a prospect during some down time to talk X's and O's. A smart team will try and gather as much information as possible, and that means talking to players at every position, not just positions of need. Consequently, by the end of the combine, teams will have spoken with most of the players in attendance, which makes prognosticating based on formal interviews almost impossible.
When it comes right down to it, the pre-draft season is a shadowy bog of misinformation, red herrings, and very rarely solid fact. Although the combine helps teams solidify their opinions about specific players, it provides almost zero transparency for us as fans. There is simply too much going on behind the scenes to truly get a good idea of what each team is planning. And until the initial free agency period concludes, it is impossible to know what the state of the roster will be heading into the draft.
Ultimately, we will never really know how the Bengals plan to attack the draft until Marvin Lewis and Co. are on the clock come April 25th. But at least free agency will help clear the air, allowing for informed speculation rather than idle conjecture.