Another year and another solid Bengals draft. With fewer roster holes to fill from a draft with a lack of true star power, the high praise is once again pouring in from the national pundits in what is becoming an annual tradition. But, why is the 2013 looking like such an effective one for the Cincinnati Bengals? It's the offensive talent that they stockpiled that makes things really look up for the coming season.
Last season, the offense was improved off of the young 2011 crew, but not by all that much. Quarterback Andy Dalton put up some impressive stats as a second-year player, throwing for almost 3,700 yards, 27 touchdowns and adding another four touchdowns on the ground. His overall quarterback rating improved by seven points and raised his completion percentage by four percent.
Still, many have talked about some signs of regression, mostly pointing to an increase in interceptions, the lack of consistency with the deep ball, as well as the long dry spells of ineffectiveness. The two most troubling signs were on third down efficiency and red zone touchdown percentage. The Bengals were tied for 24th in third down conversions and they were 17th in red zone touchdown percentage at 53.5 percent. Not exactly ideal.
In the first round, the team surprised some people with the selection of tight end Tyler Eifert out of Notre Dame. Some thought that safety, wide receiver, linebacker or even wide receiver would take the front seat to a tight end. The beauty with the Eifert pick is that he will basically play multiple roles--some of which will be as a receiver.
I have to beat my chest here a little bit. Back in the beginning of March, I asked the Bengals community if they should take a tight end high in the draft this year as a remedy to the above-mentioned issues. I wasn't necessarily arguing that the team should use their first on Eifert, but maybe a mid-round selection on one of the other top guys. The unpopular argument that I made surrounded around having a lot of tall pass-catchers to help in the areas that they struggled in last season.
At 6'6" and 250 pounds, Dalton immediately has another big weapon in Eifert to look for on third down and in the red zone. Think about a package with Jermaine Gresham lined up at tight end with Eifert lined up in the slot or out wide and Orson Charles lined up as a fullback. Options galore. Eifert has the ability to make contested catches and will be a mismatch nightmare for cornerbacks, safeties and linebackers.
The Bengals also significantly helped out the running game. Two picks in the 2013 NFL Draft were used on effective college running backs that have the ability to catch the football and bring a little wiggle to the position. In the second round, the team grabbed Giovani Bernard, who is a triple threat player because of his ability to break a long run, catch a pass and return kicks. Rex Burkhead out of Nebraska gives the team a Brian Leonard-like option and could become one of the team's new third down option.
Another interesting addition to the passing game was Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton in the sixth round. Hamilton is a tall and fast receiver who could bring an additional deep threat. He'll be grinding for a roster spot. but his raw athleticism could allow him to hang on to the final roster.
If you paid attention to the draft and/or the post-event analysis of their picks, I'm not telling you things about these players' skillsets that you didn't know. But, it's important to point out that the Bengals recognized last year's shortcomings and did something about it in this year's draft. As Josh noted on Sunday, a few of these players could be immediate contributors, while others could be projects for the future.
Regardless, even though these are rookies, the team will be depending on them to improve off of the below-average rankings in those two critical areas. On paper, it appears that the Bengals made some major strides towards offensive improvement.