Since the Andy Dalton/A.J. Green era began in Cincinnati back in 2011, the Bengals have surprised people with their immediate success, thanks in large part to those two. Even with leading the franchise to back-to-back playoff seasons for the first time in thirty years, there remains a gaping hole of another wide receiver and/or tight end that can consistently take attention off of Green and make the offense one that is multi-dimensional.
After the team allowed Jerome Simpson to leave in free agency before the 2012 campaign, they opted to grab two wide receivers in last year's draft. Mohamed Sanu was drafted in the third round and Marvin Jones was taken in the fifth round to bolster an inexperienced group. Both players brought different skill sets to the team--Sanu being the solid route runner that could make the tough catches, and Jones being the speedier guy who could work the sidelines.
It wasn't until about midseason that the coaching staff allowed the two rookies to have a shot at the starting lineup. There were ups and downs, and both players sustained somewhat significant injuries during the year, but there were flashes of solid play. The offense played its best stretch of offensive football when Sanu was a big part of the lineup. In a three-game stretch, Sanu caught all four of his touchdowns in three Bengals wins. Jones stepped into a bigger role on offense when Sanu went down for the season with a foot injury.
Still, the situation was iffy, at best, heading into 2013. Some figured that a receiver should be drafted within the first three rounds as a true complement to Green. And while the team grabbed a pass-catching tight end, a selection of a true wide receiver didn't happen until sixth round in Arkansas' Cobi Hamilton.
Back in mid-March, head coach Marvin Lewis praised the ability of Sanu to be the team's future No.2 wide receiver. We wanted to believe him, but still had our doubts because of the limited sample size from last year. Plus, we know how much coaches love to play their draft plans close to the vest.
Now, with both free agency and the draft in the books, it's apparent that Lewis meant what he said over a month ago. There were plenty of opportunities to add players that would have a chance to supplant the other youngsters as starters, such as Quinton Patton in the fourth round and/or Ryan Swope in the later rounds. Because they didn't, we are being led to believe that the team is prepared to move forward with Sanu, Jones, as well as slot man Andrew Hawkins in the receiving corps.
There are positives and negatives with this. By sticking with the youngsters, the team is diving head-first into the unknown. Will injuries and inconsistency continue to be issues for the offense? Or will more experience and playing time work out some of the kinks to put this offense into the category of "scary"? On the plus side, the Bengals are trusting their scouting ability and uncharacteristically giving the young players the opportunity to succeed. They haven't always trusted some of their young players with big roles early in their career, but the lack of a big wide receiver addition shows that they are moving from that trend.