A.J. Green is arguably the most talented player the Bengals have ever drafted. He is amazing and everyone knows it. Replacing him isn't possible; keeping him for a long time is the only sensible course of action. Does it matter how much he costs? It shouldn't. He will command Megatron money, and, in NFL terms, it will be well deserved. All compliments have been laid at his feet and he continues to be an effective role model in every way.
What life would look like for the Bengals without him, though, is rarely discussed. He is not injury prone, even though he did miss a few games his rookie season with a knee tweak, and he works hard to be the best, but he is still a mortal man. If he were to incur more injury, would the Bengals have the juice to move the ball in the passing game?
Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones have exciting upsides but both have been injured and neither have proven to be dependable receivers. Jermaine Gresham is a top-10 tight end who continues to get better, but every Bengals fan has developed a specific nerve that reacts to Gresham dropped passes. Orson Charles looked capable in the passing game, but was used too sparsely to get a comfortable handle on in terms of his abilities. Andrew Hawkins is a fun player who tries hard, but his lack of size makes him a tough target for Dalton to find and also prone to blow-up tackles in space. If he became the Bengals most experienced receiver, it would speak to the greenness of the receiving corps as a whole.
Out of that choir of question marks, Gresham and Sanu carry the most of hope making a long-term impact for the team and its fans. The others serve their role, but they aren't building blocks. It may not be enough, though. The team predictably ignored the wash of free agents that flowed past them downstream, but the draft approaches and that is where their needs are addressed. Yet even if they take a receiver as high the first round, like the others, that player will need time to spread his wings and show us what he can do.
Nonetheless, this team must acquire a receiver sooner than later that can become an effective lead receiver at least temporarily should Green ever go down. Firepower matters. There were times last year where it felt like they didn't have enough. I don't blame the team for ignoring the free-agent options (though the idea of Mike Wallace and Green together seemed enticing), but if Andy Dalton is as limited as the world thinks he is, and if the offensive line has any kind of setback at all, then loading up with more guns in the draft might be the way to continue to score points.
Speaking of the line, there also doesn't seem to be much of a concern about how tenuous that group appears to be at the moment.
The best lineman on the team last year was Andre Smith, and it appears he doesn't love the idea of returning to Cincinnati. He, in all likelihood, will be in Bengal stripes next season despite his brooding negotiation stance, but if that weren't the case, the thread the line hangs by would then fray even thinner.
Andrew Whitworth is a fine player. He is a warrior and a fierce protector of his quarterback, but he may have peaked and is now on the decline. He played with knee troubles last year and had a procedure to clean it out, but he has said good things about his recovery since. Still we've seen other once-great linemen rapidly deteriorate with knee issues.
Clint Boling has impressed his coach, Marvin Lewis, and has grown into a fairly quality starter. There is, I suppose, some chance of veteran Travelle Wharton competing for the starting job, but Boling is more athletic and plays into the new kind of lineman the Bengals are interested in. Wharton had success in Carolina, but his season was lost last year on the third play of the preseason and a 32-year old veteran coming off knee surgery is not assured of anything. It's hard to imagine Wharton being more trustworthy than Boling as a starter, but who knows?
Then there are the centers. Kyle Cook had a nice run as the Bengals starter but it seems evident those days should be over. Trevor Robinson became a confident young player who allowed the line to gel midseason and was an integral part of the team's winning streak. Installing Cook back in as starter could be identified as the real reason for the offensive swoon late in the season and into the playoffs. Robinson could be an anchor at center, but the coaching staff has to commit to him and develop him accordingly. If they hesitate on Robinson and go back to Cook, some may consider it a mistake made out of sheer loyalty.
Kevin Zeitler has the brightest future of all the Bengals lineman. He is flexible, a knee-bender, strong, and pretty tough. Selected in the first round for good reason, Zeitler impressed me a great deal last season.
As for Smith, he too has developed well, but he has given the Bengals a hard time twice now while trying to make a deal. For Bengal fans, he's hard to like. Without him, though, they may be forced to draft a tackle high and make him an immediate starter. Dennis Roland re-signed this offseason and has some starts and Anthony Collins also is a capable backup, but make these guys starters, and pass rushers everywhere on the schedule will rejoice.
The only position without some major question mark at the moment is right guard. There may be nothing to worry about. The coaching staff might know exactly what they have and what they need, and may have everything figured out in regards to the line, but with so many concerns there, consider me nervous.
While the needs of safety and linebacker and even running back are evident, receiver and offensive line may be just as important to invest heavily in during the upcoming draft. No one likes worst-case scenarios but contingency plans must be in place for them despite the discomfort they bring.
Mojokong-April is the cruelest month.