The draft this weekend had a different feel than any that most of us can remember. Some picks left us scratching our heads and confused by who was left on the board. We are used to the scales being tipped slightly toward need when weighing picks. But this time around, the Front Office put more weight on value.
As I've mulled over the War Room's work, I have come to really like what they did. And not just in the normal way that fans naturally talk themselves into liking their team's picks. The Bengals told us some things about how they view the 2013 team. Most of it is things we want to hear.
They believe in the defense as-is. 2012's 6th ranked defense looked to have two glaring needs. After San Francisco traded up to grab Eric Reid, the Bengals knew they could get a smart, saavy field general out of their favorite school, Georgia. There were flashier options available, but they needed someone heady to pair with Reggie Nelson's instinct and fire. Shawn Williams fills that need and has the look of a major contributor. Only he and James Harrison will be new starters for Mike Zimmer.
They are comfortable with their linebackers. I said we would like most of what they had to say. As free agency began, Zimmer made it clear that he was a lot happier with his MIKE backer, Rey Maualuga, than fans were. Despite our protests, none of us choose the roster. At this point, all we can do is hope that he knows something we don't, because what we know is not good.
With the signing of Harrison, I began to doubt the likelihood of a linebacker being selected in the early rounds. Outside of a certain someone, there is plenty of unproven potential standing behind (and pushing) the starters. Emmanuel Lemur and Vincent Rey have looked good in their opportunities. Dontay Moch could possibly outplay both if he could get on the field. And the team liked Brandon Joiner enough to wait out a deferred prison sentence. With Sean Porter now in the mix as well, whoever does not make the cut won't be unemployed too long.
The time for Andy Dalton is now. The offense has lagged well behind the defense for years now, and the team took two big steps toward closing the gap. The immediate impact guy is Giovani Bernard, who should be the biggest threat out of the backfield since Rudi Johnson, and hopefully Corey Dillon. The hammer running backs like BenJarvus Green-Ellis have been only so effective, and a Swiss army knife like Bernard should bring the potency that has been lacking in not just outside runs, but swing passes and outlet passes into the middle of the field for yards after catch. Bernard's presence ought to take a fair amount of pressure off of Dalton to try to win games on his own.
The TE is going to be a bigger threat. I know it is tempting to start thinking about comparisons to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's take it as far as saying that Tyler Eifert is a chain-moving receiver with great hands a size, and let the rest play out for itself. With hands guys like A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins and now Eifert, and size mismatches like Jermaine Gresham and Eifert, the Bengals are doing their best to create opportunities for Dalton.
Oh, and Eifert is not taking Gresham's job. Alex Smith's, yes.
Size matters. Half of the players drafted this year are 6'4" or taller, with a pair of guys measuring 6'8". Four weigh in at over 275 lbs. At 5'8" and 202 lbs, Bernard looks tiny.
With all of these intriguing players to learn about and three months of off-season workouts sitting in the way, training camp never looked so far away.