The structure of the player has changed, leading to better draft picks for the Bengals

USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Lewis reflects on the Bengals draft recently and admits their approach has changed.

The release of Robert Sands on Wednesday carries an unfortunate tradition of players drafted in the fifth round having offered little (if any) production in Cincinnati. The Bengals have selected 13 players in the fifth round since Marvin Lewis was hired, including Sands in 2011. Those players have combined for 104 games played, with 64 attributed to punter Kevin Huber. Nine fifth rounders have played less than four games since 2003.

That's not to say that fifth-round draft picks generally succeed in the NFL. The expectation isn't generally that great in the first place. However when 70 percent of that round fails to offer any production, eventually you have to figure something needs to change.

And recent drafts have been promoting that realization.

Over the past two years, Cincinnati has found players in the fifth round that figure to be significant contributors. Marvin Jones is vying for a starting job and George Iloka, at the very least, will be a special teams contributor. Shaun Prater and Tanner Hawkinson will fight for backup jobs and they'll have plenty of opportunities to make the squad; Hawkinson appears to have the greater chance.

So what's changed?

"The structure of the player has changed," Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis told CBSSports.com reflecting on the draft as a whole. "The blueprint of the player has been put in place, and it's stayed in place. And we're not going to deviate from that."

Clark Judge, who penned the article, asks what that structure is.

"We're looking for guys who are productive football players and who are good people, smart enough and have the physical tools," he said. "It doesn't matter what their size is, and it doesn't mean we look at position. It means: Let's find the most productive guy, then look at his makeup, and decide: Does his makeup fit?"

Overall the production from draft picks has vastly improved.

Just look to last year.

Of the 10 players selected by the Bengals during the 2012 NFL draft, most are starters and significant contributors (some of whom could become starters themselves).

From Devon Still and Brandon Thompson replacing the departing Pat Sims, Kevin Zeitler and Dre Kirkpatrick making significant contributions, Orson Charles being groomed as the versatile H-Back and Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones becoming important pieces in the Bengals passing game, it's clear that Cincinnati's draft has vastly improved. And that's not even mentioning the contributions that George Iloka and Dan Herron have made on special teams.

Every player drafted in 2012 remains on the roster today.

A year before that, Cincinnati drafted three starters in wide receiver A.J. Green, quarterback Andy Dalton and offensive guard Clint Boling.

It's been such a productive draft recently that Cincinnati has been afforded the luxury of planning beyond this season. Margus Hunt is developing as a defensive end while Sean Porter, Tanner Hawkinson, Rex Burkhead and Cobi Hamilton will develop today to possibly become critical contributors tomorrow.

All because the Bengals changed their drafting philosophy.

Bengals fifth-round selections since 2003.

YEAR POS. PLAYER GAMES
2013 OL Tanner Hawkinson 0
2012 CB Shaun Prater 0
2012 WR Marvin Jones 11
2012 S George Iloka 7
2011 DB Robert Sands 1
2010 OT Otis Hudson 0
2009 P Kevin Huber 64
2008 OL/DL Jason Shirley 3
2007 QB Jeff Rowe 0
2006 LB A.J. Nicholson 2
2005 OT Adam Kieft 0
2004 WR Maurice Mann 0
2003 LB Khalid Abdullah 16
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