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Commentary: If The Bengals Are Going To Draft A Wide Receiver, Why Not The Best Available

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In previous postings I've pointed out that the Bengals selecting a wide receiver in the first round could be a wasted pick. My biggest reasons for that conclusion? The Bengals have clearly pointed out a desire for a power rushing philosophy, similar to that of the 2009 season. The team could use more help on defense with playmakers in the secondary or the defensive line. And finally, most of us do not believe that the Bengals starting quarterback isn't even on the roster yet. Some will point to Dan LeFevour and that's fine. Personally, I'm simply weary of a sixth round quarterback that was waived before making the final roster by the team that drafted him and couldn't pass a quarterback like Jordan Palmer on the depth chart -- though we admit, perhaps personal feelings with Jordan's last name may have granted him an unfair advantage. Regardless, if LeFevour were given an opportunity to start, we'd support him. Should he be? We really don't know. Will he be? Based on reports throughout the offseason that always fails to mention his name, we highly doubt it.

That being said, we're going to point out reasons why the Bengals should select A.J. Green during this year's NFL draft. Yes. A point-counterpoint centerpiece with the point against a first round selection at wide receiver already presented.

The most important reason? The Bengals wide receiver position is on life support.

Jerome Simpson had a dominating two games at the end of the 2010 season, but is the team willing to go forward with Simpson as the number one receiver? Marvin Lewis said he could, but didn't say he will. Many reports dating back to the 2008 NFL Draft cite a failure to grasp the playbook as the number one reason Simpson was unable to get on the field through much of his NFL career. Now the Bengals are going to wipe out all that Simpson has learned and implement a new playbook that will further stall his progress because of the labor disruption in which players are not allowed to confer with coaches. We liked what Simpson showed us in 2010 and he'll have a great opportunity to compete for the team's number one position on the depth chart. However, along with the issues of adapting to the playbook with Bob Bratkowski, he'll have to quickly learn to Jay Gruden's system and after that, he'll be a free agent after the 2011 season.

Andre Caldwell has shown more success over the same span. He had a tremendous start during his second season in 2009, recording game-winning receptions against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Then, he disappeared. After recording 57 yards receiving against the Houston Texans on October 18, 2009, Caldwell went 19 straight games without posting 40 yards receiving. Due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart during the final three games of the 2010 season, Caldwell posted 15 receptions and 270 yards receiving. Like Simpson, Caldwell will be a free agent after the 2011 season.

If you combined what Caldwell and Simpson did at the end of last season, you can't be not impressed. When Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco went down with injuries, the younger receivers stepped up. But there's a longer history of documented inaction, disappearance and struggles. The Bengals can go off faith that they'll continue to produce, granting both receivers an extension after proving that the final 2-3 games last year wasn't a fluke.

Jordan Shipley, one of last year's most productive rookie wide receivers in the NFL, is simply the only stabilizing force at wide receiver right now. Chad Ochocinco, the most productive wide receiver in franchise history, has been on the receiving end of Marvin Lewis' criticisms and banters. Few believe he'll return. Quan Cosby will likely return as an exclusive-rights free agent, once again competing for a final spot on the roster as a return man and Shay Hodge rounds out the roster.

There's no doubt that the Bengals are likely drafting a wide receiver in this year's NFL Draft. So if that's the case, then why not draft the best available? ESPN's Draft Tracker provides the following analysis.

A smooth and long strider. Better initial burst than most his size and can quickly eat up cushion to threaten defender. Is a crafty route-runner, especially considering only 23 games experience at the college level thus far. Will change release angles to create tendency confusion for the DB. Does a nice job of setting up defenders working out of stem. Displays good pop out of cuts and can separate from man coverage. Has a natural feel working against zone coverage. Understands soft spots and does a nice job of setting up defenders to create extra room before breaking off routes.

In other words, he could fit with the quick passing game of the west coast offense. And even though the Bengals likely do not have their starting quarterback on the roster yet, Green is the type of receiver that doesn't force a quarterback to be a franchise-level passer for the offense to succeed. The Bengals could go with a mid-level free agent while drafting a guy like Florida State's Christian Ponder to develop while having a decent core of receivers around him that could make a big play (Simpson), separate for a quick pass (Green), stream over the linebackers (Caldwell), make a play underneath (Shipley) or create matchup problems against linebackers and safeties (Gresham).

And when the season begins, they'll have a guy like Green in case Simpson and Caldwell don't work out and leave for free agency. The desperation to rebuild the position suddenly takes precedence. Unless the team decided to draft the best available prospect at wide receiver this year, allowing him to groom at a position that typically takes longer for players to develop.

Peter King wrote that the Bengals favored Alabama's Julio Jones because of his work ethic and blocking -- a necessary component especially if the Bengals are going back to their power rushing philosophy. But you don't draft a wide receiver with your fourth overall pick just because he's a good blocker.

ESPN's Todd McShay said:

"There's been a lot of talk about Jay Gruden's offense needing a blocker and I get that," McShay said. "Get A.J. Green to block better. He's big and strong. Is his effort and focus always there? No, but if that's what you need out of your receiver, get him to do that.

Then again, Marvin Lewis said:

"My boss loves offense. You want to make sure whatever player we pick there is value with him," Lewis said.

And we have yet to hear commentary in which Green wouldn't be a valuable fourth overall selection. Including the Bengals scouts that hung around A.J. Green "a lot" during Georgia's Pro Day.