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NFL Draft 2011: Ryan Whalen Could Improve Bengals Special Teams And Wide Receiver Depth

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PALO ALTO CA - OCTOBER 23:  Ryan Whalen #8 of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball for a touchdown against the Washington State Cougars at Stanford Stadium on October 23 2010 in Palo Alto California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
PALO ALTO CA - OCTOBER 23: Ryan Whalen #8 of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball for a touchdown against the Washington State Cougars at Stanford Stadium on October 23 2010 in Palo Alto California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Bengals sixth round selection of Stanford Ryan Whalen is drawing the least positive reaction this weekend from Bengals fans; perhaps as a result of ignorance on Whalen or favored prospects still in the draft that were passed by. Others simply claim that the team didn't need another receiver. All are valid arguments.

This is where Whalen could fit in.

The Cincinnati Bengals averaged 7.2 yards per punt return, mostly as a result of poor downfield blocking, which ranked 25th in the NFL last season. The team's 21.8 yards average ranked 20th in the NFL. The Bengals also allowed 23.5 yards per kickoff return, highest average by the franchise since 2001.

Rebuilding special teams is important, and along with Whalen, Dontay Moch and Robert Sands, the Bengals are closer to accomplishing that.

Additionally, while Cincinnati has a strong foundation for young wide receivers, they're clearly lacking with depth. Assuming that Chad Ochocinco is gone this offseason, the roster will look like Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson, A.J. Green and Jordan Shipley. Beyond that, the final two spots will be fought out between Whalen, Shay Hodge and Quan Cosby. We're sure others will be added in time. But the key for the final three spots on the wide receiver depth chart will be won by the players with the greatest special teams contributions.

Whalen could also act as a backup to Jordan Shipley as a slot receiver, who missed a game last season due to a concussion.

ESPN DraftTracker writes one of his best qualities is toughness and competitiveness.

Not afraid to work the middle of the field. Can hold onto the ball after taking a big hit. Takes pride as a run blocker. Not a dominant blocker but gets into adequate position and fights to sustain blocks once locked on.

Some of the things we're reading about with Whalen is that he's versatile and a hard worker -- something that the Bengals want. During the buildup for the East-West Shrine game, Sports Illustrated wrote:

Whalen continued the positive play he was known for at Stanford and wowed scouts every practice with the ability to make the acrobatic reception looked ordinary. He possesses hands of glue and fights hard to come away with the ball. Whalen's concentration is very impressive as he never gave up on plays and worked hard, even during the drills.

Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes:

Whalen walked on at Stanford and led the Cardinal in receiving as a sophomore and junior. Last season he missed two games due to an elbow injury but was second on the team in receptions with 41 for 439 yards and two touchdowns. Receivers coach James Urban said Whalen was extremely sound in running routes and that he could play either outside or in the slot.

Mel Kiper in his draft guide also called Whalen one of the best route runners in this draft. Kiper and Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout had Whalen projected as a fifth- or sixth-round pick.

While Whalen isn't the sexy pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, he is a tough football player and a hard worker that could fill needs where other players can't fill.