Any way you slice it, the 2012 Bengals team is in need of a running back. Last year's starting running back, Cedric Benson, will have his contract expire this offseason, leaving the team in need of another starter.
Most fans don't want the 2012 season to feature Benson as the starter for a variety of factors, not excluding his attitude and lack of big-play capability. The prevailing opinion among "experts" and fans alike is that the Bengals will look to draft a running back relatively high in this upcoming draft.
With a lot of intriguing prospects at the position this season and the Bengals having four picks in the first three rounds, they could land a very solid player and a day one starter. Unfortunately, one of the highly coveted backs in this year's draft--Lamar Miller--is going to have shoulder surgery, likely causing his stock to fall out of the first round.
Regardless, the Bengals have traditionally waited until later in the draft to find a running back. With a lower premium being placed on the position around the league nowadays, that trend could continue with the team this season.
Since their inception in 1968, the Bengals have only drafted four running backs in the first round: Archie Griffin (1976), Charles Alexander (1979), Ki-Jana Carter (1995) and Chris Perry (2004). Carter and Perry are names that historically live in Bengals infamy as busts, while Griffin's main claim to fame was winning the Heisman Trophy in two consecutive college seasons.
By contrast, they've drafted nine running backs in the second round: Tom Smiley (1968), Charlie Davis (1974), Pete Johnson (1977), Dave Turner (1978), Ickey Woods (1988), Eric Ball (1989), Harold Green (1990), Corey Dillon (1997) and Kenny Irons (2007). A couple of other notable late-round picks include Rudi Johnson (4th, 2001), Larry Kinnebrew (6th, 1983), Stanford Jennings (5th, 1984) and Bernard Scott (6th, 2009). Most of these players contributed to the team, with Woods, Green, Dillon and both Pete and Rudi Johnson making the Pro Bowl.
There is also a trend currently developing in the NFL that has teams holding off on drafting a running back high. In 2010, only three running backs were drafted in the first round (C.J. Spiller, Ryan Matthews and Jahvid Best), while only one was a first-rounder in 2011 (Mark Ingram). Now with Miller's supposed surgery, it makes it more and more likely that there will only be one running back selected in the first round in Alabama's Trent Richardson.
If Richardson is available when the Bengals pick, I'd assume that they'd give him a hard look and possibly take him. But if players like LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew teach us anything, it's that a good running back can be had outside of the first round. Given their history, don't be surprised if the Bengals wait until after the first to take a running back. Some backs that the Bengals could also be looking at later are Washington's Chris Polk, Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead, Virginia Tech's David Wilson, Miami's Lamar Miller and Boise State's Doug Martin.