With the draft quickly approaching, it's time to revisit how the Bengals past drafts have panned out for them. Now like any team, there have been plenty of hits and misses for the Bengals. But in recent drafts, there's a sense that the Bengals have been making quality selections and adding needed depth to the team.
Pro Football Focus has released their grades for the Bengals 2008-2010 draft classes in their Draft Grader series. The grades depended on where the player was drafted, their performance since being drafted, their contribution on the team (number of snaps the team got out of them), and other factors such as injuries or conditions that couldn't be accounted for.
PFF wasn't that kind to the Bengals in their overall assessment. The grading was based on a scale of -2.0 to 2.0. The overall summary was as followed:
Inconsistent. That's the best way of describing the Bengals' drafting, too often not getting enough in return for their high picks. Their 2008 and 2009 classes have been particularly disappointing, though the 2010 class could make you forget about that. Picking up players like Atkins and Dunlap in the same draft, while also adding talents like Gresham and Shipley could prove more telling in the long run if the Bengals are to consistently challenge the Steelers and Ravens.
Now most fans would disagree with this assessment because a number of the players from these classes have provided valuable depth and have been significant contributors since arriving in Cincinnati.The Bengals had five of their 30 picks finish with a grade of +0.5 or better. Cincinnati also had 10 of their 30 picks from those three classes finish with a grade of -0.5 or lower. The remaining 15 selections had a grade of 0.0.
So how did some of the Bengals picks pan out?
The following three players finished with a grade of -0.5. All three arrived in Cincinnati with high expectations, but that hasn't been the case as none of the players have reached their maximum potential.
Let's start with Keith Rivers. He was selected by the Bengals with the ninth overall pick in the 2008 draft. He was viewed as a player who would be a key contributor for a number of years with the Bengals. However, that wasn't the case as his time in Cincinnati was plagued with injuries and inconsistency on the field.
It's not that Rivers has played poorly when on the field, quite the opposite as his combined +15.4 grade will attest to. But in four seasons with the Bengals, he managed just 1,373 snaps (which was just 165 more than Stephen Tulloch managed in all games last year). Rivers failed to make an every-down role his own and, with injuries problems aplenty, was traded away for just a fifth round pick.
Due to his inability to stay on the field, Rivers slipped on the depth charts as the Bengals drafted guys like Rey Maualuga while they signed veterans like Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson. It became clearer that Rivers' role with the team was diminishing with these acquisitions. It's unfortunate that he never lived up to his potential.
Next on the list is defensive tackle Pat Sims. He was selected by the Bengals with the 77th overall pick in the 2008 draft. During his four seasons Sims has played a vital role in the Bengals defensive line rotation. He has been particularly good at stopping opposing running backs. But PFF doesn't have the same sentiments.
While Rivers couldn't get on the field enough, you wonder if Sims has got on the field too much. In four years with the club he's played 1,764 snaps and earned a -23.1 grade. Granted, the majority of that came in his first two years in the league, but Sims has never been anything more than just a body, and a gut the Bengals should always be looking to upgrade on.
While his numbers aren't overwhelming, Sims has provided quality performances when he's on the field. He is still viewed as a vital piece of the puzzle for the Bengals heading into the 2012 season.
Next is Andre Smith. He was selected by the Bengals with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft. He didn't contribute much during his first two years in the league. But last year he took some strides forward demonstrating why the Bengals selected him that high. The 2012 season will be an important one for Smith as he will need to prove that 2011 wasn't a fluke.
His first two years in the league were extremely underwhelming, and while he took a step forward in 2011, was it enough to justify a sixth overall pick? Helped out by a team that gets rid of the ball extremely quickly, Smith isn't the dominant run blocker many expected, and just gets beat too much to live up to his drafting.
While it's hard to dispute that assessment, Smith has at least started to prove that he has some value and potential heading forward. As long as he can stay healthy and continue to stay in shape, Smith could remain a force on the offensive line.
Now let's look at three players who finished with a grade of +0.5 or better.
Maualuga was drafted by the Bengals in the second round of the 2009 draft. While he has exhibited times of excellence, his inconsistency has overshadowed his success. And he has also had some off-field legal issues that tend to hinder his image.
Found it harder moving back to his college middle linebacker spot than most envisioned, but two strong years as an early-downs run defender more than earn a positive grade for Maualuga. Will be hoping to recapture the form of 2010 while managing the extra responsibilities put on his plate.
In each of his three seasons Maualuga has improved statistically, but at the same time, he's been too inconsistent for some of our liking. The 2012 season will be an important one for him as he needs to prove that he can be consistent defender for the Bengals.
Next is Carlos Dunlap who was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft. In two seasons with the Bengals, Dunlap has accumulated 14 sacks in just 24 games. His biggest issue has been remaining healthy in his young career.
The only thing holding Dunlap back is that he's spent most of his career as a situational pass rusher who backs up the starters on base downs. You wonder what he could do with more playing time as he turned 278 pass rushes into five sacks, 13 hits, and 29 hurries. That played a huge role in him garnering our fifth-highest grade of all 4-3 defensive ends.
Dunlap has a bright future with the Bengals, as long as he can stay on the field for an entire season. But regardless, he has been a monster that wrecks havoc on opposing offenses.
And finally, Geno Atkins who was selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Atkins has quickly become a star for the Bengals during his two seasons in the league.
How good was Atkins last year? Good enough to have our second-highest grade of all defensive tackles, thanks in large part to picking up more sacks, hits, and hurries combined (49) than any other DT. The former fourth-rounder flashed his ability as a rookie, but even considering that, it was surprising just how well he adapted to an every-down role. A true find.
Atkins has quickly become a household name in Cincinnati with his play and tenacity. As long as Atkins' development continues to progress then he should be a vital enforcer for the Bengals defensive line for years.
Inconsistent isn't the proper word when assessing the Bengals draft classes from 2008-2010. More often than not, players taken in the fifth rounds or later aren't expected to have huge impacts on the team. More or less they are just another body on the depth chart. Every now and then a team will strike it rich by finding someone who will have an impact for a few years.
The Bengals have had their share of success in recent drafts, but at the same time they have struck out on some players. Only time will tell if the Bengals draft their next T.J. Houshmandzadeh or their next Akili Smith.