For the first handful of years in the Marvin Lewis era in Cincinnati, the Bengals made personnel choices that weren't always the safest of bets. Sometimes these choices never had a chance to get off of their feet and aid the club in wins--guys like Reggie McNeal and A.J. Nicholson come to mind. Other times, these risks had a flash-in-the-pan success, a la Odell Thurman. But, every so often, one these risks pay off and you get a consistent contributor as they currently have in cornerback Adam Jones.
As I've said before here at Cincy Jungle, I believe that the Bengals are potentially entering one of those "limited windows of opportunity" that NFL teams see for short periods of time where they can smell a championship. The Bengals have some nice pieces in place and are quite deep at certain positions--particularly if the "redshirt season theory" we talked about over the weekend rings true.
Another topic we kicked around over the weekend was the willingness of teams to overlook minor red flags of some incoming rookies. While some readers wrongly thought that we were minimizing recreational drug use and/or social drinking (we absolutely were not condoning these acts, especially when it involves minors), we were merely relaying some insights of NFL personnel men. Every year there are a small handful of talented, but troubled players and this year is no exception.
Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu and his multiple drug test failures heads the list, followed by Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree and his alcohol-related issues, and Texas A&M running back Christine Michael with his "attitude problems". If you have been paying attention to the updates we've been constantly feeding you, it would have been noted that the Bengals have either shown interest in some of these players and/or are in need of help at the respective positions that they play.
When NFL teams are successful and are providing a publicly nurturing and positive environment, they usually get a free pass. Almost annually, the draftniks heap praise on the New England Patriots for the amount of picks they have accrued, their moves up and down in the draft and their willingness to take chances on some of these risky players. Recently, the Patriots grabbed Aaron Hernandez in the fifth round of 2010 because of a failed drug test around that year's Combine, and last year they grabbed Alfonso Dennard in the seventh round after he had an assault charge brought to light just days before the draft. Both were once tabbed as possible second-round picks before the issues.
Have the Bengals and their three playoff appearances in the past four years, earned this same benefit of the doubt?
Aside from the recent success (even though they still haven't made it past the first round of the playoffs), let's take a look at what we know. On paper, the Bengals are either set or deep at a lot of positions. Quarterback, defensive end and defensive tackle, offensive guard, tight end and cornerback are positions at which they are deep.
Even without Andre Smith signed, the Bengals have good depth at offensive tackle with Andrew Whitworth, Dennis Roland, and Anthony Collins topping the list. Linebacker had a nice boost with the addition of James Harrison and has some depth behind the starters, but a high draft pick couldn't hurt. Wide receiver is a position that is the subject of much debate and is a decent group, but could use another relatively high pick as well. Really, safety and running back are the positions that could be seen as those that need multiple additions and even that's a stretch.
Point being, the Bengals have a deep roster and there is a chance that a decent amount of rookies from this class won't see immediate playing time, or maybe another chance that they won't make the final roster. After all, the Bengals' second and third-round picks from last year spent most of the year as gameday inactives, in Devon Still and Brandon Thompson. With the possibility of more rookies sitting out on Sundays, the question is this: should the Bengals move around (namely up) in the draft and/or look at some of these talented players at positions that are of need?
The main problem with doing so has to lie in the stereotype that still hangs with them six-plus years after the string of legal issues that came with Bengals draft picks in the mid-2000s. Still, a player like Mathieu would be an interesting addition to the defense and special teams units. Aside from bringing outstanding return ability, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could use him in a variety of ways--as a roaming safety, or in the slot as a corner are the most obvious. He's being projected anywhere from the second to fifth rounds because of the talent/risk ratio he brings, but if he's there in the fourth round, I would assume that the Bengals would think about pouncing on him.
Ogletree is an interesting prospect. Even with Harrison in the fold, the team isn't necessarily set at linebacker--especially in the coming years. Both Harrison and Rey Maualuga are on two-year deals, with the former being 35 years old this season. While the Bengals have capable to above-average starters at each linebacker position, pass coverage with those players remains a concern. A player like Ogletree could bring play-making ability and the athleticism needed to cover tight ends and running backs, which has been this team's Achilles heel for years.
It has been well-documented that this Bengals locker room is a solid one at the moment. You definitely don't want to mess with the good chemistry by bringing in potential problem children, but there's also a balance that you need to find. And, if you think that what the player brings to the team outweighs the risk of potential future problems while donning the team's jersey, you really have to think hard about pulling the trigger if it improves your football team.