My formative high school years was once a volatile mixture of depression, recklessness, and enthusiasm. Not because of some social status that kept me outside of the clique. Cliques didn't interest me; most of the friendships that I developed during my sprightful youth have stayed in my life. Yet I can recall those glorious days in the mid-90s passing green lockers bulging out from the smooth walls in the hallway while Stone Temple Pilots rocked our innocence into the vastness of grunge. And that's about the time we started some conversations with "I think the Bengals will actually surprise people."
It's impossible to have so many first-round picks that were selected early in the round not to impress their mighty will. An army of top-ten selections and the Bengals are going bitch-slap the competition into the Enchantment Under the Sea. Those were actual points being argued "back in the day" as we embraced the time of year before a regular season game would be played. You know, when we were most hopeful.
Between 1992-2003, the Bengals had seven top-ten picks. Three were selected first overall, including back-to-back No. 1 selections in 1994 (Dan Wilkinson) and 1995 (Ki-Jana Carter).
Yet these weren't jig-saw pieces that were added to give Cincinnati a pristine picture of success. These guys were expected to reverse so much misfortune that when they failed to single-handedly wipe out the "Lost Decade" or the "Age of Helplessism", they were critically disappointing.
Those were just a fraction of our experiences back then. It's foundation that conceived bitter core of Bengals fans that even exist today, orgasmically shredding owner Mike Brown. Many newer and younger fans never faced those times. Never watched an unqualified head coach or someone hired that historically failed. Bad picks, compounded by awful luck, was a staple of our experiences and most of us are glad that younger fans only had to read about it. Not experience it.
Because now that's all changed.
Draft picks are no longer designated with the "save our franchise" labels. Instead they've become components to a greater picture, filling gaps where gaps need enhancement. It's not desperate rebuilding that falls in love with predraft workouts. It's the luxurious add-ons to the already sweet ride that we're buying at the dealership. There's options, planning; a bit choosey too.
Granted the successes that Cincinnati has shown booted the Bengals out of their old digs from the top-ten during the annual draft. But the actual successes of drafting quality players, greatly due to Duke Tobin's relentless work and impressive eye for talent, has struck the perfect chord.
Look at Cincinnati's class this year.
Save for injuries, there's a significant possibility that no one selected this year will start the regular season opener against the Chicago Bears. Tyler Eifert figures to play opposite Jermaine Gresham in a variety of roles, greatly enhancing the passing game. So will running back Giovani Bernard, who will finally add the one-two punch in Cincinnati's running game that Marvin Lewis and Jay Gruden have dreamed up since 2011.
Margus Hunt figures to be the contingency plan if they're unable to re-sign Michael Johnson next year. Shawn Williams will compete for the starting safety job against Taylor Mays and Jeromy Miles. Sean Porter should enhance special teams, greatly adding depth at linebacker.
Where's the need to find starters? Where's the demand for earth-shattering talent that redefines an organization? Move along, we say, to another poor organization looking for a messiah of change.
Tanner Hawkinson is Paul Alexander's coveted versatile backup lineman that could, theoretically, backup all five positions. Cobi Hamilton adds to the passing game. Rex Burkhead helps special teams and possibly the offense during third down situations (though Giovani figures more into that role). Reid Fragel is some freaky athletic offensive tackle that stands six-foot-big with experience at tight end, adding a new dimension to the jumbo package.
The greatness of Cincinnati's draft today, unlike our mullet-loving, jean-rolling, moose-sculped heads days in high school, our rookies are now contributors. Not false messiahs expected to do the unexpected.