The Bengals could go in any direction in this year's draft. Most, it seems, have them addressing their aged secondary in the early rounds, which makes plenty of sense, but I bet team personnel might say that they feel good about the players they have already back there.
Others point to the players lost in free agency, and feel that replacing Michael Johnson or Anthony Collins should be the team's draft priority. And, of course, the quarterback debate rages on if Andy Dalton can truly be a franchise player the Bengals can safely set off into the future with. There are a handful of first or second-round QBs this year, and lots of Bengals fans would like to see steps made to replace Dalton now in order to be prepared for when his contract runs out after the season. This, though, should be considered a long-shot seeing as how Mike and Marvin feel about their quarterback and also the way they have drafted in the past.
So while we see the same names mock-drafted to the Bengals by the draft wizards of the universe, let's look at some possible alternative takes.
After taking the first running back in the draft a year ago with Giovani Bernard, and retaining BenJarvus Green-Ellis for presumably another season, most wouldn't think of the Bengals taking another one with their first pick, but why not? Bernard, Eddie Lacy and even Le'Veon Bell had major impacts for their team in 2013 and showed us again that fresh-legged runners with low mileage can become an immediate premium. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is expected to reemphasize the running game this season to highlight the abilities of his running-back stable and remove some of the pressure from Dalton and the passing game, so adding another stud makes some sense here.
Carlos Hyde is a bowling-ball runner that packs a wallop and is a Cincinnati native. Like Lacy a year ago, Hyde has a chance to show that the big backs are not the endangered species once feared by experts and could be a perfectly sensible compliment to Bernard. Some may think taking two running backs high in the draft in consecutive years could be overkill and a waste of an important pick, but the two and even three-back system works in today's NFL and beefing up the running attack would only further cement the renewed interest the Bengals seem to have in moving the ball on the ground this upcoming season. Hyde has the stature and aggressive running style to really bring a tired defense to its knees late in the game. Rotating the three would not only give perpetual fresh legs to the position, but each brings a different dynamic that teams must adjust to.
Another player that might make more sense than first realized is outside linebacker, Trent Murphy from Stanford. Murphy is a sack specialist and impressed me every time I watched Stanford play. Many scouts and educated fans will likely see him more as a 3-4 outside linebacker and would therefore discount him as a being a target for the Bengals, but it seems he could play a similar role to what James Harrison brought to the team a year ago. First of all, the Bengals have committed to applying more pressure on the quarterback over the past four drafts. They look for tall edge rushers that can bat down passes if they are unable to get sacks. Murphy is 6'5'' with a gritty motor and intensity for the game. He led the nation in sacks a year ago and ran the fastest cone-drill at the combine for his position. He may not come into the league with the respect and fear that Harrison has earned among his peers, but he has many of the same characteristics that could develop the same tough reputation. Murphy is a throwback and seems like Marvin Lewis' kind of player.
Lastly, there is center Marcus Martin from USC. Bucky Brooks from NFL.com has the Bengals selecting Martin in the second round, so it isn't necessarily a sleeper pick, but center now seems like a position that begs for an upgrade for depth purposes. Mike Pollak and Trevor Robinson are fine players that have filled in adequately when called upon, but neither are worry-free starters in the heart of the offensive line. Most everyone has Martin as their top center, and beyond him the list of candidates looks like projects and longshots across the board. The team hardly glanced at any center in free-agency this year, either satisfied with who they have already or determined to find another in the draft. It seems the Bengals like plenty of versatility in their interior linemen should they have to shift positions around in the face of injury. Martin played some guard in college and is described as being able to play both positions. He has good size at 320 lbs. and has lots of experience at a big-time program.
None of three players listed here are projected as first-round picks, but if the team were to reach for someone, I would be happy with any of them. They're not the conventional choice, and there are good cases against drafting any of them, but it's a slow news time for football and I, for one, am tired of hearing the same names mentioned to the Bengals. If the team goes for Kony Ealy or Cyrus Kouandjio and they turn out busts, this piece will stand as my told-ya-so. Either way, as stated in previous posts, I trust the Bengals when it comes to draft decisions and assume they will go about their business with intelligence and wisdom. The team has earned such an assumption.