Draft grades cannot be truly handed out until a few years after the draft, so grading the NFL draft a week after the fact is a fairly pointless activity. However, grading the draft is fun and if approached the correct way - i.e. graded based on filling of needs and getting good value.
It can paint an accurate and fair picture on how a team fared on "NFL Christmas Weekend." So, after a week to digest the draft, how did the Bengals do in regards to addressing their needs, filling holes and getting good value?
Overall Grade: B+
Under Marvin Lewis,the Bengals have been one of the best drafting teams in the NFL and have built one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the NFL. As a result of their strong drafting, the Bengals were in the enviable position of having no glaring holes that needed to be filled immediately.
Therefore, they were able to take the best player available and build depth at positions that have long term concerns due to age/injury or both. Taking a look at the player rankings of Mayock, Kiper and McShay, the Bengals were able to land 5 players inside the top 100-125. That is pretty solid drafting.
Going into the draft, I ranked the Bengal top 5 needs as follows:
1. Cornerback youth and depth
2. Help along the O-Line - particularly at Tackle and Center
3. A powerful RB to pair with Giovani Bernard
4. A young and capable backup QB
5. Depth at DE to fill the void left by Michael Johnson's departure
Below, we take a look at whether the Bengals adequately addressed those needs.
1) Cornerback youth and depth
Darqueze Dennard - Round 1, Pick 24 - Dennard is a great cover corner whose physical play and willingness to support the run is a perfect fit for the Bengals defense. Most had Dennard as the top CB on their board and the most Pro-Ready Corner in the draft. Dennard was also was the best fit for the Bengals defense.
While Dennard may not have as high of a ceiling as other corners in the league, his floor (and therefore his risk) is very low and his value at 24 very high. I still believe in Kirkpatrick, and much like the Bengals did when they drafted Hall and Joseph, they have built another strong and young CB duo.
Draft Experts Overall Player Ranking of Dennard:
Addressing of need: A+
Reason for Grade: I had Dennard as the top Corner in a good draft of Corners and see him as a 10 year starter and a player that could start day 1.
2) Help along the O-Line - particularly Tackle and Center
Russell Bodine - Round 4 Pick 111 - The Bengals have been looking for a Center since the retirement of Rich Braham in 2006 and they believe they have found their guy in Bodine. Bodine is not a household name, but most draft gurus had him as a top 3-4 Center and his size, strength and physicality is a perfect fit for the AFC North and a welcomed change from the revolving door the Bengals have had at Center since Braham.
Addressing of need: B
Reason for grade: I like Bodine and how he fits this team. Clearly the Bengals see him as their long term Center as they traded up to pick him - something they have only done two other times in franchise history. Let's just hope he pans out better than the other two players the Bengals traded up for (Ki-Jana Carter and Matt Schoebel).
The only reason the Bengals did not get an A here is because I thought this draft was very deep at Tackle and I would have liked to see the Bengals take a Tackle to groom under Whitworth.
3) A powerful RB to pair with Giovani Bernard
Jeremy Hill, Round 2 - Pick 55 - Like many, I thought the Bengals would (and should) take Carlos Hyde and like many, I was a very surprised they took Hill. However, the more I research the pick, the more I like it and the more I agree with it. Like Hyde, Hill is a powerful back with excellent college productivity.
Where I like Hill better is that he shows more elusiveness than Hyde, he had equal production but did so against much tougher defenses and he has nearly 200 less carries on his body than Carlos Hyde. I would have been happy with either player, but I think Hill is an excellent pick for what Hue Jackson and the Bengals are looking to do on offense.
Addressing of need: A
Reason for Grade: I loved the pick. I didn't think they would go RB this early, but I thought it was an excellent choice. Though the duo of Bernard and BJGE worked Ok in 2013, it clearly could have been better. BJGE looked slow and downright ineffective at times last year. With Hill, the Bengals get a young back that has power, elusiveness and size. BJGE is a great locker room guy, but barring an injury, I don't see where he fits on the roster now that the Bengals took Hill.
4) Young and capable backup QB
AJ McCarron - Round 5, Pick 164 - It was pretty clear that the Bengals would pick a QB in this draft and before the draft, I made it known that I was a fan of Aaron Murray. Much of that had to do with who I thought would be around in rounds 4 or 5. I thought McCarron would be gone by round 2, therefore I did not see him as a potential pick for the Bengals.
However, any time you can add a two-time National Champion QB who ran a pro-style offense and owns a winning percentage of 90%+, that is never a bad thing. Though his "measurables" are nothing special, his track record is and many had him pegged as a 3rd (or even 2nd) round QB, so getting him in the 5th is incredible steal.
But, make no mistake about it, McCarron was brought in as a backup, and likely a 3rd stringer. He is going to be fighting to make the 53 man roster and is not going to be taking Dalton's starting spot. He is a very similar QB to Dalton, big enough (6'3" 214 lbs), but not the prototypical QB size.
Average arm, smart player whose biggest strength is his ability to win. I believe the drafting of McCarron means one thing - that the Bengals will keep 3 QBs on their roster for the first time in a long time. Campbell can win right now with this team and he can also mentor Dalton.
Therefore, Campbell stays at backup. I don't think McCarron would clear waivers to make it to the practice squad and the Bengals know that, therefore he will stay as the 3rd string QB and will be the backup in 2015 if the Bengals lock up Dalton and if they don't, then he may be the 2015 starter.
Addressing of need: A+
Reason for grade: Simple - the Bengals got a 2nd or 3rd round QB in the 5th round...oh, and by the way, he was also part of 3 National Championships (2009, 2011, 2012) and became the first QB in the BCS era to win back-to-back National Championships. That is a great resume to take a 5th round chance on.
5) Depth at DE to fill void left by Michael Johnson
Will Clarke - Round 3, Pick 88 - with the 24th pick in the 2014 draft, the Bengals were not in a position to pick a player that could come in and immediately replace Michael Johnson's production, however, in Clarke, they were able to get a player they believe can develop the way Johnson did.
In fact, the similarities between Johnson and Clarke are eerie. Johnson is 6'7" 270 lbs. Clarke is 6'6 1/8" 271 lbs. Both were 3rd round picks (Johnson 70, Clarke 88). Both had very productive college careers in less than elite conferences. And both were considered developmental players with potential for becoming big-time talents.
In 4 years at Georgia Tech, Johnson had 30.5 tackles for loss and 19.0 sacks, 10 of which came in his first 3 years and 9 in his senior year. In 3 years at West Virginia, Clarke had 28.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, including 6 his final year.
Don't expect him to make up for the loss of Johnson this year, but, working alongside Dunlap and Gilberry, give Clarke 2-3 years and he will likely have a similar career arc as Johnson.
Addressing of need: B
Reason for grade: A "B" was about as good as they could do in this category given the fact that they were not going to be able to draft someone that could step in day one and fill Johnson's shoes. So, with Clarke, they pretty much nailed this one as well. Don't expect him to make up for the loss of Johnson this year, but, working alongside Dunlap and Gilberry, give Clarke 2-3 years and he will likely have a similar career arc as Johnson.