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Should Bengals draft a center to compete with Russell Bodine?

After Russell Bodine's overall performance at center in 2014, should the Bengals keep open the possibility of drafting legitimate competition for him? Or should they not address the position other than a late-round backup?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals drafted Russell Bodine out of North Carolina in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, 111th overall. They even traded a late-round pick in order to move up to get him (imagine Paul Alexander in the Bengals draft war room, imploring Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis, and Duke Tobin to trade up).

Bodine had mixed grades, some naming him worthy of a third-round pick and others calling him not much more than a round 7 prospect. His relatively short arms (32.5 inches) raised concern, but he demonstrated great upper-body strength with 42 reps of 225 pounds, making him literally the strongest man at the NFL Combine.

With Kyle Cook's release before the draft, Bodine was immediately tabbed as the starting C. He had good moments here and there, but overall, his 2014 season was a mixed bag. Pro Football Focus, which judges players based on extensive film review, gave Bodine an overall score of -15.6, ranked 33rd out of 41 qualifying centers.

Bodine also finished seventh out of eight rookie centers. Fellow mid-round picks Bryan Stork (Florida State to the Patriots) and Corey Linsley (Ohio State to the Packers) were among those who easily outperformed Bodine.

It became clear that over time, the Bengals consistently schemed their offensive line game plan to help out Bodine. Namely, Kevin Zeitler (PFF's 5th-best RG), Clint Boling (8th-best LG), or a pulling Andrew Whitworth (the top offensive tackle overall) would assist Bodine on a block. Rarely did Bodine have to consistently take on a DT or NT one-on-one over the course of a game. This game plan worked sometimes, but other times, it would simply lead to an unblocked defender and a negative play. On tape, Bodine wasn't completely "terrible", but he was clearly the weak link on an otherwise good line. In 2013, Cook had an overall -4.8 grade, which is not good. But no matter your perceptions of Cook, it is a fact that the Bengals didn't scheme to compensate for him to the extent that they are with Bodine.

Bodine's overall play, although not completely terrible, will not cut it for future seasons. He doesn't need to ever be a Pro Bowler, but he must play better than his Ghiaciuc-level 2014. That said, Bodine was a rookie, so he deserves a little bit of slack. He did have a few good moments in his rookie year and has some physical upside, so one doesn't need to completely abandon faith in him yet.

The real question is whether Bodine has room to improve to become a better C in the future, or whether he is Eric Ghiaciuc 2.0. Ghiaciuc, also a fourth-round C, started three seasons for the Bengals. He played at the same level or worse than Bodine in 2014, and in 2006-2008 the rest of the OL wasn't good enough to compensate for him. It was clear that Ghiaciuc wasn't cutting it, but the Bengals stuck with him anyway for some unknown reason (though the answer likely involves Paul Alexander). Will Bodine be a repeat of history, or will he become better than that?

There are three "good" C prospects in this draft. They are Reese Dismukes of Auburn, Hroniss Grasu of Oregon, and Cameron Erving (who also plays OT and G) of Florida State. In each of the last three drafts, only one C has been taken in the first two rounds: Peter Konz in 2012, Travis Frederick in 2013, and Weston Richburg in 2014. Before that, the history is normally either only one or two taken in the first two rounds.

That means it is highly plausible that at least one or possibly two of the "good" C prospects - Dismukes, Grasu, or Erving - could fall to the Bengals' picks in round three. Over The Cap projects the Bengals to receive an extra third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Michael Johnson, thus giving the team two third-rounders if that happens. And the Bengals don't necessarily have to wait until round three; they can address the position earlier if they want to.

Mike Pollak has been released, and T.J. Johnson has not received an actual rep at C in over a year and has been exclusively a guard for a long while. This means that the Bengals will almost certainly look at C in the draft. Should the Bengals keep open the possibility of drafting a C in 2015 for legitimate competition, meaning one of those top-tier prospects in one of the first three rounds? Or should they refuse to address the position until the later rounds and draft someone who would only be a backup?

Bodine belongs on the roster in some capacity, meaning he would still be a serviceable backup even if he lost his starting job. But does he have room for major improvement as a starter, and thus should the Bengals consider taking a top-tier C prospect?