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As the spring turns to summer the rookies have experienced their first taste of NFL practices and all eyes will be setting on the upcoming mini-camps for all players and, eventually, Training Camp. Aside from a couple of teams experiencing heartbreaking injuries to big-time rookies so early (cough, Jaguars, cough), fans are filled with optimism at this time of the year.
It's the feeling of a team being rejuvenated through free agency and the draft, giving sliver linings to the bleakest of season projections. For some NFL fans, the period in the league's calendar where free agency and the draft occur, might seem like Thanksgiving and Christmas. For others, that could be how they feel about week one.
The Cincinnati Bengals made some curious, but productive moves in both facets this year, and with the draft still in the rear view mirror, we received a question about one of the team's prospects.
For starters, Donald, you're not alone with that sentiment. There are teams that believed that without Shaw's odd 2014 preseason story, he'd be at least a second round pick. With more good tape as a senior, he might have crept into latter part of the first round to a defensive back-hungry team.
But, we know what happened, and Shaw fell to the fourth into the Bengals' lap. Reports said that the club contemplated moving up for him in the round to get him, showing how much they liked him. Even so, there were also reports that for every team that had Shaw as a second round talent, there was another that labeled him a sixth-round guy.
There is a lot to like about this kid from the get-go. He's very well-built (6'0", 200 lbs) and he can run (4.4 40-yard dash). He'll mix it up with receivers, has the versatility gene that the Bengals love in their players, and had really solid junior tape. Shaw also seems contrite about the saga that unfolded before his senior year, and is eager to put that behind him.
Still, some knock his ball-tracking skills and truly wonder about his fit in the NFL. Is he too bulky and not fluid enough to keep up with NFL wide receivers on the outside? Is he big enough to be a willing run-stopper if he fully converts to safety? Just how high is his ceiling in the NFL?
If you're asking me, personally, this was my second-favorite pick in the Bengals' 2015 class, behind TCU linebacker Paul Dawson. I felt that both hold great value at where they were selected and could boost the defensive unit in their own respective ways. However, I do think it might take Shaw a year or two to truly be an impactful player at the next level. After all, head coach Marvin Lewis already complimented Shaw when he watched him at the recent rookie mini-camp.
I don't think that the Bengals will ever get a Pro Bowl player out of Shaw, but I think that they can develop a quality niche guy who rotates in at various spots. I think he'll be a solid slot corner in the league, as well as adding value as a backup safety and special teams guy. There is a possibility that Cincinnati grabbed two future starting safeties in Shaw and Derron Smith (another great value in the sixth round), but that might be a little lofty--especially where we sit here in mid-May.
A couple of CJ writers are coming out with various roster projections in the coming days, so to avoid total overkill on the subject, I won't go into full-blown projection mode. I do like the question though, Steve, especially given the pass-rush woes and the team's inconsistency in stopping the run last season, and the multitude of injuries at both tight end and wide receiver.
There's no way that the Bengals will carry five tight ends in 2015. They traditionally carry three, so I think that that is the case again this year, with Ryan Hewitt being that FB/HB/TE swing guy. I don't know if they'll carry five or six wideouts this year--that will likely depend on the whole Mario Alford/Brandon Tate battle. There is going to be an absolute scrum for the final one or two spots between Alford, Tate, Cobi Hamilton, James Wright, Denarius Moore and the enigmatic undrafted free agent, Jake Kumerow. Only Training Camp, preseason performances and the always-somber injuries will allow this group to play itself out.
Given what happened (or didn't happen) on the defensive line last year, I say the more able bodies the better. They'll need as many solid pass-rushers as possible, given that they only have six defensive ends on the roster, and maybe only one linebacker with pass-rushing prowess (Sean Porter, and that's only going off of his junior year tape). If they do that and go with five interior linemen, one or two good ones will hit the street.
It's a huge offseason for Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, both 2012 draft mates. Still looks to be a new man after some wonderful news on the health of his daughter and the numerous postings of his workouts and body transformation this offseason. Thompson has flashed here and there, but is inconsistent and has had some injuries.
This will probably elicit some fan groans, but I don't expect Domata Peko to be anywhere but in Cincinnati in 2015. That being said, there are two very intriguing guys that are on the current roster who will be battling for back end position group spots, one a rookie and one a veteran. Marcus Hardison was taken in the fourth round this year and was a productive defensive end for the Arizona State Sun Devils, even though he played at about 300 pounds. At the Combine, Hardison ran a 4.87 40-yard dash at 307 pounds, which is straight up freakish.
There is also my personal favorite, Pat Sims. I believe he makes the roster, even though he's in Cincinnati on a minimum deal. He is a gap-penetrator and also seemed to always make a play when in there, even though he was a rotational player on the defense. The hope for the Bengals' coaching staff is that they can capture some of the lightning in a bottle from 2012, given the return of Sims and Michael Johnson on the line. It's a good start.
There are a couple of certainties right now, but I'm going to let the camp battles play out before I predict the outlook of the roster. In the meantime, enjoy the write-ups on that subject coming from Scott Bantel and BALCO Blue Bombers in the coming days.