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Another draft class has been announced for the Cincinnati Bengals and it's their first two picks that had people wondering about the future of the club. Not so much about the talent level of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, but more about the futures of bookend tackles, Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith.
Whitworth has gone public about the picks, only after being asked and it has turned into a soap opera of sorts. Regardless, true to Whitworth's form, he hosted Jake Fisher at a get-together at his home on Saturday evening, Ogbuehi couldn't make it.
Most believe though, that the writing on the wall might be more directed to Smith instead of Whitworth. One of the major reasons being that Smith has missed a whopping 30 games in six seasons (including playoffs), even though he's become one of the better right tackles in football when healthy. The Bengals' first two picks prompted our first interesting question this week:
@CJAnthonyCUI do you think there is a chance they trade A. Smith before the regular season starts? We now have 5 tackles— Brett Bradford (@brettbradfordsr) May 4, 2015
No, I don't and there are a number of factors as to why I believe that to be the case. Even though Smith has had injury issues, Marvin Lewis and his staff prefer the steadiness of veterans at critical positions. It's why solid rookies like Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Jeremy Hill, Dre Kirkpatrick (along with injuries), and Darqueze Dennard have all sat and watched early in their careers. Smith will at least start and play the final year of his deal out as the Bengals starting right tackle.
Speaking of "final year of the deal", those players can be difficult to trade in the NFL. A player might only be open to a trade if the club receiving the player will give them a new deal. For a guy like Smith that so many teams shied away from back in the 2012 offseason, I don't know that they'll be beating down the door to do so, given that he missed eight games last season. What would the Bengals be able to get for him at this point? It might be better than nothing if he walks in 2016.
You also have to look at both Fisher and Ogbuehi as guys who might not be ready to immediately start right away, for a couple of reasons. Fisher needs to build up some strength and work on his technique, being a former tight end. Ogbuehi would have to be rushed back from an end-of-the-season knee injury to make a start. Rushing a rookie into the lineup while hurrying through rehab? No thanks.
Sure, there's the Eric Winston band-aid, given that he played relatively well towards the end of last season in relief of Smith. But he'll be 32 this year and his best football is behind him. Even though grabbing Fisher and Ogbuehi strengthen an important part of any football team, namely the offensive line, throwing them in right away and ditching Smith would weaken it for the immediate future.
It depends on a couple of things. First, one's definition of "skill position", and secondly, does "playing time" mean "start" or even something as simple as special teams contributions?
Based on my answer above, I believe it to be a redshirt year for Ogbuehi and Fisher, with the exception of insertion in "jumbo" packages. We might see a bit more of that this year with the emphasis on the run in 2015, but I still think the top two picks in the 2015 class will see a lot of the action from the sidelines.
The obvious answer is Paul Dawson, the third round linebacker out of TCU. A lot of folks were surprised to see Dawson last that long, and the Bengals should have a future starter at linebacker. If WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict can't go at the beginning of the year and Dawson impresses in camp, he could start until the former Pro Bowler is back. The other scenario if Burfict is healthy is that he plays base formation downs at SAM, while the coaches mix in the rangy Emmanuel Lamur in nickel and dime formations. That would be the best-case scenario.
Some are already clamoring for seventh-round wideout Mario Alford to supplant Brandon Tate and that could happen. Alford has incredible straight line speed and was productive, even though he had top-10 pick Kevin White on the opposite side taking a lot of stats himself. It wouldn't be surprising to initially see Alford as the kick return guy and the occasional speedster in a four/five wide look.
Defensive back Josh Shaw of USC has the versatility gene that the coaches look for, but I still think he's a year or two away from being a productive "swing guy" on defense. His future seems to be a slot cover guy and might be poised to take over at safety if/when Reggie Nelson leaves.
The guy I see getting the most time and production this year is Tyler Kroft. Unfortunately, I go this route mostly because of sheer necessity at the position. Jermaine Gresham is gone and Tyler Eifert is coming off of both elbow and shoulder injuries. The team needs help at the position and double-dipped in the draft with Kroft and C.J. Uzomah.
Still, that doesn't mean I'm knocking the Rutgers product's skill set. Kroft seems to be a willing blocker and able receiver--a guy who is pretty good at everything, but not really excellent at either facet. We talked about this (and other) pick on this week's Inside The Jungle podcast, and all of the roundtable guys seemed to like Kroft.
It's in the red zone that I see Kroft contributing the most. Imagine a formation with the "Tyler Twins" (feel free to run with that nickname if you want) at 6'6" apiece, a 6'4" A.J. Green on the outside, 6'4" Ryan Hewitt at H-Back and either Jeremy Hill or Giovani Bernard in the backfield--both backs having capable hands. Run a play-action and it should be mismatches galore.