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Could the 2011 draft strategy work again for the Bengals in 2020?

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The Bengals were forced to rebuild their team almost a decade ago and their first two picks shaped the team for years. Might a similar strategy next year be the best way to go?

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Back in the 2011 offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals were at a major crossroads. Then-head coach Marvin Lewis had rebuilt the team from the ashes of a 2-14 2002 season only to see it erode away to another non-competitive squad.

The ensuing draft class helped to shape the franchise for the following decade. Cincinnati drafted the safest bet in the class in wide receiver A.J. Green at No. 4 overall and followed that pick up with their next franchise quarterback in the second round with Andy Dalton.

Fast-forward to the midway point of the 2019 season and those two linchpins are major reasons for the team being 0-7. Green, of course, hasn’t suited up all season, while Dalton and the offense has displayed major dry spells.

With the myriad of issues on display and a new head coach potentially looking for a new quarterback next year, the exciting 2020 class is at the forefront of conversation. “The Big Six” consisting of Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm are in the conversation as top picks for some of the NFL teams with poor records this year.

With the Bengals looking like they’ll have another top-five pick next year, some of these names are frequently being mocked to them at the moment. Both common knowledge and common sense tell us all that if the team sees one of these quarterbacks as “their guy”, they’ll take him.

But, with other roster holes and the team’s seemingly-undying devotion to Dalton, they may be inclined to utilize a strategy that worked for them in the last rebuilding effort. We discussed this issue on the most recent Orange and Black Insider episode.

Pros

The “Dalton method”: Cincinnati could use a top-five pick on another piece to beef up the rest of the roster. It probably wouldn’t be a wide receiver again, although Jerry Jeudy could bring sizzle back to the offense—particularly if Cincinnati hangs on to Green in 2020.

Offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Andrew Thomas could help one of the worst lines in the league, while potentially turning it into a good one right away with Jonah Williams returning to the lineup. If the team wants to build around a new guy, these picks could help right the ship in a similar vein to that of 2011.

A glut of close losses in 2019: One could point to the massive amount of injuries and handful of heartbreaking, last-second defeats as pointing to a quick turnaround with talent additions in 2020. In the seven losses so far this year, Cincinnati has had golden opportunities to pull out victories in five of those contests.

The front office could believe that beefing up other positions that are aging and/or ailing is the way to go in the first round, while grabbing a quarterback at the top of the second. Mike Brown and Co. could view those as the bigger problems in the grand scheme.

This would potentially play into the “prop-up the signal-caller plan”, much like what they have employed at times with Dalton. It also may give the rookie a chance to develop for a year, if that’s the franchise’s preferred plan.

Questions and actual talent gaps between “The Big Six”: As it goes with every class, questions surround each of the top quarterbacks this year. Many pundits have their preferences between Burrow, Tagovailoa and Herbert, but Hurts, Eason and Fromm provide intriguing options with later picks.

Cincinnati could covet Eason’s arm strength, Hurts’ versatility, or Fromm’s game-manager style and prefer to surround them with Green, Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and a revamped offensive line. It would be a hard sell to the fan base, but it could be something that works out in the long run.

Cons

Passing up on potential generational talents: Simply put, when a guy who looks like he can productively lead your franchise for the next decade, you take him. The chances are that at least one of those six players fit that bill in next year’s class and it’s the best argument for the team to go quarterback in the top-five.

While successful, the 2011 plan didn’t breed a championship: Cincinnati utilized three consecutive draft classes from 2010-2012 to ride five straight postseason berths. Unfortunately, not only did their “safe” approach in 2011 fail to net a championship, but it also didn’t even net a playoff win. Some of the players drafted in the plan didn’t play well in those contests, either.

Still too many roster holes for a lesser-talented quarterback to camouflage: We’ve said this often, but because of the Bengals’ questionable operational practices, they need a transcendent talent at quarterback to have them rise above mediocrity. A top-five quarterback is simply more likely to get that done.

John and I still prefer the risk associated with a top-five quarterback in a deep class. The Bengals had the luxury of having an experienced coach who had already overseen a successful rebuild effort in Marvin Lewis.

Also on this week’s episode:

  • We welcome in Joe McAtee of SB Nation’s Turf Show Times to talk about Week 8 against the Rams. Andrew Whitworth and Zac Taylor are also part of that discussion.
  • Is it time to start giving either Ryan Finley or Jake Dolegala looks as starting quarterbacks?
  • Which of “The Big Six” are our current favorites for the Bengals and why, as we sit here in October?

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