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Armchair Quarterback: Bengals’ recent draft classes are the gifts that keep on taking

The Bengals banked big time on a couple of draft classes that was to shape the roster for the next half-decade or more. They ended up doing so, but not in the way they had hoped.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What a streak it’s been for the Cincinnati Bengals. Cedric Ogbuehi is currently the team’s third-string offensive tackle, while Jake Fisher was just placed on Injured Reserve to cut his season short for the second straight season.

Unfortunately, these tidbits of information are just microcosms of their respective pro careers with the Cincinnati Bengals.

The team that Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis fielded on Sunday afternoon against the Denver Broncos was a shell of the squads seen from 2011-2015. Yes, injuries have played a major role in the (mis)direction of the season, but failed projects netted in the spring months continue to plague the team.

Usually in our regular “Armchair Quarterback” feature, we lay out a number of differing observations to be taken away from the contest’s result. This week, we’re taking a more macro look at things, as strategic missteps by the organization has led us all to this continuing debacle that is the 2018 season.

Ogbuehi and Fisher were the top two picks in the team’s 2015 draft class, as many pundits gave them high marks for the selections. It was known that Ogbuehi’s rookie year would be a redshirt season, of sorts, while some analysts had Fisher pegged as a first round talent.

At the time, the moves showed great foresight to potentially fortify the offensive line for the next decade. Andrew Whitworth was about to enter his 10th season, while Andre Smith was entering his 7th season after battling a myriad of injuries throughout his career.

The Bengals were so confident in these picks that they allowed both Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler leave in free agency the very next offseason. Marvin Lewis and then-offensive line coach Paul Alexander felt that Ogbuehi was ready to take over on the left side, while both he and Fisher supposedly had the needed versatility to kick inside, if need be.

Fast-forward a few years and both guys are finishing up the final years of their rookie deals and neither seem to be in the club’s long-term plans. And, in an irony that just screams Bengals, Smith is returned to the team recently as an option at left tackle with Cordy Glenn still ailing.

As it turns out, left guard Clint Boling slid over and struggled against the Broncos and first round pick, Bradley Chubb. To add insult to injury, Whitworth recently threw the Bengals’ organization under the bus as he reminisced about his 2016 free agency foray.

The story goes beyond Ogbuehi and Fisher, though. Here are the picks from that pivotal class:

  • Round 1, pick No. 21: Cedric Ogbuehi, OL
  • Round 2, pick No. 53: Jake Fisher, OL
  • Round 3, pick No. 85: Tyler Kroft, TE
  • Round 3, pick No. 99: Paul (P.J.) Dawson, LB
  • Round 4, pick No. 120: Josh Shaw, DB
  • Round 4, pick No. 135: Marcus Hardison, DL
  • Round 5, pick No. 157: C.J. Uzomah, TE
  • Round 6, pick No. 197: Derron Smith, DB
  • Round 7, pick No. 238: Mario Alford, WR

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s five players from the class not even on the team and two currently on I.R. Throw in the first round pick being a total bust, and the circle is complete.

Ironically, it’s the position the team traditionally has ignored as a priority—tight end—that has been the most productive of the class. Though Kroft is one of 14 players on I.R., he and Uzomah have stepped up relatively well through the wealth of injuries Tyler Eifert has had to endure.

Going into this season, most who examined the club realized that both offensive tackle and linebacker were weak spots on the roster. Given the team’s putrid rankings on defense and the up-and-down play of the offensive line, we can look back to the 2015 class for these issues.

It isn’t just this class, though. If we look back to 2014, just one of the eight picks remain on the roster. First round pick, Darqueze Dennard is the lone survivor from five years ago and his future with the club remains cloudy.

And, therein lies one of the problems. These recent formative draft classes in which the team has relied upon have been utter failures. It’s a big reason why they’re staring at the third straight losing season.

From a big picture standpoint, it’s also pointing to an inherent philosophy issue. “Draft and develop” is a great strategy, but when the eggs are almost solely placed in that basket (and not in outside free agency), it means that the team has to have a higher hit rate on prospects than most other teams. And, when the misses are plentiful, a by-product is an 18-24-1 record in nearly three seasons.

It also leads to an over-confidence, of sorts, in their abilities to mine gold out of the draft. One can look no further than the selecting of Ogbuehi and Fisher while letting Whitworth and Zeitler walk in free agency.

And, as you can see, the Bengals aren’t having the kind of success in April that they stumbled upon back in the 2009-2011 stretch. Because of it, the team is being set back and the 1-5 stretch the team is fighting through is proof of a need for a shift in philosophy.

The 2015 draft class is an assembly of poster boys pointing to the need for a strategic change, but other classes aren’t pulling their weight, either.