Along with many other creatures, the armchair general managers come out of hibernation in the spring. Millions of fans love to dabble in the inexact science known as the NFL Draft, in the form of mocks, film review and pouring out their personal biases. In case you haven't noticed, I'll remind you: the NFL Draft is a crap-shoot.
When the Bengals ushered in their newest class a month ago, opinions were mixed. The majority had the Bengals in the "B" grade range, while others had completely polarizing stances. Some at NFL.com called the Bengals "the winners of the draft", while some others like our own Jake Liscow (also with Pro Football Focus) and Joe Goodberry seemed to think the team reached for needs in many of the rounds. NFL writer Aaron Nagler and I got into a small debate on Wednesday on Jeremy Hill as well. Even though the opinions differ greatly, they are fair assessments any way one slices it.
The thing about it is that our opinions don't matter. The ones that do mean something are the ones belonging to the Bengals' front office and coaching staffs. And, whether one likes it or not, the 2014 group is truly a mish-mash of "their guys".
Let's take offensive lineman Russell Bodine, for example. Most felt that the team reached for him, especially when they moved up in the fourth round to take him, which marked only the third time in franchise history that Cincinnati has made a move up. He's barrel-chested, evidenced by his top bench-press mark at the Combine, and plays with a nasty streak at times. Bodine also sports the versatility gene that the Bengals' staff loves, as he can play all spots in the interior.
Rob Rang, another famed draft guru over at CBS Sports wasn't all that high on Bodine as a prospect, giving him a fifth-to-sixth round grade as a guard--a position that Rang felt he was better suited for as a pro. The team being the exception for that fit? The Cincinnati Bengals. Rang recently gushed about how well the former Tarheel fits in with Cincinnati's offensive scheme.
Bodine's game -- like Alexander's scheme -- is based on power. The marginal agility and balance Bodine demonstrated at the combine (OL-worst 8.29-second in the 3-cone drill) and on tape scared off some scouts but is mitigated by the fact that in Alexander's scheme centers are generally asked to either drive defenders off the ball or turn and seal them away from the action, rather than scoot to the second level and adjust to linebackers.
Bodine remains a bit raw but there are few teachers among offensive line coaches better than Alexander, who is entering his 21st season in Cincinnati. Bodine will have his hands full beating out veterans Trevor Robinson and Mike Pollak but given that Cincinnati released incumbent starter Kyle Cook and was so uncharacteristically bold in the move to acquire him, the former Tar Heel is a solid bet to see playing time sooner rather than later.And that bodes well for Bernard, quarterback Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals' offense.
As they say, one man's trash is another man's treasure. That's the beauty of the NFL and the Draft--a player can be seen as a marginal NFL prospect by most teams, but because of scheme fit, said player could flourish. As noted by Rang and others, Bodine isn't an agile guy that will excel at getting to the second level to block. It doesn't matter though, because the Bengals likely won't ask him to do much of that.
The plan and the hope is that if/when Bodine is plugged in at center, he will be an upgrade with his strength to push back many of the big defensive tackles of the AFC North--something that we haven't seen over the past few seasons with any consistency. Though the Bengals need improvement in their second-level blocking as a unit, Bodine probably won't be a part of that makeover. Instead, what he will bring is the opening of lanes front and center for backs that can hit the hole at a quicker pace like Giovani Bernard and Hill, while letting others improve their up-field tasks.
That should make the Bodine/Hill duo in the draft interesting to watch in itself. The Bengals like him, and that should be good enough for fans. The best way to avoid the crap-shoot in this aforementioned inexact science is to find guys who fit your scheme. Like the pick or not, Bodine does that for the Bengals.