It's not that I hate the predraft process for the NFL draft (Actually, I do...I'm just trying not to sound like a stick-in-the-mud) -- it's that there's too much guesswork involved without any actual intervention from the team. Naturally, any conversation with a team that discusses their draft plans is more secretive than the NSA and borders on cold war paranoia. And that's assuming that these teams even have draft plans right now (most don't).
The NFL Combine is next month and free agency is two months away. Then there's private workouts, pro days and the all-important but under-appreciated interviews. Then, these draft boards will take shape and needs will becoming clearer.
That being said, we're opening the channel to ponder the Bengals' own draft needs. But before we do any of that, we have questions that actually need answering.
Pass rushing defensive end
Despite generating a league-worst 20 quarterback sacks, how can anyone actually justify using a draft pick on a defensive end in the first three rounds... after they did EXACTLY that in the last two NFL drafts -- Margus Hunt was a second-rounder in the 2013 NFL draft and Will Clarke was snagged in May. If you're suggesting that they're busts, then fine. Draft someone. Regardless, you're not going to develop three defensive ends in 2015.
We've seen mock drafts that featured a defensive tackle in the first three rounds and ask... why? Despite what Paul Guenther has said on Monday, Geno Atkins is starting next season and, barring any issues, will start every game. And despite what you want/believe, the Bengals aren't dumping Domata Peko, who signed a three-year deal worth $13.125 million on March 26, 2014. Does that mean that the team is finished with Devon Still, who was a second-rounder in 2012 or Brandon Thompson, drafted in the third-round later during that draft? They'd have to be if they're willing to draft someone in the first two days of the 2015 NFL draft. Do you want a one-technique (run stopper) or a three-technique (pass rusher)? Maybe this is something you push off until Saturday's four-round event.
Rey Maualuga is entering free agency as an unrestricted free agent -- re-signing him, to me, should be easy (if that's what they want to do). Vontaze Burfict is considering another procedure on his damaged knee -- how much can we rely on him being ready? Emmanuel Lamur missed a multiple games with separate injuries, after missing all of last year, which begs the question... should we worry about his durability issues? Yes. Yes, we should.
I'm a huge fan of Vincent Rey but would you view him as Maualuga's logical replacement or a comfortable backup linebacker that plays special teams. We're talking parallel change, not growth. Marquis Flowers, who helped replace Maualuga against the Colts on Sunday, submitted a Pro Football Focus score of +1.3 as a run defender and could be developed. Sean Porter, a fourth-rounder from the 2013 NFL draft, can't stay healthy.
If you're drafting in the secondary, then you're drafting for depth and/or development. Terence Newman is a free agent and will turn 37 years during his 13th season if he returns. Reggie Nelson (turning 32 this year), Leon Hall (turning 31), and Adam Jones (turning 32) are all entering the final year under contract... and Hall has a cap number of $9.6 million. They will approach, and/or surpass their mid-30s, when they complete their next contract.
George Iloka and Dre Kirkpatrick, both of whom will be free agents after the 2015 season, needs a new deal this offseason and Cincinnati needs to promote Darqueze Dennard to a starting role. At some point, Cincinnati has to look beyond today to prepare for the eventuality that youth will replace experience on the depth chart -- after it finally takes over the starting lineup. And I'm assuming that we shouldn't expect Shawn Williams on defense anymore?