Though the way the Cincinnati Bengals tend to operate in free agency can frustrate the fan base, their recent strategy has allowed them to often select the best players available. Because of their 14 unrestricted free agents going into this offseason, inevitable personnel losses has the team looking harder at some more specific positions than in the past couple of drafts--one appears to be defensive tackle.
On the surface, the team is set for 2016 at the position. They have one of the best all-around defensive tackles in Geno Atkins, and he'll be flanked with longtime Bengal, Domata Peko. However, with Peko nearing the end of his career and a handful of rotational backups behind both of them, a prevailing thought is that the team will use a high pick on an heir apparent.
Well, in the Marvin Lewis era (2003-present day), the Bengals haven't used high picks at defensive tackle. In fact, of the 10 defensive tackles Lewis has drafted, one been selected higher than the second round, and the other nine have come in rounds 3-7. Now, there are a couple of swing players who were technically defensive ends and kicked inside as a rush tackle, such as Langston Moore, Elton Patterson and Frostee Rucker, but we're not including those players here.
An argument could be made that a lack of a number of dominant players at the position is because of the team's perceived devaluation of defensive tackle in the draft, but the flip side of the coin shows that some of their better players in the Lewis era have developed after the club eschewed using high picks. Here is a look at the players drafted in the past 13 years to see if there is a correlation to be made for what the team may do next week in the NFL Draft.
Devon Still, Pick No. 53, 2012 Draft: Ironically, Lewis' highest pick for the position is likely the biggest bust--which isn't surprising as expectations are higher with players selected earlier in drafts. Still's disappointing stint in Cincinnati was marked with a major personal issue in which the team stood behind him, but he was also a bit of his own worst enemy. In his three years with the Bengals, Still finished with just 0.5 sacks, a forced fumble and 40 total tackles.
Pat Sims, No. 77 overall, 2008 Draft: While the big boy from Auburn hasn't been a steady starter for Cincinnati, he's had a solid career as a rotational backup on a bunch of stellar Bengals defenses. Sims has been a member of four of Lewis' seven playoff appearances, most of which were had behind stout defensive seasons. In six seasons (eight total) with the Bengals, Sims has played in 68 games, garnering five sacks and 87 total tackles. He's known as a lane-clogger in the run game to free up others around him, and he signed a deal to remain with the club through 2017.
Brandon Thompson, No. 93 Overall, 2012 Draft: When the team grabbed both Still and Thompson in consecutive rounds in the 2012 draft, many believed they grabbed defenders who should have gone at least a round earlier than where they were selected. Unfortunately, Thompson is joining Still as a bit of a bust, but he has signed a contract to remain with the Bengals this year as he rehabs a knee injury he suffered last year.
Matthias Askew, No. 117 Overall, 2004 Draft: The former Michigan State Spartan was one of the many "talented, but troubled" players the Bengals took a chance on so frequently in the mid-2000s. Askew played just two seasons with the Bengals, finishing with three total tackles and a forced fumble.
Domata Peko, No. 123 Overall, 2006 Draft: The big guy with an even bigger personality has been a consummate Bengal, while entering his 11th season with the club. Though he's lost a step or two, he had one of his best statistical seasons last year, and he's a guy many would love to see win a ring. He's been active for all but five games as a pro, racking up 248 tackles and 18.5 sacks.
Geno Atkins, No. 120 Overall, 2010 Draft: Do we need to go over this one? Atkins is one of the most dominant defensive players in the league and has been to four Pro Bowls in six pro seasons.
Marcus Hardison, No. 135 Overall, 2015 Draft: This is a guy who will play into the team's equation of when and where they'll look at a defensive tackle this year. Is he the versatile threat they feel they stole in the draft last year, or is he the next Askew? A defensive end in a tackle's body. Hardison wasn't active at all in 2015, so in 2016, we look forward to seeing what he's capable of.
Jason Shirley, No. Overall, 2008 Draft: Should we even consider him a defensive tackle? All of the size and talent in the world couldn't allow Shirley the opportunity to have an impact with the Bengals, with the team even trying his hand at offensive guard.
Langston Moore, No. 174 Overall, 2003 Draft: Lewis' first draft class came with a lot of flash early, but the late picks fizzled out. Moore lasted two years with the Bengals, garnering 31 total tackles and a sack in that time. Moore played relatively decent for the team, given his draft position, but he also played in a time when Cincinnati's defense was pretty deplorable.
Matt Toeaina, No. 187 Overall, 2007 Draft: The big lineman actually had a decent post-Bengals career, playing six seasons with the Bears. Unfortunately, he did absolutely nothing for the Bengals, who drafted him in a 2007 class that may be looked at as the worst in Lewis' tenure.
Clinton McDonald, No. 249 Overall, 2009 Draft: Here's another guy who has had a great career since his Cincinnati exodus, becoming a valuable rotational lineman for both the Seahawks and Buccaneers. Still, as is somewhat expected from a seventh round selection, McDonald never really contributed to Cincinnati's cause.
Whether it's their recent drafting of Tyler Eifert in 2013 or two consecutive top picks at offensive tackle last year, the Bengals have been one of the more interesting teams to watch on Draft weekend. Still, with a few glaring needs staring them in the face, including defensive tackle, it will be interesting to see where they grab one this year and in what mold the player will fit. Do you expect them to follow suit from the previous 13 years and grab a solid defensive tackle in the mid-rounds, or do you think they spring for one earlier than they traditionally have?