In the weeks since the completion of the NFL draft, I have been looking at the various position groups in an effort to shed light on where the team currently stands with their personnel and to foreshadow needed moves once free agency begins. Today, I turn my attention to the defensive tackles.
If you recall the past decade or so of drafts, the Bengals have been repeatedly mentioned as being in desperate need of defensive tackles, yet since Dan ‘Big Daddy’ Wilkinson was chosen with the #1 overall pick in 1994, the team has avoided this position early in the draft. In 2004, Marvin Lewis selected Matthias Askew, a DT from Michigan State, in the fourth round. Askew totaled 5 career tackles and was cut after two seasons. Two years later, the team rolled the dice once again on a 4th round DT from Michigan State. This time, their selection turned out to be a great choice. Domata Peko is the kind of player we all hoped Marvin Lewis would be able to find in the later rounds of the draft. Peko, known for his flowing mane of curly hair, hails from the American Samoa and has racked up 200 more tackles than Askew in his time in the Queen City. He was given a seven year contract extension back in 2008, which turned out to be a good investment so far as he is one of the defensive leaders of the team. Starting next to Peko is Tank Johnson, a player we signed in 2009 after stints in Chicago and Dallas. Johnson was a character gamble after a string of legal trouble in Chicago, but so far he has been a solid player for the Bengals. Johnson spent the latter part of last season on IR, giving more playing time to some of the younger players like Pat Sims. Sims, a third round pick from Auburn in 2008, hopefully will not be forever known as the guy who jumped offsides on 4th and 2 when the Saints were in field goal range late in a game last season. The Saints would use the extra first down to score the winning touchdown. Sims has been a solid player though, and hopefully he will learn from the mistake. Also in the mix are Geno Atkins, a 2010 4th round pick from Georgia, and Clinton McDonald, a 7th round pick from 2009.
Best case scenario: If the unit can stay healthy, they can be very good. We have a nice mix of veteran leadership and solid young players. Sims should have a chance to earn more playing time after filling in for Johnson late last season.
Worst case scenario: Injury is the biggest threat to the unit, but Peko has been pretty durable and Sims has shown he can fill in when needed.
Another Possibility: I don’t see much need to bring in a free agent into the mix, especially if the team is able to bring back Jonathan Fanene, who can play both end and tackle.
Outlook: It was a great bit of fortune that the Bengals hit on Peko, who has outplayed most of the DTs drafted before him in the 2006 draft. The position was a weakness for nearly a decade before he emerged as a rising star. Sims can be a great player as well, assuming he can stay on the proper side of the line. We seem to be in pretty good shape at the position for the next several years.