I know, it’s almost silly to be thinking about a draft that is 6 months away while there are still 10 games left for the Bengals to play this year. But with the Bengals having two first round picks, and with it being the bye week, why not have some fun speculating how the Bengals might use those picks?
The most important factor is that, at least at this point, the Bengals do not have to use their picks on a glaring need. (How long has it been since they could say that?) With the solid picks that the Bengals have made over the past few years paying off, the 2012 draft will be all about building depth. That’s why I’m so excited, because good franchises draft for depth!
So what options are available to the Bengals in April?
Trade Up. They could package a couple of high picks to move up into the top 10 if they wanted. But with no pressing needs, no single player will have as much value as two high picks. So this option is a non-starter. They could package a 1st with a mid- or late-rounder to move up a few spots to get someone they really like, but that still leaves them with the same number of high picks.
Trade Down. The Bengals have done well in the 2nd and 3rd rounds over the past few years, so I would not be surprised or upset if they traded the pick from Oakland for more picks. They now have enough leverage to work the draft the way that New England does. If a good offer comes around, they should take it. But there is no way to speculate these possibilities right now, unfortunately.
Use the Picks. With a compensatory pick for Johnathan Joseph, the Bengals will have 5 picks in the first 3 rounds. If they use them all and do as well as they have over the past few years, the Bengals put themselves on equal footing with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
So how should they use those picks to build depth in the best places? Let’s look at the position groups, the players in those groups, and how long those players are under contract. (Sorry, there were a few guys for whom I could not find their free agent year.)
- Quarterback: Dalton (2014), Gradkowski (2012). Clearly the Bengals will not be drafting a QB with a high pick. They may take one late, if at all. Personally, I prefer having Gradkowski to yet another late pick like Jeff Rowe, Dan LeFevour or Jordan Palmer.
- Wide Receiver: Green (2014), Simpson (2011), Caldwell (2011), Tate (2012), Shipley (2013), Whalen (2014), Hawkins (). Jerome Simpson’s legal issue, which has gone strangely quiet, will have some bearing on his return. The Bengals may choose to try to extend him and/or Caldwell with the money that had been held in reserve in case of Carson’s return. An extension of one or both will mean no high WR picks in 2012.
- Running Back: Benson (2011), Scott (2012), Leonard (2012), Peerman (), Pressley (2011). Should the Bengals re-sign Cedric? He will be 29 next year and is making $5M this year. No doubt he will want a multi-year deal for similar or better money. I like Ced, but I would be inclined to pass on that. This is a good candidate for a high pick. Then again, the Bengals’ track record with high picks on running backs is not at all good.
- Tight End: Gresham (2014), Lee (2011), Cochart (), Scaife (2011). I don’t see Donald Lee being kept. Will the Bengals try again with Scaife? Either way, I don’t see a high pick here.
- Center: Cook (2015). He was just extended, so they won’t go looking for a successor for a couple of years.
- Offensive Guard: Williams (2011), Livings (2011), Boling (2014), McGlynn (2011). I believe in drafting linemen high, so this is where I would like to see the Bengals invest at least one 1st round pick. Big Bobbie will be 36 next year. I could see giving him a 1 year deal to back up and mentor, but the future at RG needs to be addressed. Living has been better then we thought this year, and with the way they seem to love him, it won’t shock me if they extend him. But you won’t convince me that they couldn’t find better in the 1st round.
- Offensive Tackles: Whitworth (2015), Smith (2012), Collins (2011), Roland (2011). The Bengals are happy with their starters. I guess that Roland signs another short deal and Collins leaves in search of a starting gig.
- Defensive Ends: Geathers (2012), Johnson (2012), Dunlap (2013), Rucker (2011). Why mess with a good thing? Unless a beast who is too good to pass up falls in your lap, extend Rucker and leave well enough alone.
- Defensive Tackles: Peko (2014), Atkins (2013), Sims (2011), Fanene (2011). No question, Sims has to be back. And again, unless a B.J. Raji-type falls in your lap, extend Fanene and leave well enough alone.
- Linebackers: Howard (2012), Maualuga (2012), Lawson (2011), Johnson (2011), Rivers (2013), Skuta (2011), Moch (2013), Rey (2011). The two that intrigue me from this group are Johnson and Rivers. Johnson wants a starting gig but drew no interest in the offseason. He is a valuable piece. Will he try free agency again? And has Rivers become expendable? Personally, I would trade him if I could get a 4th or 5th for him. The Bengals could opt not to keep either Lawson or Johnson if they can get a guy they like in the 1st.
- Cornerbacks: Hall (2015), Clements (2012), Jones (2011), Jennings (2011), Trent (2013). This is another likely candidate for a 1st round pick, depending on what the Bengals do with Jones and Jennings.
- Safeties: Crocker (2012), Nelson (2011), Wilson (2011), Mays (2013), Sands (2014), Miles (2011). I don’t know if there is a Reed/Polamalu-type game-changer among the upcoming crop of safeties. If there were, I’d do a lot to get him. That type of ballhawking thumper would make the Bengals a truly fearsome defense. If not, I expect to see Nelson given a new contract and Wilson offered one. If he declines, then Mays and Sands slide up and the Bengals look for another safety in the 3rd.
- Special Teams: Huber (2012), Nugent (2011), Harris (). Why would the Bengals not keep all three?
If the Bengals choose to use all of their picks in the first 3 rounds, I look for them to take an OG and a CB in the 1st, an LB in the 2nd, and then a S and an RB in the 3rd.
Would you agree with this approach? Would you target other spots, or go in a different order?