August 23, 2014

Position Review: Cornerback

With the Bengals losing Johnathan Joseph in free agency and Adam Jones beginning the season on the PUP list, the corners were looking like a major concern going into the season. The front office responded to the losses by signing free agent Nate Clements and trading Clinton McDonald, a solid D-lineman who was going to be a victim of numbers anyway, to Seattle for former first-round pick Kelly Jennings.

As it turned out, with the strong play of the defensive line, the corners proved to be at least adequate. They still gave up plays, but the big plays were less frequent than in years past.

Then came the injury to Leon Hall. His absence in the second half of the season, as the Bengals were playing so many of their tough opponents, left a bigger hole than we realized at times. Clements did a solid job considering the situation, but Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings were clearly a step down from Hall.

Leon Hall: 9 games. 0 sacks, 32 tackles, 2 INTs.

No one is ever going to accuse Leon of being a shutdown corner, but he does a nice job of reading routes, disrupting patterns and being a general nuisance. He will get burnt now and then, drawing the ire of fans, but he really is a solid corner. His Achilles injury makes his availability to start the season questionable at best. The Bengals must strategize as though he will be on IR in 2012, and if he should recover in time, so much the better. Hall is signed through the 2015 season.

Nate Clements: 15 games. 1 sack, 55 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 INTs.

Bringing Clements back to his home state proved to be a very good move for the Bengals. Though less than perfect in his 11th season, I shudder to think what the secondary would have been without him in November and December. Clements is under contract for 2012.

Adam Jones: 8 games. 0 sacks, 28 tackles.

Trouble again found Jones in the offseason as he rehabbed from another injury. Once he was able to get back on the field, Jones was decent (+0.8 rating by PFF) but not exactly what we thought he should be. Jones is a free agent. His inability to stay out of handcuffs (and likely suspension by the league if gets a new contract) will not make it easy for him to find another gig. Then again, when Mike Brown smells a discount, don’t get between him and the salad bar.

Kelly Jennings: 13 games. 1 sack, 33 tackles.

Seattle fans grieved very little as Jennings packed his bags for Cincinnati. His -3.4 rating shows why. As a free agent, I would be tempted to write him off for 2012, but the Bengals may be looking for bodies to round out the roster.

Brandon Ghee: 7 games. 1 tackle.

We have seen very little of the third-round pick, logging only 10 tackles in 13 games over two seasons. A groin injury landed him on IR in 2010, and he missed time this year due to a hamstring. He was drafted under the premise that he would be there to replace Joseph or Hall should they leave. He will likely be expected to step up as a 3rd or 4th corner in 2012.

Looking to 2012

For this group, I am confident in only Clements and Ghee playing in 2012. If Hall makes it back, great! But that is iffy at best. So the Bengals could be looking for two new CBs, possibly three if they want to carry six on the roster. Three is a lot, which is why I can’t rule out Jones or Jennings returning, even though they ought to be let go.

But having multiple open spots gives us lots of reason to debate draft picks and free agents, our favorite winter activity. With at least two spots to fill, one of each makes sense, right?

First, let’s take a look at the available unrestricted free agents, which is not nearly as exciting of a pool as last year’s was. (The Bengals don’t play the RFA game.)

  • Brent Grimes of ATL (+16.0)
  • Cortland Finnegan of TEN (+15.8) [The Mouth!]
  • Carlos Rogers of SF (+9.9)
  • Tim Jennings of CHI (+7.4)
  • Corey Graham of CHI (+3.4)
  • Brandon Carr of KC (+2.7)
  • Roderick Hood of STL (+2.6)
  • Dimitri Patterson of CLE (+1.5)
  • Michael Coe of NYG (+1.0)
  • David Jones of JAC (+0.9)

These are the 10 UFAs rated by PFF as better than Adam Jones. We can scratch the top 4 off the list because the amount of money they will ask for will cause Mike Brown’s wallet to run away, screaming with horror. Someone who is a small, “affordable” upgrade is much more likely. Unfortunately, I expect that more of a lateral move than an upgrade is what we’ll get, rendering this list meaningless.

Now for draft possibilities. Like many, I expect to see the Bengals take a CB with their 17th pick and a RB with their 21st pick (although I would prefer they take an OG than a RB).

  • Morris Claiborne
  • ‘Dre Kirkpatrick
  • Alfonso Dennard
  • Janoris Jenkins

The likelihood of Claiborne and Kirkpatrick being on the board at #17 and/or #21 are small. Most mock drafts are giving Dennard to the Bengals with the 17th pick, although a few are saying Jenkins instead. Probably because he fits the Mike Brown formula: high skills + troubled past = discount! (Learn more about Jenkins’ history here.)

I’m not enough of a draft geek to tell you which guy is the right pick for the Bengals. I won’t dismiss Jenkins out of hand, despite the trouble, because people can change. If he has, I have no problem with him. If he hasn’t changed or carries himself like a diva, I want nothing to do with him. Should that be the case, I’ll take a less physically gifted Dennard if he will work hard, play in Zimmer’s system and fit easily in the locker room.

My projected 2012 crew at CB is Clements, Dennard (or Jenkins), Ghee, Jennings, and some fairly non-descript and unexciting free agent. ($1 to the person correctly guesses today who that free agent ends up being.)