On Thursday, I enjoyed listening to a spirited debate on Cincinnati’s ESPN1530 as the former Bengal and fill-in host Artrell Hawkins sparred with former NFL scout and guest co-host Carlos Fisher about the likelihood of Armon Binns becoming an impact player for the Bengals in 2012. Artrell, a UC grad, had been impressed by what Binns has done in practices and was solidly in his corner. Fisher, however, who had not seen him since he wore a UC jersey, was not about to put full faith in a guy who has yet to take the field in a real NFL game.
I understood the points that Fisher was making. Plenty of guys are kings of the practice field but underwhelm when the lights and cameras come on. Yet every year, there are guys who just “click” and exceed every reasonable expectation from the little that is known about them and thrive at the game’s highest level despite heavy skepticism from experts and pundits. Much like Andy Dalton did last year.
The Bengals have gathered a number of young, talented players who are anxious for the chance to prove themselves for the first time on an NFL field. The odds are strong that at least one is going to seize the opportunity and become a real force in the NFL. Who is your “pick to click” in 2012? There are plenty to choose from.
Armon Binns. The kid has been drawing praise from coaches and Bengals insiders for quite a while now. Can all of these people be wrong? Artrell Hawkins was adamant that the kid looks so much better than he did in college that Fisher would barely even recognize him. IF AH is right about that, he is going to be a tough (Bear)cat to beat out for the #2 receiver spot.
Vontaze Burfict. There is no denying that the guy has major talent. And Marvin Lewis knows a thing or two about mentoring talented middle backers. If the group stays healthy, he may be our pick for 2013. But if injuries mount (knock on wood) like they have in years past, he could get his shot this year.
Orson Charles. He is not likely to be on many DC’s radar early in the season, and that may just be the wiggle room that Jay Gruden needs to open up his play book this year. Opponents will focus on Green and Gresham, forcing less experienced guys to step up to beat them. Charles, who was projected as a 2nd rounder, has the hands and awareness in the middle of the field to do just that.
Brandon Ghee. Unlike everyone else in this group, Ghee has played in games already, but he has not lived up to expectations as of yet. But Marvin had good things to say about Ghee after minicamp. The light might finally be coming on. Being a part of the oldest position group on the team, having a young guy prosper may be more important than we think.
Marvin Jones. Like Charles, Jones has more talent than most realize, and he has 4.3 speed to put behind it. As a Cal product, he did not have a high-caliber QB throwing him the ball. He has the best shot of all of the receivers to bring a Chris Henry-type dimension (on-field dimension, I mean, not off-field) to the squad. That is something that could make the team very dangerous on offense.
Dre Kirkpatrick. If recent trends hold (and others stay healthy), Dre will not start until mid-season at best. Coaches will ease him onto the field. But if he lives up to expectations, he could take over from one of the veterans some time in November.
Mohamed Sanu. I will not deny that I love everything I read about this kid. He has the size, the hands and the fearlessness to own the middle of the field. The word has been that he catches everything he can get his hands on. He could become the next Housh, only without all of the unresolved anger.
Devon Still. The Big10 Defensive Player of the Year will spend a lot of time watching and learning from Geno Atkins, forming the next generation of the FisherPrice package along with Brandon Thompson. As a pass rushing tackle, he will spell Atkins on third down. He and Atkins will make sure that guards like David DeCastro are tired puppies by the end of games.
Kevin Zeitler. As a fan of linemen, this kid is on the inside track for me. But he has a significant factor working against him. The better a lineman is, the easier it is to overlook him. His success allows the big, exciting plays to happen. He may be the best thing we don’t notice in 2012.
The floor is yours. Which unproven player is going to have us clamoring for his jersey as a Christmas gift? If I’ve missed your guy, add him to the list.