August 21, 2014

Draft Strategy Recap: The Top Priorities

Over the past few days, I have taken a look at the positions that have significant needs to be addressed either through free agency or the draft. I put a poll with each to gauge your opinions on how the Bengals should approach each position. And you have spoken. With a little more info now that the Combine is complete, let’s recap.

Running Back: This position drew the strongest amount of interest, and for good reason. The position has to be more productive. BJGE was productive over the entire season, but the running game needs more pop and sizzle than he alone can give it. But if you are looking for the Bengals to draft that change-of-pace back on Day 1 or Day 2, you may find yourself disappointed. The Bengals are sending signals that they are looking for a more complete back, someone with some overlap with BJGE’s skill set who could carry a healthy portion of the load if necessary. (Truthfully, doesn’t it make sense to get as much for the investment as possible for a high draft pick?)

Nearly half of respondents wanted either Eddie Lacy or Giovani Bernard, and more than three-fourths want someone who will go by the end of the third round. I wholeheartedly agree with the latter. But the lackluster performances at the Combine have solidified my opinion that the Bengals will not take a running back in the first. There are too many good backs and not enough great ones to warrant it. I would be surprised if they take a back until the #53 pick. Depending on how the draft breaks, they may even dare to wait until #84. I do think they will grab a second back in the later rounds to compete with Cedric Peerman for the change-of-pace role.

Wide Receiver: This position also drew a lot of response, but it was the exact opposite of RB. Only one-fourth of voters thought that the team needs to take a receiver on Day 1 or Day 2. Over 40% prefer to supplement the group through free agency, and one-in-seven said to stick with the guys they have.

The position needs a little attention, but not an overhaul. Those hoping for an infusion of a #1A, top shelf free agent will not have that wish granted. The team simply is not going to spend that type of cash on this position for at least another year (when they can negotiate with A.J. Green). They are far more likely to either seek a low cost/high upside free agent–perhaps a guy like David Nelson, recently waived by the Bills–or else take a guy late in the draft, a la Marvin Jones last year. Maybe two if they land a compensatory pick.

Safety: In a testament to the offensive-orientation of the league, reaction dropped off considerably when we moved away from RB and WR. The Bengals do not take safeties in the first. But before last year, they did not take guards in the first, either. So perhaps they will break yet another trend and look to solidify the backfield on Day 1. Especially since the current class of free agent safeties is, for the most part, not the most inspiring.

Linebacker: Here is the other strong candidate for a Day 1 pick. I was surprised that one-in-four care only that Rey Maualuga is relieved of his Bengals uniform. If that is you, recent comments by Mike Zimmer suggest at least a decent possibility that the team does not agree with you. Do not be at all surprised if the team offers him a deal to compete for the SAM backer spot, with the size of the being a strong indicator of his shot to win the job. I can very easily envision the starters for next year being Maualuga at SAM, Burfict at MIKE or WILL (depending on who they draft) and a draft pick at the third spot.

Offensive Line: While many are focused on other spots, we have to admit that the line was not at its peek for much of the season. Big Whit may be showing signs of age. (We know how quickly Levi Jones went downhill.) And center was a bit of a mess when Trevor Robinson was not manning the spot. On top of a need for depth, a breakdown in negotiations with Andre Smith could take this position from important to urgent. If Smith re-signs, the team may look for a tackle in round 3 or 4. If not, it could stand everything we know on its ear.