Friday, May 27, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Cincinnati Bengals

If I were grading NFL teams on their ability to play their "poker hand" so to speak, the Bengals would get an F because they didn't fool anyone. They not so secretly let it be known that A.J. Green would be their primary target with the 4th overall pick and that they'd target a QB in the top of the 2nd round. Well, that's exactly how it went for the Bengals, who in the last few years have pulled in some pretty solid players via the draft. They've added some key defensive pieces in Rey Maualuga, Michael Johnson, and Carlos Dunlap over the last few years, and the trend continued, though this year's draft was about the offensive side of the ball. With Carson Palmer being forced into "retirement" and uncertainty about Chad Johnson, two of the Bengals top needs were quarterback and wide receiver, and they scratched those off in an efficient manner on the drafts first two days. Let's see how the rest of the class panned out:

1st round, 4th overall) A.J. Green - WR - Georgia
As far as wide recievers go, A.J. Green is about as "safe" as it gets. In fact, you can make the argument that he's the best receiving prospect to come out since Calvin Johnson went to Detroit in 2007, Green's that good. He'll help take the sting out of losing Terrell Owens and potentially Chad Johnson this offseason, and should be the number one target for Andy Dalton, or whomever is taking snaps from center week one for the Bengals.

How he fits in: New offensive coordinator Jay Gruden plans to install a west coast offense that was similar to his brother Jon's offense with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the early 2000s. In that case, consider A.J. Green to fill the Keyshawn Johnson role. He's a big-bodied receiver at 6'3" 211lbs with great hands who excels after the catch. He's not afraid to go over the middle, much like Keyshawn, and he can beat you deep when you least expect it, which should help open up running lanes for Cedric Benson. Green will start right away, and I'd expect him to lead the Bengals in all categories, even if Chad Johnson returns.

Outlook: While not a surprising move, the Bengals added the best player available at a position of need, which is always a plus when your draft board marries with what's available. This was a great pick for the Bengals, and while some might question whether or not Blaine Gabbert or Nick Fairley would've been better options at this juncture, you've got to realize Andy Dalton probably fits just as well as Gabbert would have, and the Bengals have swung and missed on defensive tackles like Fairley in the past, so they made the right call to stay away.

2nd round, 35th overall) Andy Dalton - QB - Texas Christian
The Bengals needed an insurance policy at the very least as they play out the Carson Palmer saga. The Carson Palmer ordeal is very stupid on Mike Brown's part to say the least, as they could've traded him for multiple draft picks prior to the lockout rather than eat his $11M salary, but I digress, it's Mike Brown, one of the worst owners in all of professional sport. Dalton comes from a TCU system that played to his strengths making him seem a lot better than he really is. He has trouble making a lot of NFL-caliber throws and his reads were very simplistic. For instance, if you plug him in the Colts offense, he'd be cut day one of training camp. However, the Bengals west coast offense represents one of the few landing spots that Dalton could've come into ahead of the curve. His armset should give the Bengals what they're looking for, and at the very least Dalton will be a solid backup. That said, he's going to be starting for them week one unless something drastically changes with Carson Palmer, so, he'll get to prove himself early on.

3rd round, 66th overall) Dontay Moch - LB - Nevada
Many drafniks were enamored with Moch's 40 times. He is rumored to have clocked a 4.25 in the 40 coming out of high school. Moch clocked a 4.44 in Indy at the combine, which is really impressive for someone who is 6'1" and 248lbs. The Bengals needed someone to provide pass-rush opposite Carlos Dunlap, who figures to be a full-time starter in 2011. Robert Geathers has flopped since signing a big contract, and the Bengals had yet to find someone with pass-rushing prowess. Moch, however, is schematically better for the 3-4 with his straight line speed. He's not very fluid in space and wasn't asked to drop into coverage at Nevada, so this might be a case of a team having the right idea, but drafting the wrong player for the purpose.

4th round, 101st overall) Cling Boling - G - Georgia
This might prove to be the most valuable pick for the Bengals from this draft class. Both left guards Nate Livings and Evan Mathis are free agents, and neither of them should've been starting anyway. Boling, a 6'4" 308lbs player has experience at left tackle, and is decently mobile. He should slide in between Andrew Whitworth and Kyle Cook at left guard from day one. A four-year starter, Boling brings plenty of experience to the Bengals, but he's got to hit the weight room hard. He's more finesse than a mauler (which the Bengals have preferred under Marvin Lewis). Boling should be able to bulk up and add sufficient strength to become a fine player for a long time in Cincinnati.

5th round, 134th overall) Robert Sands - S - West Virginia
This seems more like the typical "Bungles" pick we're all used to. Sands was projected as a 7th round prospect by a lot of draft pundits, and the Bengals may have pulled the trigger too quickly on him. With Chris Crocker and Roy Williams as safeties, the Bengals needed someone who could patrol the deep middle third of the field. Coverage however, isn't really Sands' forte. Sands, at 6'4" 217lbs is a big guy who played some free safety and the rover position in West Virginia's 3-3-5 defense, often playing close to the line of scrimmage acting as a pseudo fourth linebacker. Sands is a head-hunter, meaning he'll go for the kill shot, and he'll get it sometimes. But, if he misses, it's going to mean a big gain for the opposition. He had a good sophomore season, but really tailed off as a junior before entering the draft. Boom or bust here.

6th round, 167th overall) Ryan Whalen - WR - Stanford
One of the most underrated picks in the entire draft is here. Most Bengals fans I spoke with were upset that another receiver was brought in. Well, if I were a betting man, I'd put some serious coin on Whalen knocking someone off the roster like a Jerome Simpson or Andre Caldwell, that wouldn't normally be suspected. Whalen comes from a Stanford program that featured a lot of west coast passing concepts, and he's used to those types of routes and sight adjustments having played with Andrew Luck. With decent size at 6'1" 202lbs, Whalen can play in the slot, or outside opposite A.J. Green, and he'll have a leg up on the rest of the receiving corps as he'll be pretty familiar with a lot of the offensive concepts.

7th round, 207th overall) Korey Lindsey - CB - Southern IllinoisPurely a developmental prospect here. The Bengals have a lot of depth at the corner spot, so this pick is for the future. Lindsey, a 5'10" 194lbs prospect was a two-time 1st Team All-American at the D-IAA level, played in 50 career games and posted 14 interceptions. Teams didn't really throw his way much in 2010, as he'd tabbed 6 picks each in his sophomore and junior years. Lindsey will have to show something on special teams to stick on the roster this year.

7th round, 246th overall) Jay Finley - RB - Baylor
The Bengals really only used Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott when running the football as Brian Leonard is more of a third down back. But, Leonard might shift to fullback in Gruden's west coast system with his pass-catching abilities. So, the Bengals may need more depth at the running back spot. A three-year start for the Baylor Bears, he set the single-season rushing record with 1,218 yards. A smallish back at 5'10" 205lbs, he's pretty similar to Bernard Scott and will have to really show something in camp to make the roster. However, he might be a valuable commodity on the practice squad so the Bengals may have to stash him as an inactive player on game days by keeping him on the 53-man roster.

Overall Grade: B+
The Bengals put together a pretty solid draft, but there's a few things I don't like that keep me from giving them an A-. First, I'm not as big of an Andy Dalton fan as most people, as I believe his offense at TCU was catered to him, and he could have some struggles as a rookie which he won't be used to. I think Dontay Moch was a good idea, but I'm not sure if the Bengals will use him in the right capacity, but if they focus on him solely as a pass-rusher, I can get more behind the pick. Overall, I think they landed solid starters in Green, Dalton, and Boling, and some solid contributors in Moch, Sands, and Whalen. Had they gotten additional picks for Carson Palmer, they really could've done some damage. The Bengals got better, but a lot of their future success, and perhaps Marvin Lewis' Bengals tenure, hinges on Andy Dalton.

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