Monday, April 18, 2016

Ten days away . . .

From the best time of the year: the NFL draft!

Gone are the days when the draft consumed an entire weekend.  Now the first round has been moved to prime time Thursday.  Rounds 2-3 are held on Friday.  And the rest winds up on Saturday.

Gone are the monster 18 hour marathons that ran all day Saturday and Sunday.

Gone too - for Bengals fans anyway - are picking at the top of the draft.  It seemed like much of my life - 1990-2003 - the Bengals picked in the top ten, if not at the very top.

Since they drafted AJ Green and Andy Dalton, the Bengals have been choosing in the 20-24 range.

Gone too is the need to draft a day one starter.  For many of those years - 1990-2003 - you could pencil in every guy drafted in rounds 1-4 as a day one starter.  But not anymore.

In fact, many times the Bengals use the draft now as a redshirt season for rookies.  Last year's draft didn't see a single rookie notch are start until the last third of the season.  And then it was only because of injury.

Gone too is the stress of hitting on a first round pick to save the franchise.  I recall waking up early to watch the draft all day just hoping the early picks would fall the Bengals' way so they could get a quarterback or linebacker who would transform the franchise.

Last year - in fact - was the first time I wasn't even awake when the Bengals drafted a player.  It was late Thursday evening when the Bengals - sitting at pick 21 - finally got on the clock, that I was fast asleep.  I didn't even know who they drafted until I woke up and had to check the internet.

ESPN has just posted a list of the top needs for every franchise.  This is supposed to guide the teams' choices, but this doesn't apply to every team.

Cincy is one of the few teams who has stopped drafting for need (simply taking a player at a position just because you need help at that position, regardless of whether the player at the position you need offers the best value.  For example, the Bengals sit at #24 and need a wide receiver.  However, what if a great defensive lineman or corner drops to them? In years past, the Bengals would draft the receiver simply because they needed him.  Not so anymore.  The Bengals would take the higher ranked defensive lineman or corner in a heartbeat).

Since the Bengals have done this, they have made it to the playoffs five straight times.

In 2011, they needed defensive help and a quarterback.  But the highest rated player on their board was AJ Green.  So they took him.  He has made it to the Pro Bowl every year.  They did get their quarterback, Dalton, albeit with the 35th pick overall in the second round.

In 2012, they took their top rated player (Dre Kirkpatrick) at corner.  Then, thanks to the Carsen Palmer trade, the Bengals had an extra pick.  They needed a guard, but wanted to trade down to get extra picks.  They did and then grabbed the highest rated player on their board (Kevin Zeitler) to play guard.

In 2013, no one thought the Bengals needed a second tight end, especially after the drafted Jermaine Gresham in the first round of the 2010 draft, and he had been to two Pro Bowls, but they drafted their top player on the board in TE Tyler Eifert.

In 2014, they had needs at linebacker and running back, but took the top rated player at #24, Darquizz Denard, instead.

In 2015, the Bengals had the luxury of sitting at 21 and taking a player, offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuagu, who was coming off a late season knee injury and wouldn't be ready to play until mid-season.  Ogbuagu, had he not been injured, would never have made it down to the 24th pick in the draft.

So what is in store for 2016?

As you can see the Bengals lost two key contributors, Jones and Sanu, to free agency.  So they are in need of a WR.  But who knows if they'll take one in the first round?

They won't . . . IF a higher rated DT or DE or even CB is available.

I could see Andrew Billings from Baylor being their and the Bengals pouncing on him to groom to be a starter after this season.  Or if either of the monster DTs from Alabama are available, they'd scoop either up in a second.  They have had the 24th pick twice under Marvin Lewis and drafted CBs both times, so they may just make it a hat trick too if a great corner is there.

I think the Bengals will address the WR position in the second or third round.

When it comes to picking WRs in the second round, the Bengals have often struck gold: Chris Collinsworth, Carl Pickens, Darnay Scott, and Chad Ochocinco/Johnson.  The only real miss was when the Bengals whiffed on Jerome Simpson in 2008.  But when you factor in the other skill position players the Bengals have drafted in the second round - Boomer Esiason, Ickey Woods, Corey Dillon, Tyler Eifter, Gio Bernard, Harold Green, Jeremy Hill . . they have often struck gold.

So look for them to take the best WR available at pick 55.

If the draft falls perfectly for them, I think they'll find themselves with these four players in the first four rounds

1.  Andrew Billings - DT Baylor
2.  Michael Thomas - WR Ohio State
3.  Jayron Kearse - SS Clemson
4.  Shawn Oakman - DE Baylor

But we will have to see how the value of the board unfolds in just ten days!!!

And now my hero, Mel Kiper Jr., chimes in with his three round mock draft.  He notes the Bengals' propensity for drafting the best available player by going defensive line over the clear need at wide receiver in the first round.

There is no doubt the Bengals could use depth at linebacker, but the Bengals - despite being in Ohio - have not drafted Ohio State players very often - not to mention Big Ten players.  The Bengals love the SEC, so I'd look for them to mine talent from that conference as opposed to the Big Ten throughout the draft.

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