The 2011 season has been nothing short of a huge success for the Cincinnati Bengals. While many pundits viewed the Bengals as a team that would fight to stay out of the cellar in the AFC North, the new look Bengals have been in contention for a playoff spot all season long.
A large portion of the turnaround from a 4-12 record in 2010 is due to great selections of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in the first two rounds of last April's draft.
The 2012 NFL Draft offers Cincinnati the chance to build on this year's surprise winning season: They have picked up both an extra first-round pick in the Carson Palmer trade and a fifth-round pick in trading Chad Ochocinco to New England.
Let's have a look at some of the options that await the young Bengals in the 2012 NFL Draft.
One possibility for the Bengals would be to package up both their first-round picks to trade up and get an elite talent at a position of need.
While Cedric Benson's future with the team is cloudy at best, a running back could be a target in the first round. Trent Richardson from Alabama is clearly the best available back, but won't be on the board when the Bengals get their first pick.
With the amount of draft picks that Atlanta had to give up to move into the top ten to get Julio Jones last year, I just don't see a young team like the Bengals wanting to make a similar move.
Another possibility would be to trade one of those first-round picks to a team looking to move back into the first round.
We have seen New England do this with great success, piling up picks in the second round over the past couple of years. They will also have two first-round picks in 2012.
With a boatload of picks available due to trading down, the Bengals could rebuild an entire area of the team—like the offensive line, which may need to be done soon.
I would favor this approach over trading up. Cincinnati has never been too active on draft day, however, which means we may all get to...
While it may not be as exciting or debatable, just using the picks they have would still give the Bengals a good infusion of talent going into 2012.
While 2011 was indeed a great turnaround season for Cincy, there are a few spots that could use an upgrade of talent or need to be filled due to free agent losses.
Let's take a look at some of the players that will be on the Bengals radar when it comes time for them to pick in April.
Cornerback will be a spot that the Bengals will need to address. Leon Hall is working his way back from an Achilles tendon injury and Pacman Jones is scheduled to be a free agent after the season.
Alfonzo Dennard of Nebraska would be a great pick, and may be available when the Bengals are on the clock with their first pick.
Dennard has decent size at 5'10" and 205 pounds. He has a talent for getting to the ball at its highest point to break up passes. Although he hasn't recorded an interception this year (teams have rarely thrown his way), Dennard did pick off four passes in 2010.
Dennard is also a sure tackler and willing to do the dirty work in the run game.
Pairing Dennard and Hall, who signed a contract extension during the season, would give the Bengals a solid set of CBs for the next few years.
With 36-year-old Bobbie Williams coming off an injury and becoming a free agent, a replacement at guard looks necessary.
David DeCastro would be an amazing fit for Cincinnati's offensive line. DeCastro has no weaknesses in his game—he rarely gets beat in the passing game and has the quick feet needed to be effective pulling and on trap blocks.
While I am not entirely confident that the Stanford product will still be on the board so late in the first round, teams have a tendency to pick up guards later in the draft. Taking DeCastro would be about the safest pick the Bengals could make.
If DeCastro is gone when the Bengals pick, Cordy Glenn from Georgia would be another good choice as his versatility would allow him to slide out to right tackle if (when) Andre Smith misses time.
This is where I see a few players that could really help Cincinnati. A pair of running backs that would be ideal replacements for Cedric Benson should be available here.
Chris Polk from Washington is much like Benson in that he is a tough runner between the tackles, but doesn't offer much as a receiver. Polk breaks tackles with a variety of moves and is a good pass-blocker.
Doug Martin out of Boise State is another powerful runner with great agility, who reminds me some of Maurice Jones-Drew. Although Martin has played in a passing offense at Boise, he has been able to pile up nice stats, going over 1,000 yards twice. Martin is not much of a pass-blocker and is often replaced on passing downs.
If the Bengals pass on a running back here, another player I would like to see them consider is Bruce Irvin from West Virginia.
Irvin is an explosive rusher off the edge who would compliment the Bengals DEs nicely. Although Irvin has almost no experience in coverage, he plays with a sense of urgency. He wants to prove he can play in the NFL after a troubled youth and a long road that brought him where he is today.
The Bengals defensive line has been the strength of the team this year, and the quality depth they have there is the reason why.
With that being said—and with Pat Sims set for free agency in 2012—the Bengals could look to add DT depth at this point.
Alabama's Josh Chapman is a stout run defender who would be a nice fit in the tough AFC North, with the Bengals going up against Rashard Mendenhall, Ray Rice and Peyton Hillis twice every year. Chapman's run stuffing style would be a nice compliment to Geno Atkins, the team leader in QB sacks on the season.
The later rounds of the draft give teams the chance to add depth and to pick up players that may have slipped down the draft board due to concerns about injury or character.
One player who might fall a bit in the draft is Ryan Broyles from Oklahoma. Broyles tore his ACL in November and will be questionable to start the season. Broyles is more of a slot-type receiver and is a threat as a punt returner.
While Jordan Shipley will be returning from a knee injury of his own, Jerome Simpson is no lock to return next year.
A couple of other spots the Bengals could look at are backup QB (maybe Kellen Moore), more depth at guard and some help at safety. If someone like Boise Sate's George Iloka would happen to be there in the fifth round, expect the Bengals to look at him seriously.
Whichever way the Bengals choose to use all their picks next year, they are in a great position to improve their chances at winning the AFC North in 2012 and for years beyond.