Marvin Lewis and the Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to build upon a solid 2011 draft this year, and face a number of roster questions that need addressing when the clock begins to tick in on April 26.
So with needs at safety, corner, running back and on the offensive line, how will the Bengals use their picks to fill those gaps?
Well, in the first of my 2012 NFL draft previews, I'll be looking at the running back position. With Cedric Benson's time in Cincinnati being reported as nearing an end after yet another lackluster, trouble-ridden year, the question of who will replace him is this week's hot topic.
The Bengals offense is clearly in transition under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. He favors the pass, and had enough faith in his rookies to air it out much more frequently than expected in 2011. Whether you attribute this to Gruden's style or Benson's lack of productivity, one thing is clear; Ced isn't the star he was in 2009.
With both parties likely to move on this offseason, Gruden will be studying the draft class to find someone who perhaps fits this new system more than Benson has.
For those who are hoping for a trade up to snag Trent Richardson, think again. Lewis has expressed the desire to build depth on the roster and is normally steadfast in coveting the value of his picks. The Bengals can do more with two picks than they could with Richardson, and with many glaring holes, expect them to use both.
So with the running back position still in need of fresh legs, let's take a look at the next best thing, Miami Hurricane Lamar Miller.
Miller is of similar height and size to Chris Johnson, standing at 5'11" and weighing 212 pounds. As a redshirt sophomore this season, Miller ran for 1,272 yards, making him the first Hurricane to reach 1,200 yards since Willis McGahee in 2002, and clocked nine touchdowns for the year.
The main selling point for the Bengals will be the speed and agility of Miller. He can put his foot on the gas and beat defenders with ease, and makes great cut-backs when necessary. His pace and ability to dance around the defense are completely different traits to the freight-train style of play that Benson utilized and could be a nice change of pace for Cincy, whose running style has become painfully predictable.
Miller's awareness is almost as impressive as his speed, and his ability to change direction and turn nothing into something is worth commending. Too often did Benson get stuffed in the backfield in 2011. The Bengals need a new approach to running the ball, and unfortunately, Benson's physical attributes don't fit the mold.
It must also be considered that the offensive line Miller played behind in Miami was less than spectacular, making the success of Miller that much more impressive.
With Andy Dalton still getting used to his receivers, Miller can serve as yet another pair of hands downfield, as well as a back. With 17 receptions and a TD through the air in 2011, Miller has proven that his skill set isn't limited to running the football.
If A.J. Green is going to spend a lot of time in double coverage and Jerome Simpson isn't going to be the next go-to guy, then Miller can provide an extra point of attack for this young offense.
The question will come down to whether Lewis and Gruden want to move away from the downfield style running game that Benson brought along. If they decide they want to, they will have to assess whether or not Bernard Scott can be their guy. If he isn't, Miller can be, and will have the opportunity to take the Bengals running game to new levels.
If the Bengals decide they want to continue pounding the rock, they may look at bringing in Michael Bush from Oakland, and simply have Scott's role increased.
With the 17th pick, courtesy of the Oakland Raiders and their own 21st pick in the first round, the Bengals are in prime position to take Miller. While draft speculators have flip-flopped between having the Bengals take a CB or an OT with one of their picks, most have allocated one to the taking of an RB. In fact, check out Matt Miller's mock draft for his view on how Cincy might approach things.
However it comes to be, the Bengals running game is in for an overhaul in 2012, and will be one of the big storylines to watch as we look forward to the the draft and free-agency.
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