The Cincinnati Bengals had an outstanding draft last year on the offensive side of the ball. Thanks to that impressive feat, Cincinnati is now in prime position to focus on the defensive side of the ball in the 2012 NFL Draft.
A glaring hole on the defensive unit that was consistently exposed all season was the safety position. In particular, the strong safety position seemed to be the weakest. Free safety Reggie Nelson had a great year, but Chris Crocker, among others, struggled heavily.
The secondary as a whole was prone to giving up the big play, especially after cornerback Leon Hall went down for the year with a torn Achilles. This anomaly for a Mike Zimmer-led defense is sure to be heavily addressed this offseason.
There is no better way to address this need than by taking Alabama safety Mark Barron in the 2012 NFL Draft. The two-time National Champion is a four-year senior who was the leader of arguably the best secondary in the nation last season.
Barron is an aggressive safety standing at 6’2” and weighing in at 218 pounds. He is stout in run support and does a good job of reading a quarterback’s eyes and playing efficiently in coverage. During his senior campaign, Barron racked up 63 tackles, one sack and an interception.
The one knock on Barron comes from a March 2011 arrest on charges of hindering prosecution. Authorities believed he was not telling the truth about the cause of a one-car accident in Mobile, Alabama. Despite this one red flag, Barron has a flawless record as a person, and is said to be an excellent leader.
Most draft experts, including Mel Kiper, have Barron being picked one selection before Cincinnati at 16 to the New York Jets. However, the recent arrest of fellow teammate Dre Kirkpatrick could cause Kirkpatrick to slide farther down the board, allowing Barron to slip one spot to Cincinnati.
While corner back is a huge need in the secondary as well, there are multiple players the Bengals would be happy to have at that position in the draft; Barron is the only safety worth a high pick this year. If the Bengals can take Barron at 17, cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard and Janoris Jenkins should still be on the board when the Bengals pick again at 21.
Running back is another need the Bengals could address in the first round, but it would be unwise to do so. Free agency would be a good way to address the situation, with the likes of Oakland’s Michael Bush being available. The second round of the draft is also a nice option for a running back, with Washington’s Chris Polk or Virginia Tech’s David Wilson likely to still be available.
Free agency also isn’t likely to be an option when attempting to address the safety position. Great teams draft great safeties and don’t let them go—look at how many times Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed or Antoine Bethea have hit the open market.
An alternative option the Bengals are likely considering, albeit a very risky one, is to address the safety situation from inside the organization. Chris Crocker will still be under contract next year, but is likely to see reduced time. Taylor Mays is the one fans really want to see, but has still been inconsistent in coverage—the instincts just still aren’t there with Mays. Jeromy Miles is a sleeper to develop into a starter, but that might take a few more years of development first.
Barron could come to Cincinnati and start from day one. If Mike Zimmer is still around, he would be able to mentor Barron into potentially an elite safety. With the magic Zimmer has worked in recent years with no “big-name” players, gifting him with someone like Barron would be the smartest thing the franchise could do.
The Bengals need to extend their recent trend of great drafts this April. Last April, the Bengals hit a home run with a one-two punch on the offensive side of the ball. This time the Bengals need to get a great one-two punch on the defensive side of the ball in the first round—and it starts with Mark Barron.