2012 NFL Draft: Why the Cincinnati Bengals Must Draft a Running Back in Round 1

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2012

COLLEGE PARK, MD - SEPTEMBER 05: Running back Lamar Miller #6 of the Miami Hurricanes lines up against the Maryland Terrapins at Byrd Stadium on September 5, 2011 in College Park, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Cedric Benson appears to be hitting the free-agent market, leaving a gaping hole in the Cincinnati Bengals back field. It's a problem that could be solved by selecting a running back in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

With two picks in the first round, the Bengals have the opportunity to bring in a couple of players who can make an immediate impact, or at the very least, figure in the team's long-term plans.

Figuring out the dilemma with running is a priority for the Bengals coaching staff.

Without Benson, it leaves Bernard Scott as the next running back on the depth chart, which is a problem as he only picked up 380 yards and three touchdowns on 112 carries.

In the unlikely event Benson is re-signed by the Bengals, the team would still be wise to look to selecting a running back in the first round.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has made public his desire to have a running back-by-committee in Cincinnati, so it's clear the Bengals have to bring in at least one more running back.

The team cannot go into the season with just Scott, Cedric Peerman and Brian Leonard as the only options in a running back-by-committee. Cincinnati may also look to free agency for part of the solution.

Michael Bush is a name that has been heavily rumored as a target for the Bengals.

He would be a nice signing because despite his age, 27, he has pretty much played second fiddle to Darren McFadden in Oakland for most of his career. Bush doesn't have the kind of mileage on his body that most free-agent running backs of his age do.

It would make a lot of sense to sign Bush and still draft a running back in the first round. Scott is 28 himself, so if the Bengals were to use he and Bush as the top two options, they would still be lacking some youth.

With Bush as the starter, the Bengals could groom a running back like David Wilson, Lamar Miller or Doug Martin to take over in two or three years. There wouldn't be the usual pressure on a first-round pick to come in and immediately produce.

While drafting a running back in the first round may be required, there's another area that's in  a greater need of  improvement when it comes to the Bengals—the interior offensive line.

It makes sense to a certain extent.

According to Football Outsiders, the Bengals had one of the worst interior lines in the NFL last season. Plus, several mock drafts have the team drafting a guard.

A running back can't operate too well if the guards and centers can't clear some space in the middle of the line.

While it is definitely a problem for them, the Bengals could wait on drafting a guard until the later rounds. It's a position that has a lot of depth in almost every draft.

The team would be wiser to draft a cornerback with the 17th pick and look to running back at 21.

One of the biggest arguments against taking a running in the first round is a lack of depth. With two first-round picks, Cincinnati has the option to take Trent Richardson if they wanted him that badly.

That wouldn't make too much sense considering the Bengals have serious needs beyond the backfield.

But still, the apparent lack of depth could mean that other teams draft running backs that are available. The Bengals could also trade the 21st pick and move down in the draft to the 25-30 range and still select a running back.

It would be a similar situation to 2004, when they traded further and further back in the first round to eventually select Chris Perry.

While Perry didn't exactly work out, Cincinnati had 11 total picks that year and were able to select guys like Madieu Williams, Robert Geathers, Stacy Andrews and Landon Johnson—all of whom were pretty productive in Cincinnati.

Whatever strategy the Bengals choose, head coach Marvin Lewis has proven during his time to have a good eye for talent, so fans should trust that the first-round selections the team makes are the right ones.