The key to success for any NFL team is its rookie classes. Want to see why a team won the Super Bowl? Take a look at the last three drafts and more than likely you’ll get your answer. Draft well over several seasons and chances are you are going to win.
The Cincinnati Bengals had what was widely considered a successful draft this past April, the team’s second straight quality draft. Only time will tell if this rookie class is truly a good one, but early indications are that the Bengals picked up at least four players that should be impact players sooner rather than later.
The Bengals kept 10 rookies on their opening day 53-man roster, eight of which were draft picks this past season. Let’s take a closer look at each one and give them an early grade.
Despite being one of two undrafted rookies that made the team, Burfict was arguably the highest-profiled of all of the players attempting to make the team.
The Arizona State star was considered by many to have first-round talent but he undercut those chances with poor workouts. Then he flashed that talent with a strong preseason with 14 tackles and an interception. His inclusion on the roster was almost a no-brainer.
Charles was considered a steal when he was taken in the fourth round out of Georgia. His combination of size and speed made many feel he could be an instant contributor.
But Charles barely beat out Colin Cochart for the third and final tight end spot after catching just three passes for 36 yards in the preseason. While his physical skills are unquestionable, he may have a hard time getting on the field.
The Bengals addressed their considerable void at safety by taking Iloka in the fifth round out of Boise State. Iloka had nine tackles in the preseason and while he flashed his athleticism, he never truly threatened to take one of the starting jobs.
The Bengals safeties are hardly game-changers and if he continues to improve, Iloka may see plenty of time as the season progresses.
The star of the preseason, Jones had nine catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns—and even rushed for 16 yards on an end-around.
Jones did that damage against the second and third teams and never got a chance to play against starters, but his talent is unquestionable.
Big things were expected of Kirkpatrick when he was taken in the first round out of Alabama but unfortunately, a knee injury on the first day of camp has kept him from seeing any game action.
Kirkpatrick is expected to miss a few more weeks while he rehabs the knee and his 2012 season could be shot. Corner is the hardest position for a rookie to learn and Kirkpatrick is way behind the curve.
Robinson, a free agent out of Notre Dame, only made the team because of the injury suffered by starting center Kyle Cook. The team liked Robinson enough to cut fellow center prospect Reggie Stephens, but nobody wants an undrafted rookie starting at center.
The Bengals recently signed Jeff Faine to start at center and Robinson will be the backup, but expect the team to scour the waiver wire for another center.
Much was expected out of Sanu, the third-round pick out of Rutgers. And after a slow start he showed why with a team-high 12 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Sanu has a chance to make an impact this season but more than likely will only see spot time barring injury to another receiver. Still, the talent is there and expect to see him eventually start, if not this season then down the road.
Still was the Big Ten Defensive Player of Year out of Penn State last year and allows a very solid defensive line group to get younger and stronger.
Still had six tackles in the preseason but his value goes beyond numbers. Expect him to be a serious contributor this season.
A round after the Bengals took Devon Still in the second round, they took Thompson, a monster of a defensive tackle. Thompson had only five tackles but his presence clogs up holes and takes up blockers allowing others around him to make plays.
Zeitler came in with a reputation as a massive run-blocker and hasn’t disappointed. The first rounder out of Wisconsin has stepped in at guard and started from the moment that training camp got under way.
While it’s natural to worry about a rookie handling the rigors of the AFC North, I don’t think he’ll have any problems at all.