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The Biggest Questions for the Cincinnati Bengals Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIApril 1, 2013

The Biggest Questions for the Cincinnati Bengals Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft

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    The Cincinnati Bengals are entering the 2013 NFL draft in roughly the same shape in which they ended their 2012 campaign. During the free-agency period, they have concentrated on re-signing their own players rather than looking for additions from the outside.

    This strategy has allowed Cincinnati to maintain the core of its roster from the previous season in which the club recorded a 10-6 record and earned a playoff berth for the second consecutive season. However, this strategy will also force the Bengals to address gaping holes in the roster via the draft.

    Every hole that the Bengals must fill on April 25—the first day of the 2013 NFL draft—comes with its own question. These questions must be addressed quickly and with precision to ensure Cincinnati a continued solid track record for great drafts.

    Let's take a look at some of the most polarizing questions that the Bengals must face heading into this year's draft. From there we can identify the problem and provide insight and analysis for the best possible solution.

How Should the Right Tackle Position Be Addressed in the Draft?

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    The biggest question (no pun intended) for the Bengals heading into this year's draft is the right tackle position and the possible re-signing of Andre Smith.

    So far this offseason, the Bengals have had limited success trying to re-sign the right tackle that had an outstanding 2012 campaign—he was ranked T-4th out of all NFL tackles in 2012 (via Pro Football Focus subscription required).

    However, over the offseason, Smith was demanding an absurd price tag of $9 million (via Pro Football Talk). This turned teams away from him rather quickly in free agency after having only one solid season under his belt as a professional.

    The latest signing of the New England Patriots tackle Sebastian Vollmer should help find a market for Smith. With incentives, Vollmer could earn up to $27 million over four years (via USA Today). Smith could earn a slightly higher price in a new deal.

    This should help things move along between these two parties and a deal should be finalized before the draft hits.

    If they cannot reach an agreement in time, the Bengals should still stay away from a new tackle in the first round. At that time, the most-likely candidate to be available is D.J. Fluker of Alabama. However, at selection 21, this may be a slight reach for Cincinnati.

    There are greater needs than the tackle position now, and the Bengals should concentrate all efforts in those departments rather than a replacement for Smith. There is still a possibility that a new deal could be finalized with Smith even after the draft has concluded.

    Drafting a tackle for depth in the mid-rounds would certainly be welcome, but reaching for this position very early in the draft could turn out to be detrimental to this team.

How Early Should the Bengals Draft a Running Back?

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    The running back position has garnered a significant amount of interest from Bengals fans this offseason. For quite some time now, Cincinnati has lacked a home run threat out of the backfield.

    This year, the Bengals seem very committed to finding such a prospect in the draft. The question they must ask themselves is, "how early should a running back be drafted?"

    The running back class is so very deep in 2013 that it could warrant the Bengals to wait on drafting one until somewhere in the third round. Most fans probably will not like this idea because prospects such as Giovani Bernard will not last that long.

    However, there are plenty of very capable backs in that time frame that have very similar skill sets to Bernard.

    One example is Joseph Randle of Oklahoma St. At 6'0", 204 pounds, Randle is a great sized back for success at the NFL level. He is very fast and is practically impossible to catch from behind. He is great in pass protection and has great hands to catch out of the backfield.

    These are all things that the Bengals are looking for in a running back this year. They may not go the route of selecting Randle, but there are other similar backs that can be plucked from the draft at a great value rather than spending a very early pick on the position.

    The Bengals should look into needs such as linebacker and safety early in this draft and consider running back a lesser need.

Should the Bengals Draft a Wide Receiver Early?

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    There is an ongoing debate regarding the second wide receiver position in the Bengals' offense. Some fans think a suitable complement to A.J. Green is not yet on this roster. Others feel that second-year player Mohamed Sanu fits the bill perfectly.

    Both sides have logical arguments, however, when it comes to the draft this year, the Bengals do not have a great enough need to go after a wide receiver early.

    In 2012, Sanu played a total of 209 offensive snaps. Of those repetitions, he was rated an above average 2.2 by Pro Football Focus (subscription required). If Sanu is capable of playing at a high level without much NFL experience, he should be able to secure the second wide receiver position easily with a year now under his belt.

    Marvin Jones, the Bengals' fifth-round selection last year was rated a -1.4 by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) which is slightly below average. However, he proved to be picking things up nicely at the end of the season and could provide another dynamic at the position in 2013.

    This brings us to the 2013 rookie class of wide receivers. There are a good amount of receivers that have earned a first-round grade, but none stick out the way such elite receivers have in the past.

    Being that this is a down year on talent at the position, the Bengals would be better suited sticking to their current second-year players as complements to Green.

    The Bengals could still pick up a mid-round value at the position to create more depth such as Elon's Aaron Mellette who comes with a fifth-round grade. They should certainly stay away from receiver early in the draft and concentrate on other, more significant needs.

Which Linebackers Best Fit the Defensive Scheme?

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    Two things are very clear concerning the linebacker position in this year's draft. First, Cincinnati will most definitely be selecting a linebacker to fill a serious need. Second, the position will be drafted very early—possibly with their first or second pick.

    Now that the linebacker need has been cleared up, one question remains. Exactly which linebackers should the Bengals target in the draft?

    First, we must look at which linebacker position holds the most need for the Bengals on the roster.

    There is no need for a middle linebacker this year as the Bengals have re-signed Rey Maualuga and also are considering moving second-year player Vontaze Burfict back into his natural position in the middle (via Bengals.com).

    If Burfict slides inside, Maualuga will be moved to the SAM position where he started his first two years in the league. This leaves a gap at the WILL position which was manned by Burfict last year after the injury to Thomas Howard.

    Howard and the Bengals have been very quiet in free agency, thus far and there could possibly be zero interest from either side in a reunion.

    This means that the Bengals will have to find a new starter at the position during the draft.

    There are several key prospects that can fill the weak-side linebacker void. A weak-side backer should be fast in pursuit to close in on a ball-carrier from behind. Also, he will need to have great block-shedding ability as he will be used as a pass-rusher. Finally, he will need fluid hips to drop back in coverage on a running back or tight end.

    The linebackers that best fit the mold are Arthur Brown of Kansas State, Alec Ogletree of Georgia, and Khaseem Greene of Rutgers. Brown will most certainly be a first-round pick and may not be there by 21 overall. Ogletree could slide to the second after an offseason DUI arrest (via ESPN), but it is not guaranteed. Greene could certainly be the guy as he has been dubbed a solid second-round grade.

    Any of these three players will surely benefit the Bengals immediately and would be able to start at the WILL position right away.

Should the Bengals Draft a Backup to Andy Dalton?

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    Quarterback Andy Dalton is about to enter his third season with the Bengals. However, this is the first year in which he does not have backup Bruce Gradkowski as he was lost in free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    The Bengals did sign veteran quarterback Josh Johnson in replacement due to his ties with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Johnson has been a bit of a project quarterback over the years at the NFL level and has never materialized into a quality player at the position. His career stats include five touchdown passes against 10 interceptions and five fumbles—not exactly the kind of production that would garner a sure spot on the final 53-man roster.

    The only other quarterback that currently resides on the roster is Zac Robinson who has spent his first two years on practice squads and has never taken a regular-season snap.

    This should lead the Bengals to strongly consider a quarterback in the late rounds of the draft. They have received two compensatory picks in the seventh round in 2013—one of which may very well be used on a quarterback.

    One enticing prospect that should be available at this point is Sean Renfree of Duke. At 6'3", 219 pounds, he is not the largest quarterback specimen in the draft, but shares a similar stature to Dalton.

    Renfree has a very strong arm and can make all the throws at the next level. He maintains great vision and progresses through his reads nicely. Not a very mobile quarterback, he is more of a dropback, pocket passer.

    A 32-30 TD-INT ratio could be a main cause for his slide in the draft. He has not played against big-name schools and still has been reckless with the football as he tends to take risks on the field. He would be a great developmental quarterback that has all the potential to be an excellent long-term backup.

How High of a Priority Is the Center Position?

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    One conundrum that is being slightly overlooked heading into the 2013 draft is where the Bengals currently stand at the center position.

    Last season, veteran Kyle Cook was injured early which led to undrafted rookie free agent Trevor Robinson handing the duties at the position for a majority of the season. Once Cook was cleared to play, he was reinstated as the starter and remained there for the duration of the year.

    Each center ended the season with very mixed reviews. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave Robinson a -1.8 rating which was good enough for 26 overall. Cook was given a dismal -5.6 rating and did not even earn a rank from 2012.

    This may be proof that the center position is a greater need than has been previously thought. However, a great problem lies within this year's draft class. This may be one of the weakest classes at the center position in years.

    Only seven prospects have been given a draftable grade—three of which are within the first three rounds (via CBSSports.com).

    This may not be the year for the Bengals to look for a suitable replacement at the position despite the growing need to add a valuable piece to the middle of the offensive line.

    The Bengals should hold out hope that a much healthier Cook can be more productive this season. If not, Robinson should be able to step in despite his smaller stature. The center class should be stronger next year and the Bengals can address this issue in 2014 if these players continue to struggle during the upcoming season. 

What Should the Bengals Do in the 1st Round?

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    This is the question that Bengals fans have been asking since the end of the 2012 season. There are a few big holes that need to be filled and no draft pick is as vital as the very first.

    This has led to an ongoing debate over which position the Bengals should draft at 21 overall. Linebacker, safety, running back, offensive tackle and wide receiver have all been in the mix regarding this selection.

    There is, however, one sure thing that the Bengals will do in the first round this year—allow the draft to come to them. Resting at their position and analyzing the selections that have been made prior to 21, the Bengals will have a good idea of how the draft is flowing.

    This will allow them to select the best player available with their first-round pick and have a good gauge on what to expect with pick 37. Certain positions will slide down in the draft and others will go on a run causing teams to reach for prospects earlier than they should.

    The Bengals must follow their recent trend of waiting for their turn and selecting the best player available on their big board despite the team's current needs.

    Over the past three years, this strategy has assured the Bengals one of the best draft classes annually and should continue in 2013.

    Whether the first selection is safety, linebacker or another position, rest assured that the Bengals will be continuing the trend of assuring the best player comes off the board at 21 overall.

     

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