Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels vehemently denied trade talks with the Cincinnati Bengals concerning tight end Tony Scheffler. For most Bengals fans, McDaniels' comments, followed shortly by the Lions' acquisition of Scheffler, serve as little to no surprise.
Bengals tight end J.P. Foschi—2009 team leader in receptions from the tight end position —recently visited the New England Patriots. The Patriots seem inclined to put talks with Foschi on hold until the completion of this weekend's draft.
A recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel poll of 19 NFL scouts deemed Rob Gronkowski, the second best tight end prospect available. Gronkowski, whom the Ravens reportedly covet, employed agent Drew Rosenhaus, who is currently battling for his client in the draft trenches (and for a cut of the hopeful first round tight end prospect's salary). Rosenhaus has spent the last several days refuting claims that NFL teams are "red flagging" Gronkowski, citing that the first round hopeful suffers from spinal stenosis.
Teams are undoubtedly applying the draft red-flag tag to USC tight end Anthony McCoy. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel poll rated McCoy the third best prospect in the upcoming draft, but reports surfaced over the weekend that McCoy tested positive for marijuana .
McCoy would certainly fit the status quo for the Bengals, an organization whose reputation for ignoring potential red flags precedes itself (see Tank Johnson, Cedric Benson, Matt Jones, Reggie McNeal, A.J. Nicholson, the late Chris Henry, Odell Thurman, etc).
Reports recently linked the Bengals to Pittsburgh tight end Dorin Dickerson. The report apparently has the Bengals eyeing Dickerson in the second round. The 6'2 226 LB Dickerson possesses wide receiver measurables, (43.5 " Vertical Leap, 4.4 forty yard dash time), but is a wide receiver/tight end/H-back/tweener worth a second round selection?
Enter the "sure thing", tight end Jermaine Gresham. Gresham, the consensus top tight end in the 2010 NFL draft, would've assuredly commanded a first round choice last season had he foregone his senior season at Oklahoma. The current uncertainty surrounding Gresham stems from the torn right meniscus he suffered in practice before his senior-season opener.
The verdict is still out on Gresham's blocking ability at the NFL level. The Bengals have a need at safety, and could use some depth on the defensive line, at linebacker, and at wide receiver.
Drafting as safely as possible makes the most sense for a Bengals team that has panicked and reached in the past. In the '08 draft, when uncertainty surrounded the future of Chad Ocho-Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Bengals elected to draft Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina in round two ahead of DeSean Jackson, and Andre Caldwell out of Florida in round three.
The Bengals have also completed less than 400 passes to the tight end position in the past decade. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski has not worked with a tight end as highly touted as Gresham, but is this the season to incorporate the draft's "most complete" tight end into the offense? Questions still loom regarding whether Gresham will be a capable blocker at the NFL level.
The Bengals should focus on improving on the transition they made last year from a pass first offense, to a run first offense, and continue to build a hard nosed, run-stuffing defensive unit. The Bengals should draft a mauling interior lineman prospect like Mike Iupati from Idaho, or Maurkice Pouncey the OG/C prospect from Florida.
Eric Berry and Earl Thomas will almost certainly be gone by the time the Bengals select in round one. Taylor Mays is a freak of an athlete, standing at 6'3 230 LBs while also running a 4.43 forty yard dash, the fastest time amongst defensive backs at the combine. Mays' smash mouth style complements his high character and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer could slot Mays in at safety, or possibly at outside linebacker in his 4-3 scheme.
Zimmer loves to disguise blitzes with his front seven, and occasionally send heat from the safety or corner position. Mays' versatility and size as a SAM backer could create chaos from a tight end coverage and a blitzing standpoint.
The Bengals seem to express few concerns about Antwan Odom returning to the form he displayed last season when he recorded eight sacks in the first four games before blowing out his achilles tendon in week six. Bengals tight end Reggie Kelly suffered a similar injury last season and seems to warrant replacing. Odom seems to be primed for a comeback in the eyes of Bengals' personnel. These two outlooks for similar injuries seem to highlight the rose-colored lenses the Bengals' front office typically wears when draft day rolls around.
The Bengals certainly have more depth at defensive end with Jonathan Fanene (six sacks and a 45 yard interception return for a touchdown last season in 10 starts as Odom's replacement) and Frostee Rucker than at the tight end position where only Chase Coffman resides. Coffman, the 2008 John Mackey award winner for best collegiate tight end, still holds promise only one year into his NFL career.
The Green Bay Packers' tight end Jermichael Finley recorded a mere six receptions in his 2008 rookie year before his 676 yard five touchdown breakout sophomore campaign last season. Coffman could offer similar production, citing another reason the Bengals should steer clear of a day one tight end.
Pundits' opinions seem to vary greatly on where players will fall in the middle of round one. As a Bengals' fan, and pundit, I would prefer not to speculate on who will be there when the Bengals select, and instead focus on pimping the idea that the Bengals should pass on a tight end in round one, and select a defensive prospect, or an interior lineman. I anticipate that a team will draft Dez Bryant and Earl Thomas in the top 15, contrary to several mock drafts I have come across.
Here's a list of who I'd prefer to see fall to the Bengals on Thursday instead of Jermaine Gresham:
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, South Florida
Derrick Morgan, DE, Georgia Tech
Brandon Graham, DE/OLB, Michigan
Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas
Taylor Mays, S, USC
Mike Iupati, G, Idaho
Maurkice Pouncey, C/G, Florida
Earl Thomas, S, Texas
Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State
Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
- JT Turba