Few NFL teams disappointed in 2010 more than the Cincinnati Bengals. After winning two of their first three, they went on to lose ten straight, falling to 2-11. Major changes will be coming as leading receiver Terrell Owens will not be back and Carson Palmer's status with the team is seriously in doubt.
Moving forward, it appears offense will be the focus. Jay Gruden is the new offensive coordinator as the team will move toward a power-running west coast offense. Expect the Bengals to add a quarterback, wide receiver, and running back on draft day. Starting positions could be up for grabs at those skill positions and along the offensive line.
On defense, adding a starting quality safety and linebacker will be priorities. Cincinnati has lacks both a ball-hawk on the back end and a strong-side backer to fill the void left by Rey Maualuga's move inside. The team's drafting as of late has been good for the most part, though it remains evident they will take some chances on low character players.
It is evident that head coach Marvin Lewis' fate with the team may be decided in a large part by this draft class. The following slideshow illustrates one of many draft weekend scenarios for the rebuilding Cincinnati Bengals.
Cameron Newton - Quarterback - Auburn
It is clear that the Bengals' first priority moving forward will be to go out and get themselves a new franchise signal-caller. Newton, the reigning Heisman trophy winner, perfectly fits their needs and epitomizes the superficiality of the team's drafting style. He may come across as egotistical and immature, but don't bother telling the Cincinnati front office that. It is late March and Cam already seems to have several fans in their club-house.
Though Newton may not be a traditional west coast offense fit, he is an intriguing option due to his ability as a play-action passer. The arm strength and mobility he brings will allow the offense to stretch the field more, replacing the predictability of Bob Bratkowski's offense. His legs will not be used to rack up 1,000 yards as they were in college, but he is very elusive in the pocket and will buy himself second chances. Accuracy and throwing mechanics are a work in progress, but he has shown the ability to learn fast on the fly.
This pick would likely be settled if Cam were to drop to them at 4, but the Bengals will obviously have other targets here. Blaine Gabbert is a good fit in Jay Gruden's offense and may prove to be too tempting if he were the top quarterback left on the board. Julio Jones also works with the new scheme and would offer the team a perfect replacement for Terrell Owens. Patrick Peterson is more of a dark-horse as Cincinnati probably will not be looking defense this early. Still, he would offer the team the impact ball-hawk they have desired for years.
Ryan Williams - Running Back - Virginia Tech
Without Cedric Benson in the fold for next season, Running Back becomes an enormous hole. Backup Bernard Scott has shown promise in limited opportunities, but is not the grinding, physical back the Bengals' new offense calls for. Ryan Williams was right up there with the nation's most productive backs in 2009 before hamstring injuries derailed his sophomore campaign. Still, he will be coveted highly if a team thinks he can return to that prior form.
Williams is a down-hill, slashing back with enough burst and pop to get to the second level quickly. He may lack true home-run speed, but he accelerates well and is still capable of breaking off big chunks of yardage. Though a bit small for a physical runner, he shows the potential to play at 220. His running style is violent at times as he finishes his runs and keeps his feet moving after contact. He is not overly quick, but he runs with excellent patience, good balance, and he does a nice job using his eyes to find cut-back lanes.
If Cincinnati re-signs Benson or simply decides to go in another direction with this pick, there should be plenty of good options out there. Ryan Mallett is an interesting quarterback option if that position remains unsettled. A couple receivers such as Miami's Leonard Hankerson or Pittsburgh's Jonathan Baldwin would likely be considered with the lack of depth currently on the team. If they chose to go defense, a safety such as UCLA's Rahim Moore may interest them. Additionally, there is a hole at strong-side linebacker, so Illinois' Martez Wilson would certainly be tempting were he on the board.
Greg Little - Wide Receiver - North Carolina
With the departure of leading receiver Terrell Owens, a void has been created on the depth chart for a big, physical replacement. Jay Gruden's new west coast offense will increase the importance of the short to intermediate passing game, so Greg Little profiles as a perfect fit. After sitting out the entire 2010 season due to receiving improper benefits, many have cooled on this talented flanker. It is unlikely those character concerns deter Mike Brown, who takes pride in offering second chances.
Little is a possession receiver with very good size and much better athleticism than he is credited for. He is a smooth mover that can create separation across the middle and on the sideline. His personality has been described by some as "immature," but in interviews I have seen, he comes across as very articulate and is well-spoken. At the very least, he can talk well enough to fool the Bengals. He may remind some of former Syracuse star and Tampa Bay receiver, Mike Williams.
It is not crazy to think that this position will have already been addressed by the third round. It may be a bit of a reach, but Kansas State running back Daniel Thomas may be the work-horse back that Cincinnati covets. Abilene Christian receiver Edmond Gates has deep speed and may prove to be tempting were he available. Finally, defense remains a possibility. Iowa safety Tyler Sash is a good player and offers the team an instant starter on the back-end.
Nate Irving - Linebacker - North Carolina State
It appears as if Dhani Jones' time as a Bengals starting linebacker has come to an end. Luckily, the team has a replacement ready to quarterback the defense in third-year player Rey Maualuga. As he shifts to the middle, a gaping hole is formed on the strong-side. After an uber-productive 2010 season, North Carolina State's Nate Irving appears to be an ideal successor to Rey on the outside.
Irving was, without a doubt, one of the ACC's elite backers this past season. His production in the backfield was rivaled by few others around the nation, as he recorded 21.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks during his 2010 campaign. He is a player that flies around the field, displaying enough range and athleticism to be a factor at the next level. Tackling ability, intensity, and toughness are also attributes that he brings to the table. Durability will be a concern, however, as he missed the 2009 season due to injury.
If Cincinnati does not choose to address a Linebacker in the first four rounds, expect them to pursue a veteran replacement. It is possible they look in-house with second-year player Roddrick Muckelroy and versatile veteran Brandon Johnson already rostered. Look for the Bengals to closely inspect the offensive guards in this draft. I would not be at all surprised to see them look for a lineman with this pick.
Ahmad Black - Free Safety - Florida
For years, the Bengals have lacked both youth and talent at the safety position. The signings of Roy Williams, Chris Crocker, and Gibril Wilson have proven to be unsatisfactory, in a large part because they have not been able to stay on the field. It is no secret that they would like to add a ball-hawk to the defensive backfield and this could be the year they choose to address this need in the draft rather than free agency.
Ahmad Black fits what Cincinnati seems to be looking for from a young player at the position. Though he will surely fall on draft day due to insufficient size and speed, he is a ball-hawk with good instincts in coverage. His play-making ability may be second to none in this weak safety class. He displays quickness, awareness, and good hands, which allowed him to play a big part in creating turnovers at the college level. Still, his physical ability is obviously concerning and there is a chance that he will not be seen as a player capable of starting in the NFL.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bengals typically have preferred to explore bargains in the veteran market since Mike Zimmer has been there. With the team looking so thin at the position, however, drafting a Safety may now be a necessity. Expect Cincinnati to favor young players with ball skills to fill the current holes on the depth chart.
Keith Williams - Offensive Guard - Nebraska
One reason the Bengals bull-dozed their way to the playoffs in 2009, but fell short of expectations in 2010, was the play of their offensive line. The team went from one of the top power-running, ball control offenses in football to an unspectacular, un-enthused unit this past year. It is clear that they will be making changes in the trenches and upgrading the offensive guard position specifically.
Every time I watched Huskers football this past year, Keith Williams stood out. He may not be overly athletic or quick on his feet, but his agility is impressive for his massive size. In Nebraska's scheme, which requires a lot of zone-blocking, Williams generated movement in the running game and showed the ability to block at the second level. He was unable to fully work out at the NFL Combine or play in the Senior Bowl, so his stock is not quite as high as it could be. Still, he is fit on the right side for Cincinnati and an intriguing sleeper in the 2011 draft.
If the team chooses not to address the offensive line in the draft, expect them to shell out some money for a veteran. The current situation at offensive guard is ugly, and at least one starter must be added by training camp. The Bengals like Anthony Collins and need to fit him into the first unit, so a move inside could be ahead for 2009 top pick Andre Smith. As it stands, you have to think they will dedicate at least one of their eight picks to shoring up the line.
Shaun Chapas - Fullback - Georgia
After struggling through the 2010 season without a true fullback on the roster, you can bet the Bengals will be looking for someone to fill that position in the team's new west coast offense. Shaun Chapas enjoyed a productive career for a college fullback and showed ability as a lead-blocker, runner, and receiver. He instantly would give Cincinnati what they need at the position as they hope to return to their power running roots. Connecticut's Anthony Sherman is another great fit, but the team would likely have to use a 5th-6th round pick to nab him.
DeMarcus Van Dyke - Cornerback - Miami
There is a universally adopted saying in the NFL that goes: "you can never have too many good corners." This has proven truer and truer with each passing year. DeMarcus Van Dyke would not offer the Bengals a starter at the position, but rather a very-athletic, long-limbed reserve with some nickel potential. There is always a roster spot open in Cincinnati for a defensive back and right now they are not as set at cornerback as they could be. Instead of throwing this pick away, look for the team to add raw talent and depth to one of the more important positions on the field.