The Cincinnati Bengals have shocked about everyone this season and continue to make strides for the future. While they are not going to have a losing season and by all accounts should finish above .500, they still have some holes they need to fill.
This feature will show possible draft picks for the Bengals in Rounds 1-7. While this is purely speculation, it is more or less a representation of their needs in 2012.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a secondary that is generally overmatched by league opponents, so they should look to improve the defensive backfield early. There are two safeties on the board that are first-round talents and the Bengals should take one of them.
I went with Baccari Rambo out of the University of Georgia. I feel he has more upside than Mark Barron and should fit into Mike Zimmer's (if he is still around) defensive scheme.
The Bengals will more than likely lose Reggie Nelson to free agency and Chris Crocker seems to get beat up every Sunday. Rambo has excellent size and speed for a safety. The one knock on Rambo would be his eagerness for the big hit instead of wrapping up and making a sure tackle, but that sounds about like most safeties in the league. Rambo will also have to work on his pass coverage, but being under Mike Zimmer, he will certainly learn.
Baccari Rambo reminds me a lot of Brandon Meriweather and is actually a little quicker, so this could be an excellent addition for the Jungle.
The Cincinnati Bengals were expected to have a tight running game this season, but Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott have been massively inconsistent. Benson will enter free agency in 2012 and Scott is more of a change-of-pace back in the NFL, so the Bengals will likely address this position early in the draft.
Lamar Miller is extremely young, but also extremely talented. The Bengals could see Miller as their feature back and for good reason. While Miller was a relative unknown going into the season, he really exploded on the scene for the Miami Hurricanes. The plus about Miller is that he succeeded even though the Miami offensive line was weak throughout the season.
Miller does have some maturing to do, but Jim Anderson, the Bengals running backs coach, knows how to work with the kids coming into the league.
The Bengals could look at LaMichael James of Oregon or Chris Polk of Washington here as well, but they both may be a bit of a stretch in the first round.
The offensive line for the Cincinnati Bengals has been a struggle for a few years now and should be one of their top priorities entering the 2012 draft. The Bengals look to be losing both starting guards after the season and finding replacements may seem like a chore.
Bobbie Williams suffered a broken ankle and is also a free agent in 2012. He looks like he may retire, which is not a bad idea for the big guy. Nate Livings is not up to par for the NFL game and is more than likely not going to be retained next season.
Kelechi Osemele is a tackle in the college game, but looks to be built as a guard in the NFL. He has drawn comparisons to Michael Oher, but he also has some question marks. While he has amazing upside as a guard, he also has commitment issues. Osemele seems to take plays off throughout games and does not seem to have the motor he should. If he can fix those issues and keep his weight under control, the Bengals will wind up with a solid guard for a long time. If he cannot fix those problems, then this could be a wasted pick.
The Bengals could also look at Zebrie Sanders of Florida State or David Molk of Michigan with this pick.
Hayward No. 19
The Bengals should continue to try and improve their secondary and Casey Hayward brings leadership to that position. The Bengals will have Leon Hall and Nate Clements starting at corner next season, but it is time to start feeling out the depth. Hall suffered a torn Achilles tendon in Week 8 of the 2011 season and may not be 100 percent come training camp. Nate Clements has looked good all year, but one has to wonder if age and wear and tear is starting to catch up with him.
Casey Hayward is lesser-known than many of the corners in the draft, but he brings leadership and toughness to the Bengals. He may not be the best player, but he might be the smartest on the field at any one time. Hayward has tremendous football IQ, which can make up for his pass coverage skills. Hayward projects as a nickelback in the NFL and could get some extra playing time on special teams.
The Bengals have a real need in the secondary and could also look into Trumaine Johnson of Montana and Leonard Johnson of Iowa State.
The Bengals' fourth-round pick should go to finding depth at the receiver position and possibly looking for a returner in the kicking game. The Bengals are likely to lose their No. 2 and No. 3 receivers at year's end in the forms of Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell. The Bengals will have to find someone to line up with A.J. Green and while a fourth-round pick is probably not the answer, free agency may be.
Joe Adams brings versatility to the Bengals. Adams is a guy who could line up wide, in the slot or even in the backfield, thus giving Jay Gruden a wider list of plays to run. While Adams projects to be no more than a slot guy, he does bring some added gifts to the Christmas tree. Adams is one of the better punt returners in college football, which would spell the end of Brandon Tate in Cincinnati. While there is always a learning curve after the jump to the NFL, Adams could wind up being a steal in this draft.
The Bengals will definitely need to build up their receiving corps and other possibilities include B.J. Cunningham of Michigan State and Jarius Wright of Arkansas
The Bengals have two picks in the fifth round, one of which they acquired from the New England Patriots for Chad Ochocinco. The rest of the draft should be aimed towards depth and filling out the roster, but the guy I have picked here could surprise a ton of people.
The Bengals could lose three members of the USO defense in the forms of Frostee Rucker, Jonathan Fanene and Pat Sims and would be looking to fill those losses.
Matt Conrath reminds me of another former Virginia Cavalier in Chris Long. While he may not have earned the same reputation of Howie Long's offspring, he does show toughness and a knack for the game. He could shock the world and provide the Bengals with leadership and some impressive stats. Conrath is a tweener, meaning that he is not really a defensive end or a defensive tackle; he could fill the role that Fanene held and mix it up a bit.
The Bengals would not miss a step if they drafted Matt Conrath, but some other options for this pick could be Julian Miller of West Virginia or Mario Kurn of San Diego.
The Bengals desperately need a backup to Rey Maualuga; this part of the draft may be where to look. Dan Skuta is a hard-nosed linebacker, but is more suited to special teams. The Bengals have tried sliding Brandon Johnson over to the middle as well, but he is not great at reading the packages some offenses like the Pittsburgh Steelers have to offer.
J.K. Schaffer is a hometown kid and the Bengals have had some success drafting from the University of Cincinnati. The only knock on Schaffer would be his size, and the Bengals will try and get him to gain about 20 to 30 pounds before the season starts. Right now, Schaffer could play a hybrid role of linebacker and safety, but that position has not translated well to the NFL from college.
If Schaffer can gain some weight and strength, he could be a Pat Angerer prototype. Angerer is a tackling machine in Indianapolis and Schaffer was a tackling machine for Cincinnati this past season.
The Bengals have the luxury of building this team to Marvin Lewis' liking and could also opt for other linebackers like Carmen Messina of New Mexico or Keenan Robinson of Texas.
The Cincinnati Bengals landed a gem by drafting Andy Dalton in 2011, but they will be searching for a backup for the future. The Bengals still have Bruce Gradkowski for one more year, but drafting another quarterback later in the draft would not be a bad idea. The pick would be a low-risk pick and would provide some depth in case Dalton were to get injured.
Austin Davis looked impressive this season and was the Conference USA's second-best quarterback outside of Case Keenum from Houston. While Davis may not be a starter in the NFL, he could wind up a very good backup and would learn a lot from Ken Zampese.
There are several talented developmental quarterbacks late in the draft and the Bengals could also look at John Brantley of Florida or G.J. Kinne from Tulsa.
The seventh round in the NFL draft usually does not provide stars or even guys guaranteed to make the team, but the Bengals have been able to find diamonds in the rough this late before. When drafting this late on day three, one thing should be prevalent and that is the ability to find depth.
Chas Alecxih has the coolest name ever and was a very solid defensive tackle for Pittsburgh in 2011. He should find his way onto a team in the later rounds of the draft and should come in handy as part of a rotation on the Bengals defensive line. Alecxih is a bit slow for the NFL, but he makes up for it with brute strength and could be a valuable backup in Cincinnati.