While many folks in the media were relatively harsh regarding Marvin Lewis’ generally vague comments in his annual pre-draft press conference, I for one was pleased with what I heard. I heard a man not pressed to fill any gaping holes on his team. I heard a coach happy with his roster, confident in his program, and consequently calm, focused, and ready for the draft.
Of particular note was his comment that the team’s first round pick does not “have” to start from day one; the here-to-for unheard of philosophy in Cincinnati that you pick the best player on the board, not the best guy for the glaring weakness you have. This philosophy has worked for years in places like Pittsburgh, New England, and New York. For once, the team has the luxury of flexibility in the draft.
There will certainly be discussion in the war room based upon coaches perceptions of current members of the roster, their contract statuses and the like, but when the rubber meets the road, when the Bengals are on the clock, they can go in one of several different ways without worry or concern that they may neglect an obvious need. The team can field 22 NFL quality starters right now, before the draft even happens, and that, my friends is priceless.
“But what about Tight End?!” I can hear the peanut gallery now.
Yes, Tight End is a position that could use more bodies, but don’t for one second think that the team is honing in on Jermaine Gresham, the TE from Oklahoma and consensus talking-head pick for Cincinnati at 21. Why? Well, he’s a Tight End, and while the team needs better play from that position, the fact of the matter is that TE does not have the most vital of roles in Bob Bratkowski’s offense. The fact is that 40% of the time, the TE is another tackle in the running game, or is extra protection on long yardage situations.
This is not to say that I do not condone the idea of bringing in a dynamic talent at the position. I whole-heartedly do. But Gresham and second TE Rob Gronkowski of Arizona both carry with them a disturbing injury history, and there are capable options in rounds 2, 3, 4, and 5 that can contribute to at least the level of a Dan Coats. Besides, Chase Coffman has not had an opportunity to play a single down yet, and the team will be bringing back Reggie Kelly before the draft. Sure Tony Sheffler would be nice, but I just don’t see it happening, and the Bengals have officially poo-pooed that rumor within hours of it coming out. Either way, though, I wrote in this space that the team should address the position prior to the draft, and Lewis basically confirmed my thinking in the press conference.
One cannot honestly believe that Gresham would be the pick if Earl Thomas is available at 21; or Dez Bryant, or Jason Pierre-Paul, or even Taylor Mays.
One thing I can guarantee after 20 years of watching drafts, is there will be a player that inexplicably falls and is head-and-shoulders above the guys that were expected to be there. I don’t know who it will be this year, but he’ll be staring at the Bengals at 21, and this year, they can confidently pull the trigger. And by the way, this happens in round two as well. Don’t be shocked if Gronkowski is on the board when the Bengals are up again in the second.
So who should they get with the 21st pick? Who knows? Let the draft work itself out. Here are some names to keep an eye on:
Dez Bryant: Though it now looks like he may be gone by the time the Bengals pick, if Denver passes on him at 11, he may fall right into their lap.
Earl Thomas: This is the player I think the team covets the most. He should be gone by 21, but if not, they’ll gladly scoop him up. If he is gone, then…
Nate Allen: The safety prospect from South Florida is moving up draft boards, and some are calling him the second best safety after Tennessee’s Eric Berry.
Mike Iupati: If the Steelers pass on the massive guard from Idaho, Bengals Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander will begin salivating.
Brandon Graham: The OLB from Michigan is getting rave reviews for his evaluation period performances. Reminds me of the type of guy the Bengals were trying to land with David Pollack.
At the end of the day, who the heck knows? The team cannot control what the 20 teams in front of them do. All they can do is wait for their turn, and pick the best player left that fits their philosophy and matches the kind of lunch pail work ethic Marvin Lewis is looking for.
As always, it’ll be top-notch entertainment. We’ll all be holding our collective breathe as the commissioner steps to the podium. We’ll all know in the back of our minds it could be someone we haven’t even discussed or fretted over. Remember David Klinger? Remember Chris Perry? How about Levi Jones? No one saw those guys coming. So, while I look forward to seeing one of the above mentioned players in stripes, it won’t shock me to hear something like…
“With the 21st pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals select….Jahvid Best, runningback, Cal.” Don’t laugh. It could happen.
Only a few days to go and all this waiting will be over and the real fun–the second-guessing, draft grades, postmortems and analysis–can begin.