Top target.

Top target.

Each and every NFL franchise approaches talent evaluation differently.   Case in point the Cincinnati Bengals present a roster featuring former malcontents, underachievers, and less than model citizens; all in favor of talent.   The team’s overall drafting habits are very similar.  More so than any other team, Cincinnati is willing to overlook certain slights against prospects in hopes of landing higher reward.

After a season of trotting out the likes of J.P. Foschi and Daniel Coats with their combined 43 receptions for a total of 410 yards as starting tight ends, the Bengals identified the position as an area in drastic need of upgrade.   In doing so the team landed the class’ top prospect at said position, Jermaine Gresham. The former Oklahoma Sooner was often considered a talent deserving of a higher selection than twenty first overall, where he eventually fell.   Some scouts though were very concerned with this prospect’s history of knee injuries.   Repairing torn cartilage caused the target to miss the entire 2009 campaign.  He suffered another as his high school career wound down.  One positive was seeing the prospect clearly getting stronger on his knee as off season workouts commenced.  On the field Gresham possesses ideal size for his position at 6-feet-5-inches tall and 261 pounds.   During his tenure at Oklahoma, Gresham was a true threat as a tight end patrolling the middle of the field, stretching the seam, and being a large red zone target.  The prospect may not fit in the new mold of tight ends, which often act as larger and less athletic wide receivers, but his game translates well to Cincinnati’s overpowering run first mentality.   Most seem to underestimate Gresham’s abilities and willingness as a blocker.  By no means is he devastating blocking off the edge, but he is clearly competent in said area.  Within the Bengals’ passing attack, which sputtered at times a year ago, the addition of a talent like Gresham over the middle will open plenty of the sideline area this team likes to work with its talented receivers.  His presence alone will make this a value pick, if Mr. Gresham can stay healthy.

A year ago, Cincinnati chose a very talented defensive end with potential concerns swirling about work ethic and effort.  Michael Johnson went on to string together a solid rookie campaign, filling nicely into the defensive line rotation, registering three quarterback sacks, and five passes defended.  Carlos Dunlap is very much in the same mold.   Two talents blessed with more physical talent than most.  Both high selections in the NFL draft.  Neither played to their abilities with any type of consistency at the collegiate level.   At times Dunlap was a monster while playing for the Florida Gators.  One only has to look at his National Championship efforts.   But there are also times when the defensive lineman appeared completely disinterested in competing.   Dunlap has a fantastic size/athleticism ratio but never showed a top end burst off the snap.  He does possess very strong hands to control opposing offensive lineman.   He is long off the edge.   Inconsistency plagued his defense against the run.  Overall, a complete mixed bag regarding his performances and effort.  As a result, this once perceived top ten hopeful quickly fell in round two range.  This is certainly the type of chance a team such as Cincinnati likes to take on high end talent, yet there has to be some concerns.

Round three saw a couple of selections made by the Bengals.

The first was the hardworking and productive Longhorn wide receiver Jordan Shipley. Shipley left Texas a Biletnikoff finalist, a two time All American, second all time in the school’s history for receptions and receiving yardage.   He is even the state’s all time leading prep receiver.  Yet the buzz which surrounded Shipley in college did not necessarily translate to his pro potential.  A prospect not considered truly fast.  He is more quick and agile than most.  He does not possess top end size for a perceived “possession receiver”.  All Shipley did was make plays, tough catches, and put his team on track to win week in and week out.  In essence, he has the makeup and skill set to project very nicely as a slot receiver in the National Football League.   Those talents will only add to a burgeoning receiving corps which now also includes Antonio Bryant to compliment roster returnees Chad Johnson, Bubba Caldwell, and even Quan Cosby.   While Shipley may have issues earning playing time among this particular unit, his greatest contribution may come via special teams where he has the potential to be a dynamic performer.

With the ninety sixth overall selection and the second of the two third round choices, Cincinnati decided upon Wake Forest cornerback Brandon Ghee. Another physically talented prospect with inconsistency issues throughout his college career.   Ghee has the tools to be a top end cornerback at the next level.  Unfortunately, he was never able to perform at said level for the Demon Deacons.   There is a lot to like about his game.  Just over six feet tall, he dips into that high 4.3 forty range.  His troubles were reliant on technique issues and the ability to diagnose plays properly.   Under the guidance of top flight corners such as Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, this type of talent has the potential to blossom.

Geno Atkins added some potential quality depth to the defensive interior with his fourth round addition.  It was not too long ago when Atkins was considered by some a potential first round talent.  He then suffered through some injuries.   The senior was demoted and contributed in a rotation in 2009.   His numbers dipped dramatically.  With all this stated Atkins has a fantastic burst off the snap and can be a devastating one gap penetrator at times. He is a bulldog in the middle of the line and much stronger physically than his 293 pound frame would indicate.  Though there are those around this prospect who have argued he does not have a passion for the game.  If Atkins plays to the level seen in 2007 and 2008, then Cincinnati landed a fantastic addition.

As the draft rounded itself out, multiple facets of the team were addressed.

Along the linebacking corps, Texas’ Roddrick Muckleroy was chosen later in the fourth round.  A fine weakside linebacking prospect that moves well sideline to sideline arriving with nasty intentions.   He is limited to a degree because of his overall lack of strength at the point of attack.  Muckleroy is much better working around traffic than he is fighting through it.  Then team is set at the position, generally speaking, but overall depth can always be improved.

Eastern Illinois product and fifth round choice Otis Hudson will have the opportunity to develop behind a powerful and solid offensive line, as he improves his strength in an NFL weight room.   Stalwart guard Bobbie Williams will be entering his eleventh season, while left guard has been somewhat of an open invitation in recent years.   Expectations for Hudson to participate are slim, yet his long term options remain promising.

One of the surprise free fallers of the 2010 draft was Kansas wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe.  Surely his productivity and size could overcome a woeful forty time, could it not?   But as said speed made scouts re-evaluate film, they began to notice the former Jayhawk’s worrisome habits of “gator arming” passes over the middle.   His route running was suspect.  Overall, it was not enough to keep him highly rated.  As he enters his newest situation, it will be difficult for this project to find any playing time behind a now stacked group.

Finally, adding a little more depth along the offensive line in the seventh round.  Iowa State’s Reggie Stephens is a powerful straight line blocker suited for the team’s overall blocking scheme.  He will also add another wide body to the thin position of guard.

Grade:  C+

Concerns have to stem from the uneven collegiate careers posted from a large lot of this draft class.   There are definitely some dogs in this potential fight, good and bad.  Cincinnati has never been a team to shy away from these types in recent years.  While some headaches have developed off the field as a result, on the field this approach garnered them last year’s AFC North crown and a sweep of their divisional opponents.  One simply has to be concerned with this approach year in and year out in regards to the large boom or bust factor which always seems associated with the long term health of a franchise.