Re-Grading the Cincinnati Bengals' Past 5 Drafts
For a team that has been historically bad at drafting quality athletes for essentially its entire existence, the last five years in Cincinnati have brought a lot of happiness. There are several players drafted from 2009 on that have become stars in the NFL.
Taking a look back, it's interesting to grade just how well the Bengals did during that time frame. At present times, some may have thought the Bengals were foolish with their selections, while others may have thought they were geniuses.
Now, most people are probably on the same page and we kind of know what we're going to get or have gotten from the selections.
Understand the criteria—I base my grades on a certain system. Players that have succeeded and were drafted later will have grades that weigh heavier on the scale. That's not to diminish the value of a first-round selection like A.J. Green that has clearly been a slam dunk, but it's more impressive to me to find a diamond in the rough in a later round.
Likewise, a first-round selection that failed miserably will have a poorer grade, and that will bring down the overall grade of the draft. Most seventh-round selections do not pan out in the NFL, so it's easy to hand out a lot of Fs to them. However, a first-round pick that fails is much more detrimental.
Now that the scale has been laid out, let's reexamine these past five drafts.
Round 1: Tyler Eifert, TE, B-
Round 2: Giovani Bernard, RB, A
Round 2: Margus Hunt, DE, C
Round 3: Shawn Williams, S, C
Round 4: Sean Porter, LB, D
Round 5: Tanner Hawkinson, G, C
Round 6: Rex Burkhead, RB, C
Round 6: Cobi Hamilton, WR, D
Round 7: Reid Fragel, T, F
Round 7: T.J. Johnson, C, F
This is the hardest grade to dole out because we're only one season in, and you can ask Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith how long it could take to work things out. The Bengals received a lot of praise regarding their 2013 draft roughly one year ago.
Giovani Bernard, the running back who is preparing to take this team over, is definitely the stud of the draft thus far. He totaled eight touchdowns in 2013 and over 1,200 yards from scrimmage, which all came on limited time given the presence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Tyler Eifert was the biggest letdown of the draft. I was shocked, stunned and disappointed by the drafting of a tight end in the first round. My disappointment died down after realizing the upside of the pick, but I was never fully on board.
Eifert, amidst a lot of hype, accumulated 445 yards and two touchdowns, and never caught more than three passes in a game following Oct. 6. While I'm of the belief he'll turn it around, I can only grade based on what I've seen.
Time will tell with some of the other guys from the draft—Margus Hunt and Shawn Williams should see a little more playing time this season. Sean Porter didn't see any action in 2013, and Hawkinson and Burkhead were limited. Cobi Hamilton has enormous upside, but has yet to see the field as well
This draft still has room to grow.
Round 1: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, C
Round 1: Kevin Zeitler, RG, A
Round 2: Devon Still, DT, B-
Round 3: Mohamed Sanu, WR, B-
Round 3: Brandon Thompson, DT, B
Round 4: Orson Charles, TE, D
Round 5: Shaun Prater, CB, D
Round 5: Marvin Jones, WR, A
Round 5: George Iloka, S, B
Round 6: Dan Herron, RB, F
This was a draft that, like 2013, left me with several questions. Why draft two defensive tackles with an already solid defensive line? Why wait to get a guard who was not projected to be as good as David DeCastro or Cordy Glenn, both of whom were available prior to Cincinnati trading down for pick No. 27 in the first round?
As it has turned out, this draft emerged as mostly decent. Kevin Zeitler turned out to be a solid decision, as he is a big-time force on the Bengals offensive line. Marvin Jones exploded onto the scene in 2013, going for 10 touchdowns and highlighting his sophomore season with a four-TD performance against the New York Jets.
Devon Still, Brandon Thompson and Mohamed Sanu have all shown signs of greatness. Thompson recorded 23 tackles while filling in for an injured Geno Atkins, while Still's small amount of highlights came in 2012. He was stung by the injury bug in 2013. As for Sanu, he's been given the opportunity to shine and has had his moments, but with only two touchdowns in 2013, he didn't quite live up to the expectations of a No. 2 receiver.
Dre Kirkpatrick has been battling injuries since his arrival, missing most of 2012 and parts of 2013. I believe he'll see a big bulk of time in 2014, and that could be his make-or-break season. A fellow secondary draft selection, George Iloka started 16 games in 2013 and was admirable, gathering 66 tackles with an interception and two forced fumbles.
Shaun Prater and Dan Herron are no longer with the team, and Orson Charles has recently had a run-in with law enforcement. It seemed his move to H-back would benefit the team, but there really hasn't been a drastic effect.
Overall, this draft seems to have been a pretty good success, and that could continue to build if Kirkpatrick and Still come alive this season. Both should see more time than they have in the past.
Round 1: A.J. Green, WR, A++++++
Round 2: Andy Dalton, QB, B+
Round 3: Dontay Moch, LB/DE, D-
Round 4: Clint Boling, G, B-
Round 5: Robert Sands, S, F
Round 6: Ryan Whalen, WR, C-
Round 7: Korey Lindsey, CB, F
Round 7: Jay Finley, RB, F
I find it may be easier to just address this up front and move on—Robert Sands, Korey Lindsey and Jay Finley have combined to appear in one NFL game. That came in 2011, and none of the three are with the team anymore. Hence, the grade is F.
Now, moving on, it would be easy to take a three- F and one-D- draft and call it a C. I'm not going to do that, mostly given my criteria that late-round draft picks won't weigh as highly in the "fail" column. This draft gets the grade it has because this was the draft that got the team its core players.
Say what you want about Andy Dalton, but he's been the quarterback for three years and he's been in the postseason all three years—I understand how many victories that has resulted in, but you can't deny how good he's been.
Rising above the criticism, Dalton has thrown 80 touchdowns to only 49 interceptions after three years in the NFL and has over 11,000 yards. He'll never be an A-player like Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, but he's a solid B+.
Clint Boling has started at left guard for the Bengals for the last year and a half and hasn't been terrible, but not so impressive either. Ryan Whalen has seen rather limited time, and Dontay Moch, who was expected to make a big impact on Mike Zimmer's defense, will get a second shot with Paul Guenther.
And then, of course, there's A.J. Green. He and Vontaze Burfict make up the heart and soul of the team. This draft deserves an A simply because of what Green means to the Cincinnati Bengals, but, of course, I have to take everything into consideration. Make no mistake, without Green, this recent success does not exist.
Round 1: Jermaine Gresham, TE, A-
Round 2: Carlos Dunlap, DE, A
Round 3: Jordan Shipley, WR, B
Round 3: Brandon Ghee, CB, D
Round 4: Geno Atkins, DT, A+
Round 4: Roddrick Muckelroy, LB, C
Round 5: Otis Hudson, G, F
Round 6: Dezmon Briscoe, WR, F
Round 7: Reggie Stephens, G, F
As I did with the last slide, I will address the low grades.
Otis Hudson and Reggie Stephens are not in Cincinnati anymore, and in most fans' memories, they never were. Dezmon Briscoe never played in Cincinnati, but actually caught six touchdowns with Tampa Bay in 2011. He did not see playing time in the NFL in 2013 and is currently a free agent. Finally, Brandon Ghee dealt with injuries and played only limited time, but has since moved on to San Diego.
Now, Let's look at what makes this draft so successful. First, Jordan Shipley receives a break from me. He had a decent rookie season in 2010, catching 52 balls on 75 targets and scoring three times. It seemed that he was lined up for a solid career in the Queen City before he was sideline with a knee injury in 2011. A.J. Green stepped in, Andrew Hawkins emerged and Shipley was edged out. He's had little success since then, but I think he was at least a B if it weren't for his knee injury.
Roddrick Muckelroy showed some positive signs, forcing four fumbles in 2010. Unfortunately, his career never really got going and he hasn't appeared in an NFL game since 2012. Moving onto the bulk of the argument here, Jermaine Gresham, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have all been fantastic picks.
Gresham gets a lot of heat for dropped passes and limited efforts in games. They certainly aren't unjustified criticisms, but to discount his accolades would be unfair. He has over 2,200 receiving yards in four seasons and 19 touchdowns. They're not Tony Gonzalez numbers, but he's a big presence across the middle, which is where Andy Dalton should live.
And then you look at Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, two starters on arguably the best defensive line in the NFL. Atkins is coming off a knee injury, so his future performance is a small concern. However, he'd collected six sacks in nine games prior to his injury, preceded by a 12.5-sack season in 2012 and 7.5 in 2011 (he also had two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries). He's arguably the best at his position in the NFL these days.
Dunlap has collected 27.5 sacks these last four seasons while also recording eight forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, and a pick-six. His sophomore season saw him struggle with injuries, but he has since bounced back incredibly. With Michael Johnson departing, expect Dunlap to be the star on the end.
This draft gave Cincinnati three solid staples in their lineup. As with Green, this team wouldn't be the same without Atkins or Dunlap. I won't go so far as to say that for Gresham, but he's made his impact in his own way as well.
Round 1: Andre Smith, OT, A-
Round 2: Rey Maualuga, LB, C+
Round 3: Michael Johnson, DE, A
Round 3: Chase Coffman, TE, D
Round 4: Jonathan Luigs, C, F
Round 5: Kevin Huber, P, A
Round 6: Morgan Trent, S, D+
Round 6: Bernard Scott, RB, B-
Round 7: Fui Vakapuna, FB, F
Round 7: Clinton McDonald, DT, D
Round 7: Freddie Brown, WR, F
And we've arrived at the beginning of all of the recent Cincinnati Bengals success. The year 2009 was the first playoff appearance in this solid string of success. Moving past the garbage here, Fui Vakapuna and Freddie Brown never played in Cincinnati, Jonathan Luigs saw limited time in his rookie year, Chase Coffman has totaled four career catches and Morgan Trent did see some time early but eventually faded out.
I will give some credit to Clinton McDonald for a couple reasons. He's got a Super Bowl championship with Seattle now, and that came in a season that saw him make 5.5 sacks. He is in Tampa Bay now and should see plenty of time in Lovie Smith's system.
From this draft, Cincinnati got significant value that they have seen leave town. Bernard Scott never put up big numbers, but there were always questions about how good he could be with his speed. He was solid as a special teams guy, but never received ample opportunity in the backfield. I'm of the belief that with more chances, Scott would have made a bigger impact.
Michael Johnson, meanwhile, made a huge splash in Cincinnati prior to his departure. He had a down 2013, but 2012 saw him record a whopping 11.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. This was good enough to earn him the franchise tag, but the top-notch defensive end left for Tampa Bay. If he can bounce back from a 3.5-sack season, he will be a star in the NFC.
Kevin Huber has become one of the league's best punters, and hopefully he will remain that way after being cheap-shotted in Pittsburgh. I'd say he was a fantastic "diamond in the rough," but punters and kickers don't usually go until the later rounds anyway.
The other highlights of the draft not named Michael Johnson include Andre Smith and Rey Maualuga.
Maualuga has caught a lot of heat recently after being absolutely abysmal in coverage for the least two or three seasons. He was re-signed during the offseason least year, much to the chagrin of many fans. Despite dropping almost 50 tackles from his stat line and struggling with injuries, he's expected to start over Vincent Rey.
Andre Smith, against all odds, seems to be becoming the first-round stud he was supposed to be. After a couple seasons of weight-related questions and work-ethic issues, Smith has become one of the best offensive tackles in the game. It's a good thing he was re-signed, as a guy like Andy Dalton, who takes his time in the pocket, needs a gargantuan human being to keep defenders. out.
This was the draft that started all of the success, and could even get better if Maualuga improves.