National Football League
July 23, 2008
Draft King Analysis
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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The Cincinnati Bengals are a team at a crossroads. Coming off of a 7-9 season, this may be a do-or-die year for head coach Marvin Lewis. The team has an offense that rivals most of the top squads in the country, but the Bengals will be relying on its defense to show enough improvement to make it a legit contender in 2008.
After the 2007 season, it seemed to many that the Bengals had a major need at defensive tackle. Unfortunately for Cincinnati fans, a series of unfortunate events prevented the Bengals from landing a top-notch DT.
|Carson Palmer is a skilled quarterback. (Icon SMI)
High-end defensive tackles rarely hit the free agent market, and Tennessee used its franchise tag on DT Albert Haynesworth to keep him in Nashville for another year. The Bengals tried trading with Detroit to acquire Shaun Rogers, but that didn't work out, and Rogers ended up with the Bengals' top rival, the Browns.
Some thought that the Bengals might have a chance at LSU DT Glenn Dorsey, but with him off the board at #9 overall, Cincinnati instead landed USC OLB Keith Rivers with its first round pick. Rivers is an athletic playmaker who should be able to have an immediate impact on the Bengals' defense. Cincinnati finally did land a defensive tackle in round three in the form of Auburn DT Pat Sims, who at 6'2" 310 pounds could become a major presence in the middle for the Bengals.
Thinking long-term on offense, the Bengals used a second-round pick on Coastal Carolina WR Jerome Simpson. With talented-but-troubled WR Chris Henry being shown the door this off-season, and with the chaos surrounding WR Chad Johnson, bringing in a young (and underexposed) talent like Simpson could prove to pay long-term benefits.
Not satisfied with just Simpson, Cincinnati landed Florida WR Andre Caldwell at the end of the third round and a potential major steal in the form of athletic-but-inconsistent Louisville WR Mario Urrutia in the seventh round. All three players could potentially develop into starters, and the Bengals put themselves in a position to *not* be banking on just one young prospect to develop at wideout.
Also, the Bengals helped themselves at safety by drafting Appalachian State FS Corey Lynch in round six. You might recall that Draft King had a long write-up about Lynch last summer, before his game-winning field goal block at Michigan early last season. Lynch is a winner (Appalachian State won back-to-back-to-back I-AA/FCS championships) and, along with being able to add depth at safety, he should be able to help out considerably on special teams.
The Bengals lost DE Justin Smith to free agency, but they countered that by bringing in Titans DE Antwan Odom to replace him. The Bengals had more sacks in 2007 than their opponents (22 forced compared with 17 allowed), but the team's problem in stopping the run played a major role in its difficulties last year. Will that be mended for 2008? We shall see.
For being a high-profile NFL quarterback who won 1½ national titles at USC and was a former number one overall pick in 2003, Carson Palmer is often overlooked when it comes to making the short lists of outstanding NFL quarterbacks. Part of that can be attributed to playing for an AFC team, a conference where he has to do battle with the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Ben Roethlisberger just to get a sniff at the Pro Bowl.
|DT Pat Sims was a tough guy to move in the middle while at Auburn. (Icon SMI)|
Palmer suffered a knee injury in a memorable January 2006 playoff loss to Pittsburgh that, at the time, was described as "devastating and potentially career-ending". Amazingly, Palmer not only recovered, but he recovered quickly enough to start all 16 games in 2006, throwing for 4,035 yards and a 28 TD to 13 INT ratio that year.
Palmer had a worse TD/INT ratio last year, but he threw for 4,131 yards in 2007, and he looks poised to remain a strong performer in 2008. If the Bengals break through as a playoff team this fall, it will be at least in part because of the performance of Palmer. Without him the Bengals aren't going anywhere, even if their defense improves from last year.
Part of the reason for Cincinnati's decline in 2007 was because of its drop in rushing production. Rudi Johnson returns from a season where he started just nine games. He had a horrible yards per carry average last year (2.9 ypc), but the Bengals hope that Johnson will return to his 2003-2005 form this year. He, along with Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson, will play a major role in the success (or lack thereof) of the Bengals offensive attack in 2008.
One position that remains to be seen is middle linebacker. MLB Landon Johnson, who started every game and had 100+ tackles in each of the past two seasons, signed as a free agent with Carolina. With Johnson gone and LB Odell Thurman being cut, former OLB Dhani Jones will be moved to the MLB spot in Cincinnati's 4-3 defense. To say that there are many Bengals fans out there who are skeptical of Jones' chances in the middle would be an understatement, but Jones will have the opportunity to prove himself at that spot this fall.