The NFL Draft is nearly here, and thank the football gods for that! It’s been over two months since the Super Bowl. How have we survived without football this long?
Usually, free agency provides a welcome distraction between the end of the season and the draft, but the new CBA caused the offseason to start later this year, so it coincided with the NCAA basketball tournament. How was I supposed to be pay attention to football when Duke, Michigan, and Missouri were all getting punked out on the same day in the first round?
But the draft is nearly here. Next week, it finally gets down to business, and both the Bengals and Browns have two picks in the first round. That’s going to make it an awfully interesting and exciting night for my brother and I, and Cincinnati has picks 17 and 21, while Cleveland follows immediately at 22! I foresee a lot of cell minutes getting used.
Naturally, there will be tons of instant analysis of what was a good move and what was a bad one, even though every expert will tell you you need three years to evaluate a draft. Those same experts will also offer the instant analysis, making themselves hypocrites, but, hey, ESPN and NFLN will both be providing hours of live coverage, and they have to talk about something.
So, in the spirit of waiting three years to make an evaluation, I’ll now have a look at the Bengals’ 2009 draft to see how they’ve done.
OT Andre Smith, Alabama
This is the last time I was really mad at the Bengals on draft day. I threw my hat when Roger Goodell announced Cincinnati was spending the sixth overall selection on Smith. the report on him was that he had amazing skills as a run-blocker and was light on his feet, but that his pass-blocking was mediocre. There was also the bit about him being overweight and rumored to be lazy. Mike Brown took him anyway, when two other tackles with first-round grades were available.
Smith held out, missed all of training camp, and then broke his foot (because he was overweight) on one of his first snaps when he finally did practice. He missed the entirety of the 2009 season. He came back in 2010 and broke his foot again, missing most of that season as well.
But last year, he dropped over 50 pounds and had a terrific season as a right guard protecting rookie QB Andy Dalton. He seems finally to have gotten it, and offensive line coach Paul Alexander is pleased with his progress and his potential. Now that Smith has gotten his act together, this might not have been the boneheaded pick it appeared to be at the time.
Of course, the Bengals did have to pay Top Ten left tackle money for a right tackle, so there is still the air of a mistake about Smith.
LB Rey Maualuga, USC
At the time, this was declared one of the steals of the draft. Despite anchoring the best linebacking corps in the history of college football, Maualuga fell into the second round while his teammates got drafted in the first. When he was sitting there near the top of Round 2, Cincinnati pounced.
For the most part, it was a good decision. Maualuga played two seasons at SAM linebacker before moving to the middle last year. He was playing like a monster last year before he got hurt and missed three games. He struggled afterwards, although he still played well. He’s also had some off-field issues with drinking.
Assuming he plays like he did at the beginning of 2011 and doesn’t let booze ruin his career, this was a good pick.
DE Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech
TE Chase Coffman, Missouri
Johnson has been a monster. He’s got freakish size and long arms. He swats down passes like Wilt Chamberlain blocked shots. He played a lot of snaps in Cincinnati’s eight-man line rotation last year, and is likely to start this season.
Coffman, on the other hand, never got a chance in Cincy. He’s a pass-catcher, not a blocker, and he just couldn’t learn to do the latter the way the Bengals wanted. He was misused his entire time with the Bengals, and it’s unfortunate, because he could have been a dynamic downfield threat. He’s no longer with the team.
C Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas
The Bengals were soft in the middle of their line when they made this selection, and Luigs had the skillset to promise he could fix things. Unfortunately, he hurt his knee in training camp and never really recovered. He’s no longer with the team.
P Kevin Huber, Cincinnati
As strange as it may sound, Huber may have been the best selection of the whole draft for the Bengals. The guy has a cannon on his hip, and he’s shown great control and accuracy in his three seasons. He frequently tips field position with booming punts that leave the other team inside the 20.
CB Morgan Trent, Michigan
RB Bernard Scott, Abilene Christian
Trent is no longer with the team, but he made an impact while he was here. He played in nickel packages his rookie season and was solid teaming with Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. He earned the same spot in 2010, despite the Bengals signing Adam Jones, but his season ended with an injury. He made it back in 2011 but was a victim of numbers in a cutdown day release before the season.
Scott has flashed the slasher running skills that attracted the Bengals to him in the first place. He has dynamic speed and has broken some big runs, including a kick return for a touchdown against the Steelers in 2009 that essentially won the game. He had to split time with feature back Cedric Benson and so hasn’t produced big numbers to date. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has promised a running back by committee approach this season, which should get Scott more carries.
FB Fui Vakapuna, BYU
DT Clinton McDonald, Memphis
WR Freddie Brown, Utah
Vakapuna fought hard for the fullback position but could never beat out the other guys who won it. McDonald was traded to San Francisco last year for S Taylor Mays, and Brown never made the team.
The jury is still out on this draft. At the moment, I’d give it a B. Smith is turning into the player the Bengals thought he could be, Maualuga and Johnson have contributed, Huber has been sensational, and both Trent and Scott have made plays.
But it’s hard to know what to think of some of the decisions. If Maualuga continues with his off-field problems, he’s going to wash out. Scott has showed potential, but limited action has prevented us from seeing what he’s really capable of. Is he as good as they believe he is? McDonald yielded Taylor Mays, a first-round talent, but he hasn’t gotten on the field in any meaningful way yet.
This could be an A draft if Smith continues to mature, Maualuga and Scott play like the team envisions, and Mays becomes a staple at safety. It could also turn out to be a C draft if all of those things go the other way.