NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
On the fringes of the Tom Brady news, we continue Eyes on the Competition with everybody’s favorite AFC punching bag come playoff time –the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals, led by Andy Dalton, have made four consecutive postseason appearances.
The Bengals, led by Andy Dalton, have yet to win a playoff game in that span.
Cincy finds themselves in NFL purgatory – much of which is reflective of their quarterback situation. Good enough to make the playoffs, not good enough to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
I believe this in-between No Man’s Land is the worst place to be in professional sports. Be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, or be in full rebuild mode to one day be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
I’m not sure the Bengals have had an offseason that will launch them into the Super Bowl debate.
Of the free agent class for Cincy this season, three names in particular stick out.
DE Michael Johnson will be returning to the Bengals after a one year stint with Tampa Bay. Johnson, who signed a five year $43.75M deal with the Bucs last season, was plagued by injuries and flat out poor performance. If Johnson can return to his 2012 form (11.5 sacks) the Bengals could be in the driver’s seat for a fifth straight playoff performance. He returns on a four year $20M contract.
Former Green Bay Packers’ middle linebacker AJ Hawk was brought on to pair with newly resigned Rey Maualuga. Hawk, who in my eyes was overrated at times in Green Bay, will bring a nice veteran presence. I don’t expect a transcending ripple effect, but he should add nice depth nonetheless.
The signing that is flying under the radar and caught the most attention to me was signing former Oakland Raiders WR Denarius Moore.
Moore when given the chance has been productive both in his collegiate and NFL career. After three relatively quiet years at the University of Tennessee, Moore exploded onto the scene as a senior once a capable quarterback (Tyler Bray) took the helm and caught 47 passes, averaging 20.9 yards per reception while scoring 9 times.
As for his NFL career, Moore was productive through his first three seasons highlighted by a 51 catch-741 yard-7 touchdown 2012 campaign. Last season he seemed to have fallen through the cracks and battled injuries most of the way. Bottom line, I believe Moore could arguably be the most talented receiver on the roster not named AJ Green, and could be a real asset to the Bengals vertical passing game in 2015.
DT Pat Sims (OAK) was also brought on from Oakland, and should very well be on the opening day roster.
The Bengals didn’t withstand many losses in Free Agency this season. CB Terence Newman, S Taylor Mays and OT Marshall Newhouse headline the group leaving town. Former first round pick TE Jermaine Gresham remains unsigned.
What about the draft?
I view Cincinnati as having one of the better drafts throughout the league. Former Texas A&M OL Cedric Obguehi is a project, but may very well be worth the wait. With Andrew Whitworth still around, it allows Obguehi to develop and rehab his ACL injury without the pressure of playing right away as a first round selection.
To come back in the second round and select former Oregon RT Jake Fisher, it was clear where Marvin Lewis felt his team needed to upgrade. Potential bookend tackles taken in back-to-back rounds was interesting, and probably not a load of confidence in the direction of Andre Smith and the previously mentioned Andrew Whitworth who both approach contract years in 2015.
Cincy came back and hit a home run in the third round by choosing two very solid, underrated players in my eyes. Rutgers TE Tyler Kroft could be the real gem of the middle rounds. Kroft will play right away as he is a big, physical tight end with some great ball skills – all shown in limited opportunities. He has made Jermaine Gresham expendable if you may.
TCU LB Paul Dawson could be a real steal as well. He’s undersized, and some would say slow – however he is a highly productive, instinctive middle linebacker. He’s had his off the field concerns, but similar to a Vontaze Burfict – his talent isn’t equal to his draft selection. If he stays out of trouble, he can be a star.
Fourth round selections DB Josh Shaw and DL Marcus Hardison should make and impact as well. Shaw had one of the more publicized, embarrassing off the field scandals in recent memory but has moved on and is should have a lot to prove at the next level.
Auburn TE CJ Uzomah, Fresno State S Derron Smith and WVU WR Mario Alford round out the draft class. Of the trio, I think Alford (5’9 180lbs) has the best chance to make some contribution in 2015 as an explosive playmaker.
At the end of the day, it truly comes down to a very simple question. Can Andy Dalton lead the Bengals over the hump and get that elusive playoff win.
Next up for the Bengals? Figuring out the impending AJ Green contract extension.
Next up for Eyes on the Competition? An opponent on the Patriots’ 2015 schedule: Dallas.