By Garth Shanklin
Well that was certainly something.
After weeks of buildup and hours of analysts on television talking about players most people had never heard of until their name was announced, the NFL Draft has finally come to a close, and most experts say the Bengals had another decent haul.
SBNation compiled a few grades from some of the more well-known draft analysts, which is convenient because searching “NFL Draft grades Bengals” brings up more links than I’ll ever have time to click. The lowest grade was a B- from NFL.com’s Chad Reuter, who gave the team a ‘C’ in both the first and second round. The problem with Reuter’s grades is that he gave the Bengals their first-round mark because he liked the corner taken, but didn’t like them taking a corner with a need at wide receiver.
So, in the second round, the Bengals take a “solid pass-catcher” and get a C again anyway. Whatever.
There’s no denying the team made a solid selection in the fourth round. Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings slid for reasons ranging from rumored knee issues to a lack of pass rush ability and a perceived role as a two-down player.
In most situations, having a defensive tackle on the field for only two plays would seem to be a problem, but the way the Bengals rotate linemen in and out means Billings won’t have to be on the field for more than two plays in a row in most instances. The Bengals could afford to take him because of their scheme, and that pick alone vindicated the draft for some people.
It admittedly didn’t get off to a great start. The Bengals entered the first round with a need at wide receiver, and when all four first-round graded wideouts were taken before the Bengals selected things suddenly got interesting. However, instead of overreacting and reaching for a player, the team reverted to their time-honored strategy of taking the best player available and landed a cornerback that can help out on special teams while providing depth for a position that has some issues entering this season, most notably the departure of Leon Hall and the impending free-agency of Dre Kirkpatrick.
At any rate, most of the other grades are higher than a B+, which doesn’t seem like a fantastic mark but when you consider just how difficult the NFL Draft is to master, I consider it a pretty good haul.
Let’s look at Madden, since those are drafts I’m extremely familiar with. Way back in 2004, it was simple. The players were listed in order from best to worst and you could see exactly how good they were. There were even players rated 100 overall on occasion, and I’m not ashamed to admit I got ‘creative’ with my draft strategies back in those days.
You were able to take control of the other teams in Madden’s franchise mode whenever you wanted back then, so while I’m not going to say specifically that I would trade for the first 12 picks in a draft (the limit to how many the game let you have in one season) and pick the top 12 players available, but I absolutely did that.
The draft back then was easy, but as the games got more and more advanced so did the draft. Now you actually have to scout players to figure out how good they are, and it’s not easy. Madden is a video game, so imagine how hard it is to determine how good an actual human being will be.
The phrase “you can’t measure heart” gets thrown around pretty much every time Tom Brady’s name comes up during the draft (did you know he was a sixth-round pick? By the time the draft ended I was hearing that phrase in my head every time I closed my eyes.)
As cliché as it is, there’s an underlying point there that is absolutely true. Coaches and their assistants can hype a player as much as they want, but until they take the field in September there’s no way of knowing if that player you took in the first round is on the level of Aaron Rodgers or more closer to Charles Rogers.
That’s probably not a fair statement, as poor Charles Rogers broke his clavicle twice in his first two seasons in Detroit, making it hard to make any kind of impact on the field. However, injuries are a part of the game, and you take the risk that comes with them. That’s why Myles Jack slid so far in the draft this past week. If he recovers and is healthy, the Jaguars may have found themselves a linebacker for years to come. If he can’t play or isn’t as good as he was before, some will criticize the pick and call it a waste of a draft choice.
Injuries and ‘heart’ are part of the reason draft grades themselves are all but meaningless. It’s easy to look at grades right now and declare a team the winner, but there’s no guarantee things will stay the same five years from now.
For instance, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Bengals a C in 2010, the year the team selected Jermaine Gresham in the first round and Carlos Dunlap in the second. Pro Football Focus looked back at that draft earlier this year and said the Bengals actually had the second-best draft of any team in the NFL, behind the New England Patriots. Geno Atkins is responsible for most of that, as he was a fourth-round pick that turned into a top-five player at his position. Every team has misses, even in good drafts, as Jordan Shipley was not too productive before an ACL tear ended his Bengals career.
To be fair, the draft grades can be accurate as well. The team with the worst draft in 2010 was Jacksonville according to Kiper, who gave the Jaguars a D. Pro Football Focus agreed, saying the Jaguars reached for their first-round pick Tyson Alualu, among other issues with their picks.
So, what does it all mean? Basically, the experts who have spent the last week since the draft either praising or punishing the Bengals for their picks have as much information about the future of the team’s draft picks as I do. The grades themselves are there to create debate among fans and media alike, which in turn drives ratings and views. Nobody has any idea how this will turn out, but everyone knows this: it’s going to be a fun ride.