(Editor's Note: This is the second install of this week's mailbag. Follow me on Twitter @CUIBengalsFan and tweet me questions. You can also email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!)
Though we're all pretty pleased with the Bengals' draft haul from last weekend, it's impossible to accurately project which players will work out with the club and which ones won't. However, it looks as if the team greatly improved their roster with the ten players they nabbed and quite a few of those ten could become future starters. If you want to know how I'd grade the draft, refer to Joe Goodberry's rundown. He pretty echoed my sentiments on the grades.
Nearly everyone I know is asking me about the Bengals draft class and how I feel about it. Instead of grading the the draft and doing what so many others have done at this point, I'm going to give you a different take and breakdown of what I see out of this draft.
Biggest 2012 Contributor: Kevin Zeitler. Though many think that this could be any number of players that the team drafted this year, I believe that Zeitler will come in a start and improve the offensive line right away. In doing so, he'll be improving a part of the team that desperately needs it. Zeitler will improve the running game and the passing game with his skill set and I believe he will be the team's rookie of the year when it's all said and done.
Least Favorite Pick: Dre Kirkpatrick. Don't get me wrong, I like Kirkpatrick and think he'll come in and help a lot. He might even nab a starting spot from one of the rugged veterans on the club. He's tall, long and can run and cover pretty well. So, what's the problem? I don't feel as if he's a game-breaker type and I feel he plays football more like a safety than a corner. Some will point to the Shaun Prater pick as their last favorite, but he was fifth-round selection and it's hard to knock that. I just feel that first round picks should be for difference makers, not for the third best player at a position. I like the Kirkpatrick pick, I just don't know that I love it and that's ironic because he was the team's first selection this year.
Best Value: Devon Still and George Iloka. When you get a first round talent a round later than he's projected, it's great value. Furthermore, when you get a first round talent at a highly-coveted position like defensive tackle, you scored big. Still will compete for a starting job and will be part of a stout line rotation. Questions of his motor will likely dissipate with Mike Zimmer's coaching and I expect him to be a big part of the team's defense in the future. Though this pick was a bit unexpected, we should have seen this coming.
Iloka was the consensus third best safety in the draft. It was crazy to see a guy that was projected to go in the third round, slide all the way down right before the sixth. Safety was a position of need for the Bengals and Iloka was a good pickup because of his athleticism. He will be a valuable guy, as he can line up in the slot and run with wide receivers and tight ends. He needs to work on his tackling, but I'll take his speed an coverage skills at 6'3" and 225 pounds.
Favorite Picks: Brandon Thompson and Marvin Jones. I love both of these picks for different reasons. In fact, the only common reason I have for liking these two draftees is because of the value associated with them. For Jones, the fact that he was available in the fifth round was astounding and there wasn't really a rhyme or reason for his fall. Some have talked about a knee injury while others have pointed to a lack of eye-popping stats. I think neither are really that justified because there hasn't been anything significant shown about the injury and Jones had to deal with poor quarterback play his entire Cal career. Jones was projected by many to go two or three rounds earlier than when the Bengals grabbed him Like Josh Kirkendall, I believe that Jones has the makings of an NFL No.2 wide receiver, and will win the job this season.
As for Thompson, I'm likely in the minority in really liking this pick. It seems that most fans didn't understand why they picked a second defensive tackle when they grabbed one just two picks earlier. I think you can call it both a reaction to their division's drafting and taking the best player on the board at the time. Thompson is an active and disruptive player who will fit in nicely to what the Bengals do up front. With the Steelers revamping their offensive line with Mike Adams and David DeCastro and the Browns grabbing Trent Richardson, these types of picks are a must. With Still and Thompson, the Bengals will have a formidable rotation on the defensive line and are in great shape if one of them (Heaven forbid) should be lost to an injury. The team wasn't the same when Pat Sims went down with his season-ending injury and if something were to take place like that again, they would be in a much better position to deal with it in 2012 than they were in 2011.
Speaking of Sims, there's been a lot of rumblings as to what his future with the club will be because of the drafting Still and Thompson. Many think that Sims could be shown the door because of the two high picks put in at the position in this year's draft and him coming off of a pretty nasty ankle injury that ended his season prematurely. Throw in a one-year deal and there is some writing on the wall here that would point to Sims departing.
However, I don't agree with this. Sims is a very valuable commodity to this defense and we saw it when he went down with this injury. Ray Rice ran all over the defense in the last game of the season, as did Arian Foster in the playoff game. Without him, the rush defense that the team leaned on all season became unreliable and the rest of their formula for success didn't work. In case you were wondering what that formula was, that would be to stop the run and make the team one-dimensional and tee off on the pass rush. When you lose a 340-pound plugger up the middle, it makes that plan difficult to execute.
Sims is a disruptive player who frees up his line mates because of his size. While I love the additions of Still and Thompson, both weigh roughly 30 pounds less than Sims. The truth is, the Bengals don't have another guy like him on the roster and to push him to the scrap heap would be a mistake. The only foreseeable reason that I would see cutting the cord with Sims making sense is if the ankle isn't fully healed and you're envisioning him starting the season on the PUP List.
But there's the issue of keeping five defensive tackles, right? Usually, the team keeps no more than four and with the two newbies, how do they make room. Pass-rushers are a premium position, so you usually don't want to get rid of those if you can swing it. Cornerbacks are another premium position and the Bengals are stacked there. Do they skim off the top there? They will definitely need to cut back on the safeties from the amount they kept last season, but will that be because they want to keep Sims and the other four tackles, or because they want to keep six or seven corners?
Really it seems to come down to how much they value Sims. Would you keep him over Derek Harvey? I would. How about over Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Brandon Jones or Shaun Prater? Still probably a yes. What about versatile swing guys like Jamaal Anderson or Robert Geathers? That's where the discussion will get interesting. I think you find a way to keep a 340-pound nose tackle on your roster who is adept at stopping the run--no matter what.