The play of draft picks is the key to their improvement.
The great thing about the NFL draft is that players (at least in the early rounds) usually come NFL-ready. They have the size and strength capable of handling the physical duties of playing in the National Football League. If a team drafts well, it can pay immediate dividend and turn a team around within the same calendar year. That is certainly the hope in Cincinnati who used the draft to address their most pressing needs.
They used the 6th overall pick to recruit Andre Smith who should take over the left tackle position and make their offensive line that much better. In fact there's likely to be three new starters on the line with the idea of making it a more nimble group. Too often last year they let the defensive backs reach QB Carson Palmer and that's something Palmer hopes to avoid, naturally.
No Quarterback likes to be sacked, but especially Palmer who has had two major injuries in the last 4 years, the latter being an elbow injury in 2008 to which Palmer says is completely healed. He'll be anxious to return to form and show the world he is in fact an elite quarterback in the NFL. It'll be interesting because his receiving core is basically a new group.
First and foremost, of course, is the departure of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Seattle and the arrival of Laveranues Coles. Houshmandzadeh is an outstanding receiver, but Coles might present more of a deep threat, a target Palmer will enjoy. Chad Ochocinco has apparently had a very aggressive offseason conditioning season and is looking to rebound from his career low 540 receiving yards last year. Evidently he and Carson Palmer roomed together in July in order to get their groove back.
When healthy and focused, those two are one of the better tandems in the league. Chris Henry has off-field issues to work on, but remains a nice target for Palmer. He's got a couple of Tight End options too that he could reach deep downfield. Palmer's stats should be sky high this year if he plays the full season.
The weakest part of their offense is their running game, with Ceric Benson coming back for a full season after playing only a handful of contests for the Bengals last year. Benson is reliable and capable of breakaway speed and should have a good full season campaign. The worry is that after Benson, the cupboard is bare as the team still needs a reliable backup.
Two Backs that compliment one another is a sexy trend in the NFL and as of right now, the Bengals do not possess that asset. They acquired Brian Leonard from the Rams, so he will be given an opportunity, but expectations remain tepid.
On the defensive side of things, there's hope in Ohio as the team welcomes back a key member of the unit who missed lots of playing time last year due to injury. On the Line, Robert Geathers hopes to return to form after offseason surgery while sophomore Antwan Odom hopes to avoid the injury bug which cost him some games last year. The team also drafted Michael Johnson early and he steps right in and provides plenty of athleticism to this group.
It's a similar situation with their linebackers as Keith Rivers was great last season, but only played 7 games. They'll look for him to potentially breakout this year while Dhani Jones is solid and the leader of this group. The defence played better last year than their 4-11-1 record indicates and could be even better this year barring any injuries.
The Bengals play in a tough division with SuperBowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers leading the way and perpetual contender Baltimore close behind. It's going to be difficult for the Bengals to finish ahead of those two teams, but if Palmer and the defence can stay healthy while those draft picks have an immediate impact, then the Bengals will compete in each contest and will be a good team to bet on, as they'll be in line for some 'upset' victories.
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