The Cincinnati Bengals entered the 2011 campaign with more questions than answers. They finished it in the playoffs after a 9-7 record in one of the better divisions in football (AFC North). I am going to look at the Bengals and how they have a lot to look forward to in 2012 and beyond.
Enter Andy Dalton . He started the year as a rookie and went on to throw for 3,398 yards and 20 touchdowns while showing poise and composure for the Bengals. Rarely does a rookie Quarterback come in and earn a Pro Bowl birth like Dalton did. He was able to spread the ball around in the offense and utilize both his Wide Receivers and Tight Ends well; they also earned Pro Bowl births. A.J. Green (another rookie) had 65 catches for over 1000 yards and 7 touchdowns, while Jermaine Gresham had 56 catches for 596 yards and 6 touchdowns. Expect bigger things from all 3 players this season.
Cedric Benson was the lead back for the Bengals last season and had over 1000 yards. He is a Free Agent this year and may not be back. Bernard Scott is not a #1 Running Back option, so Cincinnati will be looking for one in the off-season. The best possibilities for them via Free Agency are Michael Bush from Oakland and/or Mike Tolbert from San Diego. Both are possibilities as the Bengals have $60 million in cap space this year. Another option may come from the NFL draft because the Bengals have 2 first round picks and the best Running Back in the draft (Trent Richardson) may fall to them at #17. It looks like the only team that may take him before that is Tampa Bay at #5 (unless somebody else trades into a spot to take him before the Bengals can).
Wide Receiver Jerome Simpson got himself into a little bit of trouble with a drug charge and he may or may not return with the team. Can Jordan Shipley or Andre Caldwell pick up their game to start opposite A.J. Green?? If not, remember that the cap space available is $60 million. The Wide Receivers available in Free Agency are enough to make the Bengals go out and sign one to big money if they so desire. Robert Meachem and Mario Manningham would seem to be good fits. They also could use one of their first round picks on a Wide Receiver in the draft because there are 5 first round grades for Wide Receivers there. Also look for them to get some help for the offensive line to help protect the young Quarterback (and Running Back??).
The other big area of need for Cincinnati is at Cornerback on the defense. Leon Hall is coming back from injury, so that will help. Because the NFL is turning more-and-more into a passing league, you just can't have enough cornerbacks anymore. Both the Draft and Free Agency offer many options for the Bengals to choose from as both have many suitable candidates to fill the position well. They could also use help with a pass rushing specialist to help apply pressure on the Quarterback. The defense really did play well all things considered. If they can force a few arrant passes and intercept a few more balls, this unit could really be a force to deal with.
The Bengals had a very good draft last year and found a franchise Quarterback in Andy Dalton and stud Wide Receiver in A.J. Green to build the offense around. Can another piece be added this year (Trent Richardson or Michael Bush) to resemble the big 3 of the Dallas Cowboys from the 1990's ?? With the cap room that they have as well as 2 first round picks, the stars may be aligning for the Bengals to enter the upper echelon of the NFL.