Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 4/28/12
That no other team in the NFL drafts like the Cincinnati Bengals is more fact than theory, something that's been going on for years with mixed results. In the just-completed 2012 NFL Draft, there's a possibility nobody drafted as well as the Bengals. Nobody really "wins" the draft, not for years, anyway, and not until actual wins come on the NFL's big stage in December and beyond. But the Bengals used their eight picks to both address immediate needs and add prospects to what already looks to be a bright future. They're now a physically bigger, more complete team on both sides of the ball than they were three days ago. They're still the Bengals, perpetually intrigued by big defensive backs and wide defensive linemen and not afraid of players with a little baggage. The hope inside the Bengals organization is that first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick will eventually be an anchor at corner, first-rounder Kevin Zeitler will be an anchor at offensive guard and an offense headlined by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will appreciate how both can help. The Bengals added size and strength to both lines, adding strength in numbers to the defensive front. Marvin Lewis always talks about the physicality it takes to survive in the AFC North, and the Bengals want not just to survive but to thrive. All of the draft picks -- from the first-rounders on down -- still have to catch on, produce, stay healthy, stay out of trouble, etc. But the Bengals added a bunch of guys who had reason to believe they'd go earlier in the draft than they did. They mixed need with value, added some key pieces in some spots and depth in others, and come away from the weekend a better team than they were before it. That's the case all around the league. But with the young pieces already in place and a second-year offensive system preparing for its first offseason work, the Bengals have positioned themselves to make a significant move towards residing among the AFC's upper echelon, not just visiting every so often. With Kirkpatrick, fifth-rounder Shaun Prater and a mix of veterans added or kept via free agency, the secondary should hold up. With second-rounder Devon Still and third-rounder Brandon Thompson joining an already established defensive line, a strength got stronger. Dalton got a guy used to catching a ton of passes in traffic in Mohamed Sanu in the third round. The later picks -- a lot like the ones that preceded them -- were used on proven producers at the college level, all from top-flight college programs. At very least, the Bengals took guys on chances worth taking a chance on. Kirkpatrick and fourth-round tight end Orson Charles come from the SEC, and Charles joins Green and four others as former Georgia players on the Bengals roster. Suddenly, the "typical" Bengals pick is becoming a guy used to the bright lights and high standards and tested vs. top competition. So often in the past, a typical Bengals pick was a talented player with baggage, a "splash" player at a skill position who offered sizzle but maintenance. Just 16 months ago, this team still employed both Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and a separate group of guys who played on Sundays and made court appearances on selected weekdays. Charles had a DUI last month. He swears it was a one-time mistake, and the Bengals were willing to take him. He fits well in a spot where he'll learn from the incumbent, Jermaine Gresham, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants to play multiple tight ends, give defenses multiple looks, make opponents pay for paying too much attention to Green. Charles did 35 reps on the 225-pound bench press at the NFL Combine in February, a record for tight ends. Injuries -- to the pass-catching group as a whole, not just at the tight end position -- prevented Gruden Wide receiver Jones and 6'4 safety George Iloka were selected with picks in acquired in trades for Chad Ochocinco and Keith Rivers. The extra first-rounder and a second-rounder next year came in the trade with the Raiders for Carson Palmer, highway robbery considering Palmer never planned to play for the Bengals again. In Sanu, the Bengals have a slot receiver and chain-mover. Jones could be the same, though he figures to start behind Sanu and Jordan Shipley. Sixth-rounder Daniel "Boom" Herron will put pressure on Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard and the Bengals suddenly have a decent stable of backs, a better than decent stable of pass-catchers and a chance to be good. The standards are suddenly different in Cincinnati; the expectations are, too. The Bengals are still more hunter than hunted, still largely unproven against the top teams and the top teams in their own division. Where they go from here, based on past precedent, is anyone's guess. Where they go from here, based on a roster that's young and talented, is going to be fun to watch.
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