NEEDS RATING KEY
5.0 - High priority. This is a position that is a glaring weakness and there is the likelihood that this team cannot compete next year without making a major addition here.
4.0 - Medium Priority. This is an area that is an obvious weakness, but the team isn't quite desperate to make a major move here possibly because they have some young potential. But this is an area that if the team cannot fix via free agency, will definitely use one of their picks in the first three or four rounds to supplement.
3.0 - Upgrade Potential. This is a position that isn't a weakness per se, but there is significant room for an upgrade. If the right player comes along they will certainly snag him, but if they don't fix this position with a major free agent addition or early round pick, then it's not the end of the world.
2.0 - Depth Need. An area where there is a need to add depth. Perhaps there is an aging veteran and they might want to start to look at grooming his heir apparent or replacement. Not likely to be a high priority and a position that more than likely will be address in the middle and late rounds rather than with a top pick.
1.0 - Future Need. This is an area that is not a priority, and doesn't initially appear as a need. But there is some room to develop some depth for perhaps two or more years down the line. This is usually an area that a team will look at in the late rounds if at all.
0.0 - Non-need. This is a position that is a strength of their team, they have a solid starter, capable depth, and/or a young player at the position that they like and want to develop. Very little possibility this area is addressed and would be the equivalent of a wasted draft pick.
Top 7 Needs
1. WR - 4.0
2. S - 4.0
3. DE - 3.5
4. QB - 3.0
5. RB - 2.5
6. OG - 2.5
7. LB - 2.0
Position by Position Breakdown
Quarterback - The Bengals will have to make a decision on whether or not Carson Palmer will be back. It's hard to see them just cutting outright ties with him since he's been the face of their franchise for eight long seasons, but he's not cheap ($11.5 million base salary in 2011), doesn't want to take a paycut, and his play has not been up to par with his price tag. It would seem that the Bengals would probably try to trade him rather than cut him outright, but finding a good price for a declining Palmer might be hard. But if they do move on from Palmer, then it's back to the drawing board and expect the Bengals to try and target another young signal caller. Even if Palmer manages to survive another year, it's likely that the Bengals won't go to the third day of the draft without drafting someone to groom behind him. NEED: 3.0
Running Back - Cedric Benson's contract is up after the year, and while he's had a nice season, it hasn't been to the level where it was in 2009, and the Bengals may not want to spend the money to bring him at market value. Not to mention he'll be 28 by the end of this season, and at the age where the wheels begin to come off running backs. Bernard Scott has flashed potential as an explosive complementary back, and Brian Leonard is a solid third down back. So even with Benson, they have decent pieces in place off the bench, just need the lead guy to put it all together. NEED: 2.5
Fullback - Chris Pressley is the current starter, and should retain his hold on that gig into next year. He's big and physical, and has enough tools to be a good lead blocker into the future. NEED: 1.0
Wide Receiver - Terrell Owens is a free agent, and while I'm sure there are many within the organization that would want to bring him back, it doesn't make a ton of sense to have him return especially if they are breaking in a new quarterback. Chad Ochocinco may also be on the outs if the team doesn't pick up his option in the off-season. And with his steady drop-off in production it doesn't make a ton of sense from a football standpoint. But who knows, the Bengals organization could have some sentimentality with Chad who has been right beside Palmer as the face of the organization for the past decade. Jordan Shipley has been a productive slot option for them, so he's a nice piece for the future. ANdre Caldwell filled that mantle a year ago ably, but he'll likely be asked to move outside next season. They'll probably look to use a high pick in the draft on a talented receiver to be their No. 1 target, but could also look at veterans. GRADE: 4.0
Tight End - Jermaine Gresham hasn't been quite as productive as many expected this year, but he's a solid piece for the future and if they have the turnover at wide receiver in the off-season, he'll be counted upon to be a key contributor next year in the passing game as a stabilizing force. Reggie Kelly is likely done, although he could be brought back for a veteran minimum as a blocker. But his inability to stay healthy makes that a long shot. Instead, they'll probably bring in a new guy to be a blocker behind Gresham. NEED: 2.0
Offensive Tackle - Andrew Whitworth is steady on the left side, because of his size and run blocking ability. Andre Smith appears to be a bust on the opposite side due to his inability to stay healthy and questionable work ethic. Dennis Roland has been a serviceable stopgap starter there, and Anthony Collins is a nice swing tackle to have. If any moves are to be made it would likely involve adding a new right tackle to replace Smith as the guy that they want to develop for the future. But considering how loyal Bengals management tends to be to many of their high picks, it seems doubtful that they'd give up on Smith so quickly. NEED: 1.5
Offensive Guard - Nate Livings has been the starter at left guard, but has been rotating with Evan Mathis throughout the year. What it means is that the Bengals really don't have a starting left guard they can trust, so they might go into the draft looking for one. Personally, I think the smartest move up front is for them to forget about developing Andre Smith at tackle and move him inside to guard where he can be developed as the heir apparent to Bobbie Williams who will be 35 next year and entering his final year. But if the Bengals don't follow my advice, they should definitely be on the lookout for that player that can be the starting right guard in 2012. Either way, the Bengals will be looking to add insurance and depth here. NEED: 2.5
Center - The Bengals drafted Jonathan Luigs in the 4th round in 2009 because they planned on him being the future starter at center, but Kyle Cook emerged that summer and hasn't really looked back to the point that Luigs is no longer a Bengal. With Reggie Stephens as depth, they are fine at this position. NEED: 0.5
Defensive Tackle - Geno Atkins surpassed Domata Peko as their most productive interior linemen. Throw in the inconsistent, but talented Pat Sims, and you have a nice solid three-man rotation of guys all in the primes of their careers. The Bengals will never turn away from another talented defensive tackle, but it's not really a need, just something that they could use to bolster their rotation. NEED: 1.0
Defensive End - Carlos Dunlap has emerged down the stretch as a practical savior on one of the league's worst pass rushers, with 7 sacks in the past 6 games. Robert Geathers is a nice rotational guy, but has been limited as a pass rusher over his entire career. Antwan Odom has spent too much time in the trainer's room the past two seasons to be considered a reliable option. And Michael Johnson went from outside linebacker to defensive end due to all the injuries, but still looks he's a project. Another young pass rusher to at least add to the rotation and possibly replace Geathers is needed. NEED: 3.5
Linebacker - Dhani Jones has been a capable starter in the middle, but he's going to be a free agent this off-season, and it's probably time that the Bengals move Rey Maualuga to the middle permanently. Keith Rivers and Brandon Johnson should be able to handle the starting spots. But they might need to add a backup that can push Johnson and compete with Muckleroy. It's not likely to be a high priority, but certain an area of concern. NEED: 2.0
Cornerback - Hall and Joseph are two of the better pairs of corners in the league, and Adam Jones flashed ability as a nickel guy. But his injury leaves questions as far as their depth goes, and it certainly would not hurt the Bengals to bolster their depth. NEED: 2.0
Safety - They had a bunch of strong safeties here and it showed in their coverage and mistakes in the secondary. Roy WIlliams has been serviceable in MIke ZImmer's scheme, and Chris Crocker was just average. They added Reggie Nelson, and while he still is a talented player, has struggled since his rookie season so he's not exactly a reliable option for them in the future. Ndukwe is a nice backup, but not quite consistent enough to trust in the starting lineup. And Marvin White and Gibril Wilson are more of the same. They will have to decide whether or not they'll bring back Williams and Wilson, both free agents. Basically if a good safety comes along, expect the Bengals to snatch him up with a high draft pick. NEED: 4.0
Kicker - Nugent is coming off a knee injury, but they should be okay with Stitser competing with him next summer. NEED: 0.5
Punter - Huber is young and still developing, and deserves a longer look. NEED: 0.0
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.