Couldn't agree more. Berman is one of the top 10 (wait...let's double check ESPN's roster...), top 5 talents ESPN has. In fact, I propose a White House petition to bring back, back, back, back, back the Berman/Jackson NFL Primetime.
WR Antonio Bryant, WR Matt Jones, CB Pacman Jones, FS Gibril Wilson, K Mike Nugent.
Early Draft Picks:
TE Jermaine Gresham, DE Carlos Dunlap, WR/KR Jordan Shipley, CB Brandon Ghee, DT Geno Atkins, LB Roddrick Muckelroy.
RB Larry Johnson, WR Laveranues Coles, TE J.P, Foschi, CB Keiwan Ratliff, K Shayne Graham.
2010 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
Wasn't Carson Palmer supposed to be the guy to carry the Bengals into the playoffs? Cincinnati's aerial attack, once the strongest of all four areas (run offense and defense; pass defense), was an unbelievable liability in 2009. The four traits were ranked 26th, 9th, 6th and 7th in the NFL. Witnessing Palmer actually limit the Bengals' Super Bowl chances was probably something that Cincinnati fans thought they'd never see.
The Bengals aren't going to sneak up on anyone in 2010, so they'll need Palmer to improve. Palmer threw for 3,094 yards, 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last year. The key numbers were his 6.6 YPA and 60.5 completion percentage, both of which were worse than the respective stats he compiled his rookie season (6.7, 60.9).
Injuries have clearly taken a toll on Palmer. From the hit he suffered against Kimo von Oelhoffen in the playoffs four years ago, to the multiple injuries he has sustained to his throwing arm, Palmer is a shell of his former self. This offseason, three NFL analysts, Peter King, Scout's Inc.'s Matt Williamson, and Ron Jaworski have all expressed concern over Palmer's health going forward. Palmer recently stated that his arm is stronger, so it'll be interesting to see if he can bounce back to anywhere near Pro Bowl level.
Palmer's 2009 numbers were also the product of a lacking supporting cast, with the word "lacking" being a huge understatement. Chad Ochocinco was his only reliable weapon, and once Darrelle Revis erased him from existence in a playoff game, Palmer had nowhere to turn to. For this reason, it's obvious why Palmer was so frustrated that Ochocinco missed most of the OTAs. Ochocinco has seemingly appeared on every $10 reality show in existence this spring, and clearly is not focusing heavily on football at the moment. Now 32, Ochocinco can't just waltz into training camp and expect to get into perfect football shape in a short period of time.
It looks like Ochocinco could have a down year, which makes Cincinnati's offseason acquisitions that much more prevalent. The team signed Antonio Bryant to a 4-year, $28 million deal in March. There's no denying Bryant's talent - he had 83 receptions, 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns in 2008 - but he has always disappointed after signing a new contract. Unless Bryant has matured, Cincinnati won't be getting a well-behaved or completely focused No. 2 receiver.
Two offensive additions were made during the 2010 NFL Draft: Tight end Jermaine Gresham was selected in the first round, while wideout Jordan Shipley was obtained in Round 3. Gresham figures to be a major red-zone weapon for Palmer, while Shipley is expected to beat out incumbent Andre Caldwell for slot receiver duties.
Unlike the receivers, Cincinnati's offensive line did a great job as a whole last year. Guards Bobbie Williams and Evan Mathis shined until the latter suffered an ankle injury in late November. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was heavily penalized (12 infractions), but allowed just two sacks after Week 4. Center Kyle Cook did a solid job as well.
The only problem area up front, ironically, was the right tackle position; the Bengals spent the No. 6 overall selection on Andre Smith in the 2009 NFL Draft to play there. Andre Smith barely saw action, as he was too fat and out of shape to be effective. Smith started just one game. His replacement, Dennis Roland, played poorly.
The line should help Cedric Benson carry the offense once again - if Benson's even on the football field. Benson did a great job resurrecting his career by rushing for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns in 2009, but was arrested in May. He could be facing a suspension. If he misses action, impressive second-year back Bernard Scott should do a good job filling in.
2010 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
Marvin Lewis deserves all the credit in the world for transforming Cincinnati's defense into one of the league's elite. When Lewis took over in 2003, the Bengals finished 30th or worse in total defense three times in a span of five years. They were ranked dead last in 2002. This past season, Cincinnati's stop unit was sixth in points, sixth versus the pass and seventh against the rush.
The kicker is that the Bengals could have ranked higher in all three categories had Antwan Odom stayed healthy. Odom led the NFL in sacks with eight in Week 6, when he unfortunately tore his Achilles' tendon. Odom's recovery has gone well, and he's expected to be close to 100 percent by training camp.
Without Odom, Cincinnati really struggled to get to the quarterback. The only other Bengal to accumulate more than 3.5 sacks last year was Jonathan Fanene (6). If Odom isn't at full strength, the team will need second-year Michael Johnson or rookie end Carlos Dunlap to step up as third-down rushers. Robert Geathers, a strong run defender, will once again start across from Odom at left end.
The Bengals have a stud defensive tackle in Domata Peko, but nothing really next to him. Tank Johnson and Pat Sims rotated at that spot last season to no avail. Fourth-round rookie Geno Atkins, who completely abused first-round guard Mike Iupati in the Senior Bowl, could easily break into the starting lineup if he has a strong training camp and preseason.
This defense gets stronger the further you get away from the line of scrimmage. Rey Maualuga did a fantastic job at strongside linebacker as a rookie in 2009. Weakside linebacker Keith Rivers was also strong as a second-year player. Dhani Jones, stationed in the middle, did great for most of the season, but really struggled toward the end. At 32, his skills are quickly eroding. Maualuga will eventually push Jones out of his inside linebacker role.
Opposing quarterbacks found it difficult to throw against Cincinnati's defense because of cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. Both are legitimate shutdown, Pro Bowl-caliber corners. Free safety Chris Crocker is a decent player, but the strong safety position remains an area of weakness. Roy Williams will play on running downs, while Chinedum Ndukwe will take over on passing situations. An upgrade here is desperately needed.
2010 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Excluding the 2008 season when everyone was hurt, the Bengals are 15-10 at home since 2006. That's not an overly impressive record, but it sure beats the results they generated in the pre-Marvin Lewis era.
Though Cincinnati produced one touchdown on special teams, Bernard Scott and Quan Cosby were very effective on kickoffs and punt returns, respectively. Scott averaged 31.5 yards per return, while Cosby's figure rested at 11.9. The Bengals didn't surrender a score to opponents.
Shayne Graham choked one too many times for Marvin Lewis' liking, so the Bengals opted not to re-sign him this offseason. Instead, the team is going with either Dave Rayner or Mike Nugent. The two are a combined 20-of-31 (64.5 percent) the past two seasons, as they've apparently tried their best to set placekicking back a few decades.
The Bengals had one of the worst punters in the league back in 2008, which is why they spent a fifth-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft on Kevin Huber. Huber was pretty mediocre as a rookie, maintaining a 43.2 average with 24-of-86 kicks placed inside the 20.
Cincinnati has some really tough opponents on its non-divisional slate, including the Patriots, Saints, Falcons, Panthers, Jets, Colts, Chargers and Dolphins. That's pretty brutal.
2010 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: The Bengals were a projected 10-6 finisher on this site last year, but their 2009 season was a bit of a mirage. Of the teams they defeated, only two made the playoffs (Packers, Ravens). Five of their victories were against truly awful squads (Browns twice, Chiefs, Lions, Bears), and they really struggled to beat the likes of Kansas City, Detroit, Cleveland and Oakland down the stretch, winning the first three by 7, 10 and 9 points, and losing to the Raiders by a field goal.
Furthermore, prior to a meaningless Week 17 battle against the Jets, the Bengals faced only three non-divisional teams that made the playoffs (Packers, Vikings and Chargers), and went just 1-2 against them. Their schedule is so much tougher in 2010, meaning that it's going to be very difficult for them to make a repeat trip to the postseason - especially if players like Cedric Benson get into trouble. They're simply not going to catch anyone by surprise this time.
There is hope though amid the pessimism. If Carson Palmer's throwing arm improves and Antwan Odom is completely healthy, Cincinnati could easily have another winning season. Those are two pretty big ifs, however.
I was shocked by Cincinnati's first-round pick. The Bengals ordinarily don't spend high selections on tight ends who can't block, but I guess the front office felt that Jermaine Gresham was so talented that they should buck that trend. I'd have to agree.
You can't say that the Bengals didn't draft for talent. They obtained Carlos Dunlap in the second round. Dunlap's measurables are off the charts, but he seldom put forth any effort at Florida. Meanwhile, fourth-round pick Geno Atkins is also very skilled (he embarrassed Mike Iupati at the Senior Bowl), but for some reason just didn't produce at Georgia. Cincinnati was able to select these two players because they habitually ignore character concerns.
Overall, I think the Bengals did a really good job - they found two new weapons for Carson Palmer (Gresham and Jordan Shipley) and beefed up a defensive line that was pushed around in a playoff loss to the Jets.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: A-
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
21. Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma
I love Jermaine Gresham as a prospect, but I didn't think the Bengals would consider him because they usually favor tight ends who can block. Still, they're giving Carson Palmer a much-needed dynamic weapon. Great pick. (Pick Grade: A)
54. Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida
A natural fit if there ever was one. Carlos Dunlap is very gifted athlete, but he takes games - not plays - off. The Bengals, of course, don't really care. (Pick Grade: C)
84. Jordan Shipley, WR/KR, Texas
The Bengals absolutely had to find a slot receiver. Jordan Shipley is a natural fit and gives Carson Palmer yet another talented weapon. (Pick Grade: A)
96. Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest
Lots of scouts were high on Brandon Ghee, and there was some talk that he could go in Round 2. The Bengals are getting great value here, and they needed to upgrade the nickel position. (Pick Grade: A)
120. Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
Geno Atkins is really talented - anyone who watched the Senior Bowl saw him humiliate Mike Iupati. The question remains why Atkins started only three games in his senior year, and why didn't he produce in Georgia? I love this pick just based on physical skill alone. (Pick Grade: A)
131. Roddrick Muckelroy, LB, Texas
The Bengals needed a linebacker because Dhani Jones isn't going to be around forever. Roddrick Muckelroy fits this range. Nice pick. (Pick Grade: B)
152. Otis Hudson, G, Eastern Illinois
So obscure that NFL.com doesn't have a height or weight for him. A depth selection at guard, but a poor value pick. (Pick Grade: D)
191. Dezmon Briscoe, WR, Kansas
Projected by some to go as high as the third round, Dezmon Briscoe offers decent value in Round 6. Carson Palmer needs all of the help he can get. (Pick Grade: B)
228. Reggie Stephens, G/C, Iowa State
Another interior lineman for the Bengals. I thought they'd address depth here going into the offseason, so this pick makes sense. (Pick Grade: B)
The 2009 season was an emotional roller coaster for the Bengals. In the season opener, Cincinnati went ahead in the final minutes against the Broncos, only to lose on a fluke Brandon Stokley touchdown. The Bengals did a great job of rebounding, knocking off the Packers, Steelers (twice) and Ravens in the next two months. After the second Pittsburgh win, Cincinnati struggled; the team lost to the Raiders, barely snuck by the Browns and Lions, and were thrashed at Minnesota. Nothing, however, was as bad as losing Chris Henry. The Bengals played their hearts out at San Diego, and even though they lost, they were commended for their effort. After a win over Kansas City, Cincinnati lost twice to the Jets - including a 24-14 playoff defeat.
Jets sign WR Laveranues Coles
Bengals sign WR Terrell Owens
Bengals waive WR Chris Davis
Bengals cut CB Keiwan Ratliff
Ravens sign K Shayne Graham
Bengals re-sign TE Reggie Kelly
Bengals sign CB Pacman Jones
Bengals sign FS Gibril Wilson
Bengals sign K Mike Nugent
Bengals re-sign G Evan Mathis
Bengals re-sign OLB Brandon Johnson
Bengals re-sign CB David Jones
Bengals re-sign C Kyle Cook
Bengals re-sign G Bobbie Williams
Bengals re-sign DE Frostee Rucker
Bengals re-sign G Nate Livings
Bengals re-sign OT Dennis Roland
Bengals re-sign QB Jordan Palmer
Bengals re-sign ILB Abdul Hodge
Bengals re-sign S Kyries Hebert
Bengals re-sign SS Roy Williams
Redskins sign RB Larry "East Coast Cat" Johnson
Bengals re-sign DT Tank Johnson
Bengals sign WR Chris Davis
Bengals sign WR Antonio Bryant
Bengals re-sign TE Daniel Coats
Bengals cut WR Laveranues Coles
Bengals tender C Kyle Cook
Bengals tender OLB Rashad Jeanty
Bengals sign WR Matt "Coke Zero" Jones
No. 2 Wide Receiver: Laveranues Coles was a huge disappointment in 2009. He'll probably be released. The Bengals need to bring in someone competent to play across from Chad Ochocinco. Damian Williams, Arrelious Benn and Brandon LaFell are options in Round 1 of the 2010 NFL Draft. Signed Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant and Matt "Coke Zero" Jones
Tight End: Carson Palmer needs as many weapons as possible. Any addition the Bengals make at tight end will likely be an upgrade. Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez would look good in black and orange. Drafted Jermaine Gresham
Free Safety: Chris Crocker is a marginal player at free safety. If Earl Thomas somehow falls to the Bengals at No. 21, they won't hesitate to draft him. Signed Gibril Wilson
Slot Receiver: Two upgrades are needed at wideout. Andre Caldwell caught a couple of big touchdowns last season, but didn't do much else. The Bengals have been linked to Mardy Gilyard. They could take him in the second round this April. Drafted Jordan Shipley
Nickel Corner: I can't say I'm a fan of Morgan Trent at the nickel position. Competition could be found in Rounds 3-4 of April's draft. Drafted Brandon Ghee; signed Pacman Jones
Strongside Linebacker: Dhani Jones, 32, is entering his contract year. He's been solid at middle linebacker for Cincinnati, but he should begin to regress quickly now that he's into his 30s. Rey Maualuga can step into Jones' position in 2011, so the Bengals will need a new strongside linebacker. This could be addressed in Rounds 3-5.
Kicker: How many more big kicks will Shayne Graham miss for the Bengals? It's almost as if he has money on the other teams.
Defensive Tackle Depth: If Tank Johnson isn't re-signed, depth will be added at defensive tackle. Drafted Geno Atkins
Guard Depth: Bobbie Williams, 34 in September, is a free agent. He'll probably be retained, but the Bengals will need depth at the position.
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Antonio Bryant, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 29. Signed with Bengals (4 years, $28 million)
There's no denying Antonio Bryant's talent. He's a gifted receiver. But would I want him on my team? Absolutely not. He's a locker room toad who causes too many problems.
Terrell Owens, WR, Bills. Age: 36. Signed with Bengals (1 year, $2 million)
Terrell Owens had only one 100-yard game in 2009. His pedestrian quarterbacks didn't help, but neither did Owens' declining skill set. At 36, he's not worth the trouble anymore.
Gibril Wilson, FS, Dolphins. Age: 28. Signed with Bengals (1 year)
We now know that Gibril Wilson isn't worthy of a massive contract. However, he would make a very good backup somewhere.
Pacman Jones, CB, Cowboys. Age: 26. Signed with Bengals (2 years)
A big reason why Cedric Benson was so successful this year. Evan Mathis didn't allow a sack all season.
Shayne Graham, K, Bengals. Age: 32. Signed with Ravens (1 year, $1.5 million)
Shayne Graham has hit at least 80 percent of his field goals every year since 2002. However, he completely gagged in the playoffs, missing two easy kicks. You have to wonder if that will impact him psychologically going forward.
Divisional Rival History: Baltimore Ravens: Marvin Lewis owns his former team. He's 9-5 against the Ravens. The Bengals have won five of the past seve meetings. Cleveland Browns: Carson Palmer is 8-2 lifetime against the Browns. No surprise there given the difference in talent at the quarterback position. Pittsburgh Steelers: Though the Bengals swept the 2009 series, the road team has mysteriously claimed seven of the past nine meetings. Go figure.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)