Grading the Bengals’ 2010 draft

This season as been a disaster, but one of the few bright spots of 2010 for the Bengals was their draft in April. Let’s take a closer look:

First round, tight end Jermaine Gresham: I wanted Dez Bryant – and still think he’s going to be a star in the NFL – but there is no question Gresham is a very-exciting talent at the TE position. But he’s not just living on potential; he’s been productive as a rookie with 47 receptions for 409 yards (8.7 yards per catch) and three touchdowns. He is without a doubt the franchise’s best tight end since Rodney Holman. Gresham is a freakish athlete (6-foot-5, 261 pounds) with great hands and he’s only going to get better with time. If he’s able to stay healthy, we’ll be talking about one of the best tight ends in the NFL in a few years.

Second round, defensive end Carlos Dunlap: He was considered a possible steal when the Bengals nabbed him and he’s more-than lived up to the hype. Dunlap leads the team by far with five sacks (no one else has more than two) and is a physical force at his size of 6-foot-6, 277 pounds. Dunlap is really starting to come on now at the end of his rookie season and the future appears glaring bright for him. In addition, the future status of Antwan Odom is up in the air, and the other starting defensive end – Robert Geathers – has also seen his production fall off. Dunlap is a likely starter for the foreseeable future. (And I’d like to see Michael Johnson paired with him as the other starting DE – at least on passing downs. Jonathan Fanene – who has been hurt this season – might also be a starting DE next year.)

Third round, wide receiver Jordan Shipley: The Bengals hit this one out of the park. I thought Shipley might be a sneaky-good pick, but I didn’t think he would be nearly this good. Through 13 games, he has 47 receptions for 569 yards (12.1 ypc) and two touchdowns. He’s fearless going over the middle (despite a hit earlier in the season against the Browns that might make other receivers gunshy), does a great job getting open and catches nearly everything thrown in his direction. Plus, he can get yards-after-catch. Add it all up, and the Bengals found a keeper here in the third round with the 5-foot-11, 193-pounder. He is the ideal NFL slot receiver.

Third round, cornerback Brandon Ghee: I thought this was a good pick at the time because Ghee was considered the top corner left on the board and the Bengals needed depth at the position behind starters Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall. However, Ghee has been banged up for most of the season (he’s on injured reserve and won’t play the final three games) and hasn’t been able to show what he can do. Cincinnati landed the 6-foot, 192-pound Wake Forest product with a compensatory pick and if he’s going to stick with the Bengals he’ll need to impress the new coaching staff during the offseason and in camp next year.

Fourth round, defensive tackle Geno Atkins: Man I love this kid. It’s rare to find good pass-rushers from the DT position, but Akins has the potential to be a great one. He just has a knack for beating his man at the line of scrimmage and getting to the quarterback. It’s not showing up in the stat-book this season (he has 1.5 sacks) but there have been several occasions in which he’s forced an incomplete pass because he drilled the QB just as he was throwing the ball. And he’s led to other players (like Dunlap) getting sacks because Atkins was able to flush the quarterback out of the pocket. Atkins is a long-term asset for sure and was a steal this late in the proceedings. The knock on him is his size (6-1, 293) but he plays bigger than that and has tremendous burst and quickness. And it must be repeated: You just don’t see defensive tackles with those kind of pass-rush moves.

Fourth round, linebacker Roderick Muckelroy: He was a productive player at Texas and this appears to be a solid pick in retrospect. Nothing spectacular and Muckelroy might never be a starter at this level, but he looks like a decent special teams guy and backup LB. The Bengals landed him with their second compensatory pick of the ’10 draft and he helps give the roster quality depth at the bottom. Muckelroy doesn’t have great speed, but he’s not slow, either. And he brings nice side to the gridiron at 6-2, 246.

Other draft picks: The Bengals’ other picks in the 2010 draft were: OL Otis Hudson (fifth round), WR Dez Briscoe (sixth) and center Reggie Stephens (seventh). Only Stephens was able to make the active roster.

Grade: We won’t know the true grade of the Bengals’ 2010 draft for another 2-3 years. But as it stands right now, I give the team a solid A-. They did good with their top picks in Gresham and Dunlap, and also found some nice steals with Shipley and Atkins. All four of those guys should be impact players for the next several years and if you get that much quality out of one draft, you did well.

Why not A or A+ then? Well, as good as it was, let’s not kid ourselves. It wasn’t some out-of-this-world draft that we’re going to be looking back years from now as the draft that turned the Bengals into perennial playoff contenders. But the bottom line is that fans should be pleased about the 2010 haul. I sure as hell am. (And we need some freakin’ good news after this sinkhole of a season.)