Sunday, April 18, 2004

Last three drafts have produced mixed bag


Class of 2001 was solid, Class of '02 was weak, and jury still out on '03

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Bengals' haul in the past three drafts has resulted in almost the exact number of starters and backups in relation to league-wide averages.

In the 2001, 2002 and 2003 drafts, six of the Bengals' selections started in 2003 and another 12 were backups last year.

An analysis of the previous three drafts shows an average of six players who started for their original teams and 11.6 players who were backups.

Heading into their fourth season, the group of players drafted by the Bengals in 2001 is shaping up as one of the best in franchise history.

Three starters were taken that year: defensive end Justin Smith, wide receiver Chad Johnson and running back Rudi Johnson. Also remaining on the roster from that draft are wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh and offensive lineman Victor Leyva. Gone are tight end Sean Brewer and linebacker Riall Johnson.

The 2002 draft, which yielded starting left tackle Levi Jones, is shaping up as one of the worst in recent franchise history. Three of the six picks are no longer Bengals - second-round safety Lamont Thompson, fourth-round kicker Travis Dorsch and seventh-round defensive end Joey Evans.

The experiment of taking kicker-punter Travis Dorsch in the fourth round was a disaster. The organization mismanaged Dorsch, failing to decide whether he was a kicker or a punter. He never attempted a field goal, and in his one game as a punter, Dorsch had two of his punts returned for touchdowns.

On the plus side from 2002, tight end Matt Schobel is a valuable backup, and safety Marquand Manuel - a sixth-round find - was a valuable special teams performer.

The Bengals did get productivity from their 2003 class. Guard Eric Steinbach, at No. 33 overall, started 15 games and has the look of a Pro Bowler. Quarterback Carson Palmer will start this season after a year on the bench. The offensive picks had more of a chance to play, especially wide receiver Kelley Washington and fullback Jeremi Johnson. Coach Marvin Lewis has said the defensive players drafted in Rounds 4-7 will get more opportunities to play this season.

The Class of 2003

A look at how the Bengals' most recent draft class performed as rookies and what to expect in 2004:

Round Overall Player Pos. Comment
1 1 Carson Palmer QB It's his team now. After one season and no snaps, Palmer starts ahead of Jon Kitna. Inside word is he'll learn best by making mistakes on the field.
2 33 Eric Steinbach G A rush on defensive linemen pushed this first-round talent into the second round, and he improved rapidly in 15 starts as a rookie. He's big but can move, and shifty linebackers and defensive backs can't juke him when he pulls. He'll be even better with a healthy elbow.
3 65 Kelley Washington WR A good sign to Bengals coaches is Washington's dissatisfaction with his rookie performance of 22 catches and four touchdowns. He was like a lot of rookies, inconsistent.
4a 98 Dennis Weathersby CB A shooting victim the week before the draft, Weathersby was essentially put on scholarship in 2003. He had a limited role on special teams in four games and was expected to compete for significant playing time in 2004. He faces an uncertain future after suffering a head injury in a car accident Monday. He remains hospitalized.
4b 118 Jeremi Johnson FB He was a gem of a find who started 13 games and played in all 16, showing improvement as a blocker as the season wore on. Johnson and Johnson (Rudi) could be the team's starting backfield for years to come.
5 136 Khalid Abdullah LB A sleek, under-sized linebacker, he made an immediate contribution on special teams and has added weight in an attempt to play more defensively.
6 174 Langston Moore DT Active for the final four games but did not play, the 303-pounder from South Carolina will have a chance to earn a backup role.
7a 215 Scott Kooistra OL At 6-6, 320 pounds, he played in eight games, mostly on special teams, and is the kind of player with starter potential that coach Marvin Lewis looks for on Day 2. Kooistra could challenge for playing time at guard and tackle.
7b 259 Elton Patterson DE Lewis likes Patterson's speed as an outside pass rusher, and he, too, will get a long look in the preseason.
Where are they now?

A breakdown of Bengals' drafts from 2001-2003 (22 picks):

2003 starters: 6

DE Justin Smith, WR Chad Johnson, RB Rudi Johnson, LT Levi Jones, G Eric Steinbach, FB Jeremi Johnson

'03 backups: 12

G Victor Leyva, QB Carson Palmer, TE Matt Schobel, OL Scott Kooistra, LB Riall Johnson, DE Elton Patterson, DT Langston Moore, LB Khalid Abdullah, S Marquand Manuel, CB Dennis Weathersby, WR Kelley Washington, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh

On other teams: 3

TE Sean Brewer (Atlanta), S Lamont Thompson (Tennessee), K-P Travis Dorsch (New England)

Out of NFL: 1, DE Joey Evans

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E-mail mcurnutte@enquirer.com




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