Wednesday, March 4, 2009

This Just In: Cedric Benson Isn't The Savior

Let's start this thing off with the most inappropriate text message that's ever been sent (courtesy of my buddy Cam): "Do you think Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith are partying with Bison Dele right now?

Onto other matters...

The Bengals re-signed Cedric Benson, but their running back issues are far from being resolved. I know, I know, I'm simply stating the obvious here, but maybe not. In today's Enquirer, in the article titled "Benson's ready for full time," some guy named Joe Reedy wrote the following line: "With Benson signed, that means the Bengals do not have to draft a running back early in the April 25-26 draft and can focus on other needs, like the offensive line. It is possible they would consider drafting a running back in the late rounds for depth."

What? Late rounds? Consider? Isn't running back still a priority? Why not round three? Hell, why not anything after round one, so long as a true difference-maker fell to you? Listen, Benson averaged less than three-and-a-half yards-per-carry last season, right on par with his career he suddenly the savior? Has he ever proven that he's capable of full-time duty? I concede he's talented enough to earn carries in the league, but is he anything more than a spoke in the wheel? Just because he was the best RB on the roster last year doesn't mean he was worth a crap -- it merely means he was contending for playing time with washed-up hacks. There's a difference.

Anyway, I'm happy the Bengals signed Cedric Benson to a reasonable two-year contract, and he might turn out to be the savior, but I wouldn't bet on it. Unfortunately, Mike Brown is in control, and it's entirely possible he has his man, meaning that the running back position won't be given the necessary attention it deserves for the second consecutive offseason.

If recent history has proven anything, it's that you should never go more than two years without spending a mid-round pick on a running back. There are more competent players at RB than at any other position in the NFL. Hell, there are guys we've never heard of -- from NFL bench-warmers to undrafted free agents who never get a fair chance -- who are quite capable of an 1,100-yard, 8-TD season. I think this is because, in a pinch, all a running back really needs to do is read his blocks and trust his instincts. Sure, it helps to be an intelligent player, but a missed block here or there is forgivable if you've rushed for 130 yards on the day.

Anyway, the Bengals really shouldn't rely on Cedric Benson as a workhorse, with the usual suspects (Chris Perry, Ken Watson, DeDe Dorsey, etc.) waiting in the wings. They need some new blood, some fresh legs. Look at last year's first seven backs taken after the first round and tell me the Bengals should stand pat:

Matt Forte and Ray Rice (2nd round); Kevin Smith, Jamaal Charles and Steve Slaton (3rd round); Tashard Choice (4th round -- and remember, the Cowboys already had Marion Barber in the fold, and drafted Felix Jones three rounds earlier); Ryan Torain (5th round). All contributed in some way in their rookie year.

(Note: Peyton Hillis was taken in the 7th round.)

That's remarkable. Now, most years aren't going to be like 2008, but they certainly could. Regardless, the running back position should never be neglected. I understand if you don't want to grab one early, but always grab one. Injuries happen, you know? More often at RB than any other positon (or at least it seems that way). But it's also the one position where an organization should never ever ever ever EVER be caught with their thumb up their ass -- just as the Bengals were in '07 and '08.

Draft a RB in the 3rd or 4th round! Any one! Preferably a fast one. They're out there. Trust me.

(Bengals update: My brother just told me the Bengals spent money on Laverneus Coles. My initial reation: I don't like it. I'll comment on this later. For now I have to go to work.)

-Brad Spieser (