Building on success; Bengals draft with purpose

CINCINNATI – The 2013 NFL Draft is complete and the Bengals have added 10 new names to the roster. That’s about as much as we know at this point. Look down the list, from Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert taken in the first round to South Carolina center T.J. Johnson selected in the seventh round, and you’ll find players who fill a role, a need and who, if things go according to plan, will make the Bengals a better team.

But no one knows at this point how that will work out.

It’s silly to give grades out on drafts right after they’ve been completed, yet the practice is still done in an attempt to answer the questions of “How’d they do?” and “Who were this year’s winners and losers?”

From afar it looks like the Bengals had a good weekend. They’ve added punch to an offense that limped down the stretch last season, scoring just seven touchdowns in the final six games, with their first two picks in Eifert and running back Giovani Bernard. In the next three picks they added help at safety (Shawn Williams) and linebacker (Sean Porter) with players who could compete for playing time this season as well as the intrigue of defensive lineman Margus Hunt, who in four years has gone from world-class track and field athlete to bona fide NFL prospect.

Most importantly, they stayed true to their philosophy. They’ve used the draft to look ahead to the future. They didn’t have to get players who must start this season but they got guys they project will start at some point for them, maybe this year. They got players who have room to grow.

“You’ve got to stay ahead of the game in the National Football League,” said Lewis. “You can’t just plan for one season. You’ve got to plan probably for at least a three-year plan on those things.”

The 2009 class was 11 players deep. The Bengals have re-signed five of those players to second contracts after getting right tackle and former first-round pick Andre Smith signed to a three-year, $18 million deal on Friday. The 2010 class included nine picks. Four of the first five picks from that draft are still with the Bengals, including All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who was a fourth-round selection.

The Bengals have drafted 38 players in the last four years, not including this year. There are 25 of those players still on the roster.

This year’s class included seven on the offensive side of the ball. Five of Saturday’s six picks were on offense; after Porter, from Texas A&M, was taken in the fourth round, the Bengals selected offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson of Kansas in the fifth round, Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton in the sixth round and offensive linemen Reid Fragel of Ohio State and Johnson in the seventh round.

Out of the 10 drafted players, third-round pick Williams at first glance has the best opportunity to start in Week 1 at Chicago simply because of the need for the Bengals to find someone to play next to Reggie Nelson in the secondary.

“That’s provided guys an opportunity to grow,” said Lewis of the drafting strategy. “They’re kids that have good intellect to them, so they’re smart players. They come in here better decision-makers and I think that’s helpful as you move forward. As you keep building the football team (and) because we didn’t go into the draft saying ‘Boy, we’ve got to get that guy, we’ve got to get this position’ and so forth, we feel good about things where we are.”

The Bengals offseason started with the challenge of 23 potential unrestricted free agents. They were able to re-sign 14 of them plus add one ‘name’ free agent from outside the organization in former Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison. They went into the draft looking to supplement and build and they’ve appeared to accomplish that goal.

Time will tell.

“The only way you convince anyone that you’re there is you’ve got to be successful on the field,” said Lewis. “We’ve had a degree of success on the field, not to the degree we want to be. I think the only way to do that is to keep sustaining it and get further. We’ve got to move through the playoffs and beyond.”