CINCINNATI -- Projections can be good starting points for establishing foundations for expectations.
For example, without knowing exactly what the 2013 NFL season held for the Cincinnati Bengals, ESPN Insider and draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., projected late last April that the Bengals' newest crop of drafted players would pan out quite well. Just after tight end Tyler Eifert was taken in the first round and running back Giovani Bernard was claimed in the second, Kiper gave the Bengals an "A-" grade for their draft efforts.
The thing about projections, though, is that in order for them to be considered successful or failures, they need to be evaluated once enough time has passed for them to no longer be considered educated guesses.
On Thursday, Kiper did just that when he looked back at his post-draft grades and reconfigured them now that a full season has passed. Every team was regraded, including the Bengals. If he had to put a new letter grade on the 10 picks Cincinnati landed last year, he'd give the class a "B+." You have to be an ESPN Insider in order to read the full article.
Without giving too much away, it's fair to say Kiper is a little unsure about the bottom of the draft class and how good it actually will end up. Even Margus Hunt, the Bengals' third pick in the draft and the second of two second-round selections, has Kiper a little concerned. For those reasons primarily, he dropped the Bengals down ever so slightly.
Is he right? Well, in reference to the bottom portion of the draft class, sure.
Shawn Williams is the only one of the final seven picks who saw a fair amount of playing time this year, participating on the Bengals' special teams units. His tipped punt against the Browns in Week 11 kicked off a series of fortuitous events that ultimately led to a Cincinnati comeback and eventual rout. Not long after his tipped punt, fellow rookie, undrafted free agent Jayson DiManche, blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown by former practice squad player Tony Dye.
Linebacker Sean Porter was injured in training camp and placed on injured reserve. Offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson was inactive most of the season, but played five snaps in the Week 16 blowout over the Vikings after several Bengals linemen, including center Kyle Cook, left the game with injuries.
Running back Rex Burkhead was inactive for all but one game, receiver Cobi Hamilton was used nearly extensively on the practice squad, as was center T.J. Johnson. Offensive tackle Reid Fragel was waived and later signed with Cleveland.
The other three players, Hunt, Eifert and Bernard, were the only ones to see regular action during the season. Hunt only had three tackles, but he appeared in 10 games. He played at defensive end often, but rotated into the defensive tackle position fairly regularly after Geno Atkins' season-ending injury in late October.
Eifert and Bernard were mainstays in the offense. Bernard's rookie year was so successful that he was named to the Pro Football Writers of America's all-rookie team earlier this offseason. He totaled more than 1,200 yards rushing and receiving and had eight touchdowns.
It will be interesting in the coming years to track the progressions of Williams, Porter, Hawkinson, Burkhead and Hamilton. By most accounts, Williams has impressed coaches with his special teams contributions. If that can translate to defense, he could see more playing time in the next year or two. Depending upon how Porter bounces back from his injury, he could aid in the Bengals' depth at the remarkably thin linebacker position.
Hawkinson's growth may go undetected for another two seasons. He's proven to be a typically versatile Bengals lineman, but might not crack the starting rotation until the contracts of some current starters, like Cook, expire. Cook is on contract through the 2015 season. Compared to the others, Burkhead and Hamilton are the current mysteries of the 2013 draft class. It's possible after going through the NFL equivalent of a "redshirt" first season, both will be used more regularly in 2014 and beyond, even though in Burkhead's case, it's clear the Bengals want Bernard to be their running back of the future.