<
>

Re-grading the Bengals' 2014 draft class

CINCINNATI -- Just after the NFL draft last May, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. gave the Cincinnati Bengals and the other 31 NFL teams grades assessing the way they built upon the talent they already had with their latest crop of potential young stars.

In the Bengals' case, he gave them a "B" grade.

On Thursday, he unveiled a post-season re-gradeInsider. Without giving the grade away, let's just say he had a slight change of heart about Cincinnati's latest draft class. Jeremy Hill was as productive as one would expect a second-round pick to be, he contended. But Darqueze Dennard, the Bengals' first-round pick at No. 24 overall, was -- and continues to be -- an unknown.

It's primarily because of the questions Kiper still has about Dennard that he shifted the Bengals' grade a tad.

I can understand why he did, but I disagree with using Dennard as the focal point of making the re-grade in this instance. If any player ought to have been the reason behind a possible change in grade, to me, it should have been center Russell Bodine. The fourth-round pick was lauded all last offseason for his strength and ability to have impact in the running game.

He showcased both at times, but as Kiper pointed out, he wasn't very consistent at doing so. With respect to his run-blocking ability, Bodine received from Pro Football Focus the lowest grade in that category (minus-5.4) of any Bengals offensive player.

Like Bodine, the Bengals had other members of the 2014 draft class who for now remain works in progress. Defensive end Will Clarke (third round) was used more regularly late in the season as the team tried to shake up its defensive line rotation in an effort to create a better pass rush, something it had struggled with all season. Fifth-round pick AJ McCarron spent the bulk of the season on the physically unable to perform list and barely had any time practicing with the rest of the team.

Sixth-round pick Marquis Flowers impressed on special teams but did little to flash on defense the few times he came in as a backup. Like Hill, seventh-round pick James Wright impressed. One year after not catching a single pass in his final college season, Wright had five catches for 91 yards before an injury forced him to be inactive for the final five games of the 2014 season. In his final game, Week 13 at Tampa Bay, Wright had three catches for 59 yards. All went for first downs.

Fellow seventh-round pick, cornerback Lavelle Westbrooks, didn't pan out and failed to make the team coming out of training camp.

With respect to Dennard, the young cornerback's time will come. He suffered from having too many good, veteran corners ahead of him on the depth chart. He'll certainly have a larger role next season. It's one that could be even larger if the Bengals don't bring back Terence Newman in free agency. Remember, while Dennard may have played very little on defense, coaches raved about him all season. Head coach Marvin Lewis even considered him one of the best young defensive players he's seen in some time.

When this class gets re-graded in another two years, it could be higher than a "B," particularly if Bodine and Clarke come along as hoped.