The Cincinnati Bengals have changed their culture in recent years. They have cleansed themselves of flashy names like Carson Palmer and stopped drafting players who had major legal issues.
This team has drafted well and revamped their organization. That raises a question the Bengals have said “no” to recent years: Can they afford to select a player with off-the-field issues?
Last season they chose Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round. He had a few minor character issues, but nothing the Bengals weren’t aware of. They picked him over Janoris Jenkins, who had plenty of off-the-field drama.
Their careers started off on opposite paths. Jenkins played very well in his first season with the St. Louis Rams, while Kirkpatrick sat out most of the season due to injury. Kirkpatrick isn’t a projected starter going into next year, and it looks like Jenkins could be a Pro Bowler before his career is over. Jenkins had as many interceptions in his rookie season (4) as Kirkpatrick had tackles.
Jenkins fell to the second round because of his trouble away from gridiron. There is no reason to knock the Bengals for passing on him. However, this season their locker room has a strong veteran presence. Players like Domata Peko, Andrew Whitworth, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton lead this team. Are the Bengals willing to draft a player who had off-the-field issues?
Tyrann Mathieu is one of those players. Every team in the NFL could use a guy like Mathieu who has the rare ability to make plays on defense and special teams. In 2011, he finished third in Heisman voting and is one of the most talented players in this draft.
He was dismissed from LSU because of drug use and missed all of the 2012 season. Mathieu should be available when the Bengals make the 21st pick in the draft. Are they willing to use it on a player like Mathieu who has top-ten talent, but has had off-the-field trouble?
With the NFL Draft just 21 days away, the Bengals are entering crunch time as they continue to meet with prospects. It will be interesting to see if they are open to drafting players who had troubled college careers.