Depth is often an afterthought in NFL conversations. The hype and attention falls mostly on the stars, as they are the ones making the biggest impact. When talking about the 2009 season for the Bengals, most of us will discuss Carson Palmer's health and Chad Johnson's (or Ochocinco's or Ocho Cinco's or Ocho y Cinco's or Ocho del Cinco's (just kidding, I know the right one)) contentedness with his situation, and it's easy to see why. These are the guys that get paid the most to produce the most, and are the so-called "leaders" of the team; they're treated as such by all of us.
But even though these stars are often vital to a team's success, there's much more to an NFL team than them.
Consider the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys of the NFC East. Both clubs have great talent -- Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Terrance Newman and DeMarcus Ware for Dallas, Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and a bunch of high-priced defenders for DC-- but failed to reach the playoffs last season. Most mainstream analysts lazily assumed the teams' failure came to be as a result of too many distractions and poor chemistry, but the real reason? Depth
While only having slightly more injuries than the average team, as measured by Football Outsider's Adjusted Games Lost, the injuries suffered meant more to both teams because of the severe drop-offs at certain positions, such as cornerback and quarterback for the Cowboys. If competent back-ups were in place, the 'Boys most likely would have won at least one or two more games, putting them into the postseason. Ideally no injuries would occur to either team and the bench players wouldn't be needed, but in such a physical game, this is unrealistic.
It's also something Mike Brown fails to understand. Yes, the Bengals had a ridiculous quantity of players go down last season (last in AGL), and that number is sure to regress this year. But while Mike "gets" that part of the game, he doesn't seem to know that injuries will occur, particularly in such a hard-hitting division as the AFC North and with the league's worst training staff (as judged by FO's Almanac and injury-guru Will Carroll), unless a great deal of luck happens to occur.
Teams should never be dependent on luck, but the Bengals might be this upcoming season on offense due to numerous depth issues. The key to getting depth is to draft well, not just in the first round but in all rounds*. Second-round picks are a valuable commodity, not something to be thrown away on a project from Coastal Carolina (I don't care if Jerome Simpson plays well in 2010, it's still not a good pick).
*Is anyone besides me noticing that the two teams I mentioned above (Washington and Dallas) both have a great deal of influence from their owners in personnel decisions?
Look at the Patriots and, sadly, Steelers. Both understand the sheer importance of depth and the value of draft picks, and rarely waste them as such. You would think that Mikey Boy could grasp this concept after watching Pittsburgh win two Super Bowls, but with only one scout and a will to make money, this hasn't and almost definitely will not ever happen.
So with this in mind, let's look at the offensive depth Mike put together this season (Defensively, with so many draft picks spent on fixing it, the depth isn't great in some parts but is solid overall). Remember to keep in mind that even though it's possible for no one to get hurt, it's very likely that at least a few starters do sit out for extended time, and teams should be prepared for it.
Quarterback: 2- JT O'Sullivan 3- Jordan Palmer
"Quarterbacks are like queen bees."- Mike Brown.
This says it all. Carson Palmer has to be looked at as a fragile player by now, not because he has a weak body, but simply because of his potentially damaged arm and knee. But since he may be threatened by someone not awful backing him up, Mikey Boy put his terrible brother and, literally, the worst QB in the NFL to qualify on the team. O'Sullivan finished dead last in Football Outsider's DYAR statistic (a counting stat based off of his play-by-play performance) at -414. This means that JT was worse that a replacement-level QB last season, and should probably be out of the league or certainly relegated to a third-team position by now (why oh why did we sign him? Oh yeah, because the front office was probably fooled by a few high-yard games compiled because of an easy opponent and Mike Martz's offense). If Carson goes down, be prepared for extreme ugliness.
Running Back: 2- Kenny Watson 3- Brian Leonard 4- DeDe Dorsey/Bernard Scott/James Johnson
During this upcoming season, there's a decent chance Cedric Benson will miss at least a game due to his physical running style. I like Watson in limited action, but he's 31 and not durable. There's little chance Leonard or Dorsey are able to do much. Scott has potential; will he ever get on the field though? Overall, the depth from top to bottom truly sucks here. Signing Derrick Ward or even JJ Arrington would have been nice to do.
Wide Receiver: 3- Chris Henry 4- Andre Caldwell 5- Antonio Chatman 6- Jerome Simpson
This group is more potential and less dependability. With two starters in their thirties and in Bob Bratkowski's pass-heavy offense requiring lots of three-wide sets, all four of these players are fairly important. Henry has never played a full season; Caldwell and Simpson still haven't proven anything; Chatman is 30, coming off a major injury and may have to return punts again. Wouldn't it be just swell to have someone other than Simpson who, you know, produced at a major school and could play right away? I guess that's not what second round picks are for- oh wait, I just explained that they are.
Offensive Line: RT- Anthony Collins RG- Scott Kooistra C- Dan Santucci/Jonathan Luigs(?) LG- Evan Mathis LT- Dennis Roland
There are plenty of bodies on this rebuilding offensive line's bench, but not much talent that we know of. If Andre Smith cannot start at the beginning of the regular season because of a holdout, then the line's depth becomes even worse.
So in conclusion, the Bengals don't have a very strong offensive bench. Many of these players will make their way into the starting lineup because of hurt players. Just blaming injuries for a team's failure and then wishing they'll eventually go away is asinine and a pathetic approach to making a football team so, naturally, Mike does it. Drafting players to provide dependable bench-support is a must, but the Bengals are either unable of unwilling to do it. I know it's cliche, but expect the unexpected. I for one do not want to listen to Mike Brown talk about how injuries ruined the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals, which featured an offensive unit that would have done well. Unfortunately this, just like expecting a clean sixteen-game season, is entirely unrealistic.