Wide receiver was a big question for the Cincinnati Bengals entering the 2008 NFL Draft. In early April, they let go of troubled wide receiver Chris Henry after he was arrested for the fifth time since 2005. The latest arrest was the final straw for a team trying to shake a tarnished image in the media.
The troubles do not end there, however. All-Pro wide receiver Chad Johnson wants out of Cincinnati and is threatening to sit out until he is moved. The Bengals have refused to blink in this ordeal, having shunned interest from the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys while turning down a trade offer from the Washington Redskins. The club has a mandatory full-squad minicamp from June 12-14 with training camp set to begin in late July. At this point, it appears as though neither side is going to concede anything in this dispute. Johnson's absence would obviously leave the Bengals with a huge hole to fill in their offense.
Finally, the Bengals other All-Pro wide receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, turns 31 this year and is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The team did not have much depth behind him - wide receiver Antonio Chatman was their No. 3 receiver following Henry's release - and looked to address that situation in this year's draft.
Restocking the shelves
In 2001, the Bengals had success drafting two wide receivers from the Northwest. With the fifth pick in the second round (36th overall), the team took Johnson out of Oregon State. Five rounds later, they took his teammate Houshmandzadeh with the fourth pick in the seventh round (204th overall). Johnson is already the all-time receptions leader in Bengals history, while Houshmandzadeh needs just three catches to move past Cris Collinsworth into third place.
Fast-forward seven years and the Bengals have again taken two talented wide receivers, though this time both came in the first three rounds.
With the 46th overall pick in the draft, the Bengals nabbed wide receiver Jerome Simpson from Coastal Carolina University. Simpson did not receive the exposure of many big-school players; however, his stock jumped after some outstanding workouts this offseason. Separating from defensive backs could be a problem in the NFL without a great second gear, but Simpson should be a solid receiver in the short- to mid-range routes, according to offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. He weighs 190 pounds and stands 6-foot-2. An impressive vertical jump (41 1/2 inches at Coastal Carolina's Pro Day) and great hands should make him a tough matchup in the NFL. He finished his college career with 2,720 receiving yards on 161 receptions and 44 touchdowns.
Simpson wasn't the only receiver to join the Bengals, as they also selected University of Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell with the 97th overall selection.
Caldwell comes from the opposite end of the spectrum than Simpson. He played in one BCS National Championship Game with the Gators and was part of the receiver-friendly offense run by Florida head coach Urban Meyer. Caldwell is a speedy receiver (4.37 40-yard dash) that can stretch the defense. Unlike Simpson, he also has experience in the return game. Caldwell will be fighting a perception that Florida receivers can't make it in the NFL, but he potentially gives the team a deep threat.
Those two guys weren't the only receivers selected in the draft. With their final pick, the team grabbed University of Louisville wideout Mario Urrutia. A disappointing, injury-plagued 2007 campaign saw Urrutia manage just 501 receiving yards with only three touchdowns. At 6-foot-6 and 232 pounds, he would provide quarterback Carson Palmer with a huge target, but he needs to overcome some concentration issues and injury problems to make the team.
The team has not announced any plans for their new additions. One should note the Bengals have only had a rookie receiver catch more than 40 passes in a season three times. If Houshmandzadeh and Johnson are both starting come September, the rookies could be better options in keeper leagues, though Henry made himself a viable fantasy player as a No. 3 receiver in the Cincinnati offense.
The team believes Simpson can make an impact in the passing game as a rookie. With his size, he gives them a different look than the quicker Henry; he should have success working inside and on underneath crossing routes. As for Caldwell, look for him to work on special teams and possibly as a deep threat, especially if Simpson gives the team a decent option on the shorter routes. It is unsure how Urrutia would fit into the team's offense if he makes the club, but he could give them a substantial red zone target. Nothing has been said on how the players will be used, but look for more updates once organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamps take place.
What was there before
The rookies have been looked at so now we will take a quick glimpse at what was already in place in Cincinnati.
The team relied heavily on Houshmandzadeh and Johnson last year. "Housh" led all NFL receivers in utilizations with 179, while Johnson was not far behind with 169 (fourth overall). They finished with 1,143 and 1,440 receiving yards, respectively. Houshmandzadeh finished with 12 touchdowns to Johnson's eight. When both are playing, they are one of the top receiving tandems in the league - even if Johnson can be a bit inconsistent.
After those two, there is a steep drop-off in talent. Prior to the draft, Chatman was a candidate to be the team's third receiver. He has managed just 22 receptions for 171 receiving yards in the past two years. He stands just 5-foot-8 and is best utilized in the return game. Two other receivers on the roster, wideouts Glenn Holt and Marcus Maxwell, combined for 17 receptions and 148 yards. They figure to be fighting for roster spots in training camp.
Fantasy football outlook
Assuming he eventually comes around and reports in time for the season, Johnson has value as a solid No. 1 wide receiver. Consistency has been an issue for him as he had a tendency to disappear for stretches last year, but he has accounted for more than 85 catches and 1,250-plus yards in each of his last five seasons.
Houshmandzadeh's value could vary depending on Johnson's status as he should be viewed as a weak No. 1 if Johnson sticks around. He is especially valuable in point-per-reception leagues where his 112 receptions last year were huge. If Johnson moves on, his value would drop to being a strong No. 2 receiver.
Chatman, Holt and Maxwell all had little value before the draft, and their stock did not improve much with the new additions. They should not be touched in any fantasy leagues.
For the young guys, their value is hard to determine this early into their careers. However, Simpson is thought to be the most NFL-ready of the group and is expected to become the team's third receiver. View him as a weak No. 5 option in single-year leagues with modest upside if he wins the job. Caldwell should not be drafted at this point and Urrutia is hardly a lock to make the team, though were one of them to surprise and earn the third receiver role they would move up to a No. 5 fantasy receiver. The value for each of them increases in keeper leagues.