With the 2013 NFL Draft approaching, Around The League will examine one big question facing all 32 teams. Next up: The Cincinnati Bengals.
Will the Bengals add an X factor on offense?
The Cincinnati Bengals are at a crossroads. Two straight playoff appearances tell the story of a young team with a promising defense on the rise. But in back-to-back playoff losses to the Houston Texans, quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals' offense have fallen flat when it mattered most.
With the 21st pick in the draft, the Bengals can use help at outside linebacker and safety -- and an upgrade at center wouldn't hurt -- but nothing would help the Bengals more than the draft's most exciting playmaker, West Virginia running back/wideout/return threat Tavon Austin.
Now hear me out: I like Andrew Hawkins in the slot, but this pick is less about filling a hole and more about re-imagining the way this team attacks opponents. Austin has plenty of hype around him, but his tape is mind-blowing. Concerns over his 5-foot-8 stature aside, Austin hints at Percy Harvin-like qualities and would give the Bengals something no AFC North rival has in its storehouse.
Consider this from NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles:
Go back and watch January's wild-card flameout against the Texans. The Bengals were a frustrating bunch. On one hand, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer did a fantastic job designing a game plan that kept the Texans at bay, but the Bengals' offense couldn't take advantage.
There were too many situations last season when taking receiver A.J. Green out of the game was enough to shut down the Bengals. A player like Austin -- if he isn't long gone by the time the Bengals are on the clock -- would terrorize defenses underneath and force opponents to account for space all over the field.
Offensive play is evolving and tumbling toward new horizons, and Austin would take the Bengals somewhere they've never been.