Scott Engel recently spoke with new Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green
It is apparent that a new era is beginning in Cincinnati football. Carson Palmer wants out of town, and Chad Ochocinco’s days as a Bengal may be over as well. The Bengals certainly have to rebuild, yet they wasted no time in doing so this spring. They drafted a prime wide receiver and their quarterback of the future in April.
Andy Dalton may endure through some natural struggles if he is asked to start right away at QB. But A.J. Green, the No. 4 overall selection in the draft by Cincinnati, appears to be an instant impact player. The Georgia product has drawn raves from scouts and pro football experts as possibly one of the very best wide receivers to come out of the college ranks in the past decade.
At 6-5, 205, Green is a matchup nightmare for any defensive back. With his tremendous athleticism, instincts, playmaking ability and great feel for the game, Green is one of those more rare prospects who can instantly make his presence known at the NFL level. He also seems to know how good he can be, even right away.
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“I can make that transition to the next level because of the way I work,” Green said. “I’m going to be great.”
Even in the remote case that Ochocinco returns, the Cincinnati WR corps reeks of mediocrity. Once upon a time, the Bengals had the most feared pass-catching crew in the AFC. The drafting of Green shows a commitment to bringing back the air attack that has long been a hallmark of the franchise, dating back to the days of Carl Pickens, Cris Colinsworth and Isaac Curtis.
“I felt like Cincinnati was the best fit for me anyway,” Green said. “That’s where everybody linked me to, and I felt a bond with (offensive coordinator) Jay Gruden.”
Most mock drafts had Green going to the Bengals, and they landed a potential superstar with great hands and tremendous agility and body control. Green jumps off the tape when you watch him on film. He knows how to work defensive backs, he can make catches in traffic, he is a red zone standout and makes all the easy and difficult catches. He also has game smarts, which you can hear when he is asked what his strengths are that will give him advantages at the pro level.
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“I think it’s my speed and the way I come in and out of my breaks,” Green said. “My hands, the way I can attack the ball when it is in the air.”
Some of the criticisms leveled against Green are that he will need to bulk up at the pro level and he needs some work on his route running skills. He also is not explosive after the catch. Plus, he will possibly be working with another rookie this season, Dalton, a pairing that could ultimately prove to be fruitful in the future, but would really battle inexperience and inconsistency in 2011. A combination of a rookie QB and top WR could be an instant death knell for the Bengals offense in 2011, even with Green’s potential to make an immediate splash. Green also knows there will be a lot of pressure on him to help upgrade the offense and fit into a rich offensive tradition.
“I’ve got a lot of big shoes to fill, but I’m up for the challenge,” Green said. “It’s back to square one, so I’ve got to prove myself.”
The Bengals would be best served to somehow convince Palmer to stay in town, or acquire another veteran passer to bridge the gap to when Dalton is truly ready to start. While Green is so gifted almost any QB could throw the ball in his vicinity and he could make a play, he would help the Bengals maintain offensive respectability with an experienced passer getting him the ball. It would not be easy for Green to get loose often with a rookie passer against the likes of divisional rivals like the Steelers and Ravens. Green already knows the challenges he will face in the AFC North.
“Those are great defensive teams and they have some great defensive backs,” Green said.
Ultimately, though, no matter what hurdles he must overcome early in his career, Green is destined for stardom. He and Atlanta’s Julio Jones could be linked forever as the prime standouts of the 2011 receiving class. Jones was taken sixth overall, the second time in the past four years two WRs were taken in the Top 10.
“It says a lot, because you don’t really see two receivers going in the Top 10,” Green said. “To make the next step from college to the NFL is unbelievable.”
For those who play Fantasy Football, Green’s immediate value will hinge on his quarterback situation. He can be an instant starting option if he does not have to work with Dalton right away. Green does not hesitate and cracks a smile when asked if he will be a good Fantasy selection.