The speculation about what might happen in the NFL Draft that dominates the weeks and months leading up to it only yield to more speculation about what could've happened during the NFL Draft in the days and weeks after it ends.
The latter is especially true when it comes to the Bengals.
They selected a player that few find fault with to play a position all of recognize they needed to fill. By all accounts, Billy Price - who was one of the most decorated Ohio State linemen ever - fits the profile of a player whose going to have a long, successful career anchoring an NFL offensive line. He's versatile, having played three different positions, and he durable, having made 55 consecutive starts for the Buckeyes, which is a school record. He is, by all accounts, a smart kid and I enjoyed talking with him after he was chosen by the Bengals last night, immensely.
He obviously fits a need. Not only have the Bengals been searching for a pillar at center for more than a decade, the interior of the offensive line has devolved into a major weakness, something that's destroyed their chances of developing a consistently productive running attack for years. Even as the Bengals suffered from attrition at tackle and guard, the play of Russell Bodine at center has been a sore spot for running backs trying to run behind him, Andy Dalton trying to stay upright in spite of him, and fans who'd grown sick of watching him.
I think Billy Price is a better player than Russel Bodine. He fits what the Bengals need. He's got a good chance at being a very, very good player.
I just wonder if the Bengals could've waited a day to take him.
Here's where the speculation begins, and probably, where it'll continue for a while: What would have happened had the Bengals not drafted Billy Price? Could he have still been there when their turn came up with the 46th overall pick in round two? What other options at center could've been on the table on Friday had the Bengals chosen a player at another position on Thursday?
I don't know that we'll ever really have the answers to those questions, but they're worth asking.
With the 20th pick - just in front of the Bengals - the Detroit Lions began a mini-run on centers by choosing Frank Ragnow from Arkansas. Ragnow is a player that many believed would've been the most ideal center for the Bengals, with many analysts - including radio color man Dave Lapham - predicting that he'd be Cincinnati's pick almost purely out of preference for him over Price? Would the Bengals have selected Ragnow had he been available at 21? More importantly, did Detroit's selection of Ragnow ignite at least some degree of panic at Paul Brown Stadium over whether Ragnow being off the board meant that they had to at least get the next best available center?
It's worth pointing out that Iowa's James Daniels, who was often lumped in with Ragnow and Price as being the only three likely centers to get chosen in round one, is still available heading into round two. Given that no team that picked after the Bengals last night took a center, and with it being reasonable to wonder if Price and Daniels would've both been picked within the first 13 picks of the second round, one can't help but wonder if the Bengals could've spent a first round pick on another position and still gotten one of the two remaining centers not named Frank Ragnow. Had Price come off the board before the 46th choice came up, could Daniels have been a nice consolation price? Would Price have even come off the board?
Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, who visited with the Bengals late in the process, was chosen right after Price's name was called, with the 22nd overall pick. Could the Bengals have upgraded their often shaky linebacker unit and still made an upgrade the next day on the O-line? Could they have taken South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst, thought by many to be the top tight end in the draft, or Calvin Ridley, who admittedly might have been a luxury pick, but was just the second wideout taken? Could they have filled a spot at safety? Or, as far-fetched as it might be to even think about, could they have taken Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, and then picked the guy he might eventually be taking snaps from the following night?
Some of these questions are better, and more realistic, than others of course, but they are questions worth asking, even if we'll never completely know their answers.
I don't ask them out of any dissatisfaction with Billy Price, really even the thought process that could've been as simple as "we need a center, this guy's the best center" that might have led to the Bengals drafting him. The addition of Price has probably made the Bengals better, and their offseason overhaul of the O-line might have made them substantially better. I'm pretty happy with the player the Bengals picked and the position the Bengals addressed on Thursday.
I just wonder if I would've been even happier with those things on Friday.