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Bengals feel a draft

Posted Apr 21, 2009

Updated: 8:50 p.m.

While head coach Marvin Lewis downplayed the Bengals' lust for an offensive tackle Tuesday, he didn't hide their intent that they would take a wide receiver at any point even though they took two in their first 97 picks last season.

Lewis also insisted that any move wouldn’t affect the status of five-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco even though he's coming off his worst season since he was a rookie and he's in another offseason funk.

"I don't know why people continue with the speculation of moving Chad," Lewis said. "Many times we've reiterated, I don't know if we're keeping count on this, Chad's not getting moved. ... I don't know if any team that goes through a draft doesn't draft a wideout. I'm sure there will be at least 32 receivers picked in this draft by 32 teams. Chances are we probably take a wideout at some point in the draft."

Lewis said even though the Bengals picked wide receivers Jerome Simpson (second round) and Andre Caldwell (third) early last year, that doesn't rule out a highly-rated receiver this year. And even though another high pick would give the Bengals a combination of five veterans and top rookies excluding The Ocho (the pick would join Laveranues Coles, Chris Henry, Caldwell and Simpson), Lewis stressed Ochocinco's experience and said the draft wouldn't affect his roster status.

After some feelers came up with no concrete interest in a trade for Ochocinco before the NFL scouting combine back in February, any buzz has been muted in the last month in the wake of him not showing up for offseason workouts for the second straight spring and younger receivers like Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards on the block.  

"You're going to carry a glut of those guys and if we can get a guy that could help us and give us some upside, I think that would be helpful," Lewis said. "It would not (impact The Ocho). I don't think we're going to pick a guy that's going to be better than Chad. I haven't seen that guy yet."

Two draft analysts don't expect that receiver to come early in this weekend's draft, like say in the second, third or even fourth rounds. Not with The Ocho in the fold and no signs of a Draft Day trade.

But Jerry Jones, the former Bengals draft room insider who publishes the draft survey The Drugstore List, and Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, say there are going to be plenty of guys there that can play.

"I would think at the top of (round) three there would be somebody there," Jones says. "There always is because somebody always slips through."

Jones points to what he calls a T.J. Houshmandzadeh-type guy in Matthew Stafford's go-to guy at Georgia in the 6-1, 209-pound Mohamed Massaquoi, a guy with 4.5 speed that catches everything. Also in the mix at the top of the third could be Penn State's Derrick Williams, a 5-11, 198-pounder who scored a lot of touchdowns a lot of different ways. With the Bengals in dire need of return people his punt return for a score and two kick returns for a score this past season would have to be attractive.

And how could North Carolina's Brandon Tate lure them? He could be available in this region because he blew out his ACL and MCL early last season, but when he did he was averaging nearly 28 yards on kick returns and nearly 23 yards on punt returns.

"He's a bonafide return man," Jones says.

But could the Bengals use a pick on a guy with an injury that typically takes two years for a player to get back to where he was? Rang can't understand why the Bengals would go for a receiver that high with no plans to move The Ocho.

"They've got too many other holes," he says. "At that point they can go running back, or tight end, or even get a pass rusher."

But Rang admits that receiver is the deepest position in this draft and it's attractive because there are more NFL-ready players who have come out of big-time programs, except for Cal-Poly's Ramses Barden, projected by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., to go 69th to Dallas and a pick before the Bengals in the third round.

Rang thinks if Coastal Carolina's Simpson and Florida's Caldwell came out in this draft, they'd be taken half-a-round later.

"There is plenty of speed as you go down the list, but what else comes with it?" asks Jones of the knock that negates the speed and knocks them out of the first two rounds.

Rang's version of this year's Simpson is the 6-0, 195-pound Mike Wallace out of Mississippi. His route-running is questioned, Rang says, but his superb athleticism allowed him to lead the SEC for the second straight year at 20.1 yards per catch, he returns kicks, and he scorched the combine with a 4.28 40-yard dash. Kiper sends him to Carolina late in the fourth round.

"He's still learning, but he's played in a big-time conference," Rang says.

One small-school guy that could get a call late is Abilene Christian's Johnny Knox. OURLADS Scouting Services makes him the first pick of the seventh round to Dallas and he's one of Rang's favorites with a 4.29-second 40 at the combine. At 5-11, 183, the knock on Knox is size and competition and he only averaged 7.4 yards on punt returns.

But not all 11 draft picks are going to make the club, Lewis reminded Tuesday, yet seven or eight would help, he said. Which is why Jones and Rang are pointing more at running back early in the draft than wide receiver.

"Someone with speed to complement Cedric Benson," Rang says.

But this is not the draft of backs last year that had burners like Chris Johnson and Steve Slaton. If none of these receivers are going to knock The Ocho off the roster, then the recently acquired Gary Russell is going to give the potential draft pick all he can handle in the derby to be Benson's No. 2.

If there is a guy that symbolizes this lunch-pail crew its Dayton's own Javon Ringer out of Michigan State. At 5-9, 205, he's not flashy but he's tough, relentless, can return kicks and contribute on special teams. Rang fears the Spartans may have beaten him up for the pros with a nation-leading 390 carries. OURLADS sends him to the Rams in the fourth, three picks ahead of the Bengals. Kiper has him going 20 picks later.

"If you're looking in the third round I like Virginia's Cedric Peerman," Rang says. "He's a good all-around back and he's got some speed (4.34 combine 40) and can catch the ball. But he's got small hands."

If it is speed the Bengals want, their best shot may be the guy they coached at the Senior Bowl in Purdue's Kory Sheets. He's 5-11, 206 pounds and showed some zip at the combine with a 4.42 40. He looks ticketed between the fourth and fifth rounds and has the baggage of getting suspended from media interviews for calling out some people publicly and not being an all-around back. But he had a good week in Mobile.

If history is any guide, the Bengals will take two guys they coached against in the Senior Bowl and none that played for them. Liberty's Rashad Jennings had a good game playing for the South in Mobile and has the kind of size the Bengals like at 6-1, 232 pounds, which makes his 4.59 combine 40 easier to take.

"He plays tough and he's a high character guy," Rang says. "He's not explosive, but he's ready for the NFL. He's willing and can do a lot of things."

He can catch, rarely fumbles, and his style has been compared to that of Jamal Lewis. He transferred from Pittsburgh to be 10 minutes from his ill father.

Marvin Lewis says he's being careful not to be swayed good or bad by the players he coached or saw in Mobile back in January.

"You just don't let the coaches' grade overrun the whole process. That's kind of what happens when you kind of get some affection for a guy you spent a little more time with positively or negatively," Lewis said. "Even for me, having the exposure to those guys for a week, it was important for me to go back and look at their body of work rather than the four or five days with us down there on the practice field."

Lewis says he doubts the Bengals are going to trade up from No. 6 in the first round, but wouldn't rule out trading down, something the Bengals have done in the first round once during his seven seasons as coach.

As for trading up in other rounds, he said they have to weigh it between "the value of the player that is here and ... the opportunity to pick one of these six or seven later on possibly, depending how far the process moves."

Lewis said teams received the drug test reports from February's NFL Scouting Combine the end of last week and they apparently have contradicted some published reports. On Tuesday, SI.com retracted a story that Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji tested positive for marijuana in Indianapolis.

"Anything that came out prior (to the end of last week) was just pure speculation," Lewis said. "It's really unfortunate some of those players have to answer to those things for so long so early when there was no substance to it."

Asked if the report changed his mind on any prospect, Lewis said no because "anybody can post anything on the Internet. Look at what happens every day."

Every blog with a board has the Bengals taking a left tackle, be it Jason Smith, Andre Smith or Eugene Monroe after a season the Bengals finished last in offense while giving up their most sacks (51) in eight years. Plus, they lost right tackle Stacy Andrews to free agency and left tackle Levi Jones is an injured question mark.

Instead, Lewis alluded to three other names, the returners that played tackle last year in Andrew Whitworth and Anthony Collins on the left and Dennis Roland on the right. Collins and Roland made their NFL debuts in the ashes of injuries.

"We feel real comfortable with some guys we already have in-house in doing the things we need to do to play productive football," Lewis said. "I don't think we're going in saying we need to get a left offensive tackle. We have three guys who played the spot last year for us here so I don't think we're going into the draft thinking that way."

The one tackle continually linked to the Bengals is Alabama left tackle Andre Smith, thought by many to be the best tackle on film but the biggest risk because of weight and maturity issues. But Lewis stressed Smith is not in his doghouse and pointed to the heavy NFL experience of Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban and offensive line coach Joe Pendry.

"This guy's perception has been all over the yard. In spending time with him, it's a positive," Lewis said. "You've got to look at his background, look who he's played for. This guy has played for a couple of pretty good coaches, and, secondly, he's played for some guys that have been in the NFL for a long time. We've got to respect the opinions they have of the player. Guys like that, it's the fun part of this process when you get down later and you get more of a chance to spend time around these guys. I don't get a chance to visit some of the campuses like I used to, but at least when we bring some of the players here I do get to spend the time, and if I can get out to the campus I love to go."

Also Tuesday, Lewis joked how it appears to be an offensive draft after four straight Aprils of taking a defender in the first round in observing defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer might not have to come to the draft room until the second day.

"Mike's getting worried. He's wondering if he doesn't have to show up until Sunday, if he has to come in at all," Lewis laughed. "We'll see what happens. ... We're missing two of those guys that were taken early (linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman in the first two rounds of '05), but things happen. We can use some young talent in different spots. We know we want to be more competitive at our positions on defense. Just because you ended up the season as a player on this team defensively, we still try to get better. We're still looking to improve our pass rush and we're working hard at it in-house, but we also can maybe improve it with some position players."

Lewis also said the waiver wire pickup of Russell from Pittsburgh pretty much means open season in a backfield where Benson is the starter and veterans Chris Perry and Kenny Watson are battling to stick. Particularly if the Bengals keep just three running backs.

"I think he gives us a chance to get another guy to compete for the running back spot," Lewis said. "Last year we weren't sure who the backs were going to be. It started out being Chris and ended up being Ced as the starter and Ced wasn't in the camp last year. So Gary ought to come in here and feel, 'You know what? if I'm a good player, I'm going to get a chance to play.' So there is no lineup put to rest right now, so come in and compete and see what happens."
 

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