As the Bengals ponder a franchise quarterback with the fourth pick in a draft that is now four weeks away, there seems to be a good chance the three teams ahead of them are going to make the decision for them.
According to Thursday's Bengals.com Mini Mock, beat reporters for the Panthers, Broncos and Bills indicate Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are going to be gone by the time the Bengals are on the clock. But it is so early in the process that those calls are made cautiously, tentatively and speculatively.
And with the Bengals still set to meet with Newton and Gabbert at Paul Brown Stadium in the next two weeks and reportedly working out Newton privately next week (and probably Gabbert at some point), they have also yet to make a definitive decision as they prepare to crunch the information when they gather as a group in a week or two.
Darin Gantt of The Rock Hill Herald believes it is Newton's to lose as Carolina closes out its decision making for the draft's No. 1 pick, but if the Panthers back off Newton he believes they won't go with Gabbert. Mike Klis of The Denver Post says the Broncos are looking to trade out and if they can't, they'll take Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller. But then again, the Bengals No. 4 pick is believed to be on the block, too, if the price is right. Like everyone else in the top 12. Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News says if the Bills are convinced at No. 3 one of them is a franchise quarterback, they'll take him.
"But they're still evaluating," Gaughan says. "And it's uncertain who they like better."
Which may tell you all you need to know about Newton and Gabbert.
Seven teams from the Nos. 3-12 slots need a quarterback desperately and yet there is nary a peep about a trade up to get either one.
They're good prospects, but not slam dunks, and so the analysis is taking a little longer. For the Bengals it's not a decision to be taken lightly with their quarterback asking for a trade, no free agency in sight to get a veteran to replace him, and no timetable for a rookie to learn the ropes. Still, the specter of Akili Smith at No. 3 is inducing them not to panic as they also intently break down cornerbacks, wide receivers and defensive linemen at the top of the draft.
The most intriguing quarterback trades are the ones the teams can't make yet because of the lockout.
The Broncos haven't said it, but it is believed that veteran Kyle Orton can be had for a draft pick. Klis has also speculated that Denver would be interested in Bengals quarterback
One of the many things chilling trades is the unknown of a rookie wage scale, which figures to be part of a new collective bargaining agreement. Without knowing what a pick would be worth, the conventional wisdom is no one would trade up. It's one of the reasons that Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, doesn't see a major trade from, say, No. 1 to No. 10 Washington.
"Maybe a few spots, but no more," Rang said.
Plus, as Gaughan says, trading up isn't exactly in the M.O. of Ralph Wilson's Bills and Mike Brown's Bengals. Gantt says given the experience of Panthers general manager Marty Hurney, he could look to trade down and may end up calling Cincinnati.
That '95 specter will be more haunting than the '99 Ghost of Akili. The only time the Bengals have ever traded up, they gave the fifth pick and second-rounder to those Panthers for Ki-Jana Carter for the 1995 overall No. 1 pick. If the Bengals had stayed put, they were prepared to draft future two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Kevin Carter at No. 5 and future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin with that second-rounder.
So that would be a polite, "No."
If the Panthers get cold feet on Newton or can't trade it, Gantt sees Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus as the next option. Klis sees Dareus potentially in Denver, but only if the Broncos trade back to later in the top 10. Gaughan says the Bills are going to end up drafting more defensive players than offense and they could start at No. 3 if the final evaluation steers them away from Newton and Gabbert.
Rang says there is still little separation between Newton and Gabbert.
"It just depends what you want," Rang said. "With Newton, there's tremendous upside as well as tremendous downside. With Gabbert, he'd be solid, but you're looking at a guy that has a ceiling."
Bottom line of this Mini Mock?
Don't write it in pen.