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Mulling draft needs

Posted Feb 18, 2011

The Bengals go into next week's NFL scouting combine with the potential there is no free agency before the April draft because of the CBA stalemate.

The experts are saying teams can't panic and have to draft as usual, which means don't reach for need.

Even before quarterback Carson Palmer's trade-me-or-trade-me demand, this figured to be an offensive draft for the Bengals, but the rule still applies. You can't take a quarterback at No. 4 just because you need a franchise quarterback. He better be there. The same holds true in every round, where the Bengals could draft for need on each pick. But they need to be careful that need doesn't make them reach.

With running back Cedric Benson a free agent, wide receiver Chad Ochocinco's status way up in the air, and left guard a needy spot, those would seem to be positions on the list. The good news is that the glut of defensive talent in the first round should push down some pretty good backs and receivers.

The Bengals may have been mulling taking a quarterback in the middle rounds long before Palmer's walk in the woods, but certainly not one that would replace him right away. So what impact does the trade demand have? Do they take one early now?

If the Bengals decide there isn't a QB worthy and don't reach at No. 4, won't they be rewarded with a premium defensive player (LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson or Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley), or the best receiver in the draft in Georgia's A.J. Green?

And corner may be a need with Johnathan Joseph headed to free agency. The Bengals want both Joseph and Benson back. But with the transition tag for a corner at about $12 million and the transition tag for a back at about $8 million, they apparently have decided they need to get them at a lower cap number. The risk is they could lose them on the market.

The one glaring defensive need is safety. And with new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's scheme of the West Coast variety, tight end may be a position that also has to be addressed with 34-year-old Reggie Kelly unsigned.

Eschewing need and drafting the best player has served the Bengals well on this roster, starting in 2006 in the second round. With Levi Jones in place at left tackle, return man Devin Hester would have been a boon at the 55th pick. But since Hester had no true position, LSU left tackle Andrew Whitworth graded out higher and the Bengals took him even though they planned to re-sign Jones. Whitworth became the team's best offensive linemen after Jones was lost to injury two years later.

In 2009, before Kyle Cook emerged, the Bengals were looking for a center and Max Unger out of Oregon was there in the second round. But USC linebacker Rey Maualuga was clearly the highest-rated player on the board and they stuck to the grade.

And in a sense they did that last year when they didn't overpay on a trade up to get USC safety Taylor Mays in the second round. At various points the Bengals would have had to give up the picks that turned into defensive end Carlos Dunlap, wide receiver Jordan Shipley and defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Dunlap led AFC rookies in sacks, Shipley led AFC rookie wide receivers in catches, and Atkins had three sacks, most by a Bengals defensive tackle since John Thornton had three in 2008 and 2004.

And shouldn't linemen always seem to take precedence if there isn't much difference? In 2007 the Bengals opted for Auburn running back Kenny Irons in the second round when USC center Ryan Kalil was there. Irons never made it to a regular-season game and they found their back of the future on the street in Benson.

 

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