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No prime-time drama nets solid ratings

Posted Apr 25, 2010


Carlos Dunlap

On this day after the draft, you know the Bengals must have done something right.

No national publications have declared war on them. No stern draftessors have given them a D-minus. They didn’t trade, they didn’t reach, they didn’t surprise, they didn’t panic. They went infomercial in prime time. In the last three days they’ve had less air time than Mike Mayock, the NFL Network’s estimable draft analyst sidelined by laryngitis.

Solid but not flashy. It was a T.J. Houshmandzadeh draft, not an Ocho draft. Which is how this Carson Palmer Supplementary Draft is going to be ultimately graded.

And everyone you talk to in and out of the organization believes the Bengals have found the successor to Houshmandzadeh’s savvy and reliability in third-round pick Jordan Shipley.

And, “your quarterback has to be doing cart wheels,” said a former NFL general manager shortly after the Bengals made Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham their No. 1 pick. “Every great quarterback needs a tight end and this was the best one. He’s the real deal. He can run, he’s big and he can catch.”

Indeed, if Shipley and Gresham become Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry, respectively, those guys that Palmer trusted were going to be there on third down and in the red zone, then Palmer is going to have 2005-like numbers.

“Gresham is a great pick for the Bengals because of the value and need,” said one AFC scout. “I had (Rob) Gronkowski rated higher because he’s a better in-line blocker and has a bigger catching range. But they had a big need and Gresham is a big-time talent. Any time you get the best player at a position and it’s at a position you need, it’s a great pick.”

Shipley gets as much love even though he doesn’t run all that fast. But the former GM pronounces him un-bustable.

“He’s a poor man’s Wes Welker,” he said. “You’re not going to have him run deep, but he plays fast, he finds holes, he’s instinctive, he’s smart, and he has great hands, and he can return for you.”

Gresham and Shipley are going to end up defining this draft, but it is the selections of second-rounder Carlos Dunlap and sixth-rounder Dezmon Briscoe that reflect how the Bengals went about restocking an AFC North championship roster.

“I thought the Bengals had a good draft,” the AFC scout said. “I like Shipley. He’s really going to help Carson.”

The Bengals tried to trade up and get USC safety Taylor Mays in the second round, but they held to team president Mike Brown’s old saw of not giving up too many draft picks. They were rewarded with Dunlap at No. 54, Shipley at No. 84, and Georgia defensive tackle Geno Atkins at No. 120. Two pass rushers and a pass catcher.

Those were two needs, but there were also safeties and guards there, needs that were just as pressing. As head coach Marvin Lewis said, “We stayed true” to the board.

Jerry Jones, the former Cincinnati pharmacist who publishes the draft survey, The Drugstore List, talked to about 10 league evaluators to come up with a consensus of where they had all the prospects rated. Where the Bengals ended up taking them is in parenthesis:

Gresham 20 (21), Dunlap 39 (54), Shipley 94 (84), cornerback Brandon Ghee 71 (96), Atkins 91 (120), linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy 134 (131), guard Otis Hudson free agent (152), Briscoe 83 (191), center Reggie Stephens free agent (228).

In his post-draft analysis, Lewis said the Bengals did a good job of having prospects slotted where the rest of the league had them.

“The one thing I’ll tell you is that if you look at our draft board, there are only a couple of guys left above on the board,” he said. “I think our process is pretty good. Obviously you don’t want six or seven guys you were looking at still remaining on the board when you’re done selecting.”

But instead of being a good thing, ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who gave the Bengals a C,  turned it around with “Everywhere you look on the Cincy draft board, you see players you assumed could go much higher. But that also means they took risks on guys,” and pointed to Gresham’s knee injury that kept him out of 2009.

Which just goes to show you can’t please everybody.

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com gave the Bengals a B-plus and offered, “I really like the haul they had in this draft. Getting tight end Jermaine Gresham will really help the passing game. So will Shipley. The Bengals' drafting as of late has really paid off."

Jones says the only reach he sees is the 6-5, 312-pound Hudson, a guy whose power and feet the Bengals really like. He is athletic enough that the University of Minnesota put him at defensive tackle as well as at guard during his two seasons there, and he transferred to Eastern Illinois to play tackle. It looks like the Bengals see him as right guard Bobbie Williams’ backup.

But Jones also points to another guard uninvited to the NFL scouting combine that got drafted even before Hudson, Tennessee’s Jacques McClendon taken by the Colts late in the fourth round.

“I thought the Bengals had a great draft,” Jones said. “I think there were several cases they got players later that had higher grades. And they filled a lot of their needs.”

The AFC scout and the former GM are really high on the Ghee pick even though he had just one interception in 33 starts.

“I like Ghee athletically and he can run. He can come in right away and I think he’ll play (the nickel),” the scout said. “(Mike) Zimmer will find a way to use him.”

The ex-GM thinks Zimmer is the key to making Dunlap reach his potential. He says Dunlap's biggest concern isn’t his DUI, since that is his only character blemish.

“What bothers me is his up and down play,” he said. “You put on the tape and on one play you say, ‘Wow, how can anyone block him?’ Then on another play it doesn’t look like he’s trying. If Zimmer can light him up, they’ve got something there. Physically he’s a top 10-15 guy. He’s got long arms. He can block field goals. The impressive thing is after the DUI, he came back and had big Sugar Bowl with two sacks. You’re talking about a guy that is going to be 6-6, 280 and he ran a 4.59 (in the 40-yard dash). That’s freakish. That’s what you’re looking for.”

The only time the Bengals may have made a move based on position over talent was when they passed on a couple of highly-rated tight ends, BYU’s Dennis Pitta and USC’s Anthony McCoy. That would indicate that they’re still banking on re-signing Reggie Kelly. But they already had Gresham and they were able to get another pass rusher and guard.

They went back to going best player in the sixth with Briscoe and it opened a window into the draft process. Briscoe had some off-field problems, but tight ends coach Jon Hayes has a good relationship with Briscoe’s former head coach, Mark Mangino (they worked together at Oklahoma), and he was able to get some information that made the Bengals feel comfortable drafting Briscoe.

But due diligence never gets headlines.

Instead, ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha offered on the Dunlap pick, “There's just something about the Bengals and their attraction to troubled athletes…. Now he'll get the chance to be a second-round steal if he can avoid those problems in the NFL. Sure, it could be a challenge for a player on a team that has had a recent history of locker-room headaches. But Dunlap's size (6-foot-6, 275) and athleticism made him worth the gamble.”

Which would have been a relevant paragraph about three years ago. But Kiper gave Tampa Bay a B-plus and never mentions the troubles of Syracuse receiver Mike Williams.

So, it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. The Bengals stayed pat and the Pats, as usual, didn’t.

“It depends on your philosophy,” said the ex-GM. “The Patriots and the Eagles, established teams, have shown they’ll trade to get up and down. But there are good teams that don’t do much of it. The Giants. The Colts. And the Ravens don’t do much of it because they like their picks.”

For the Bengals, they’ll take no drama.

 

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