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High-grade effort

Posted Apr 28, 2009

Posted: 4:55 p.m.

The Bengals spent the weekend back on top of the AFC North.

When it came to the draft many of the big-time pundits said they carried the day in a division with three picks that could be argued as the most dominant college player in his phase of the game.

If it wasn't Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree, then first-rounder Andre Smith was the board's most dominant offensive player. Second-rounder Rey Maualuga and fellow linebacker Aaron Curry were regarded as the biggest game-changers on defense. And fifth-rounder Kevin Huber, a left-footed punter, was rated the consensus top special teams player on the board.

"The Bengals had a magnificent draft," says Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. "From a physical standpoint, no one had a better day. I gave them an A and it would have been an A+, but their top two picks were perceived to have had character issues before."

But the Bengals didn't think those issues were major enough now to warrant passing on them. Smith has never had problems with the law and they feel an agent change has helped him. And an altercation Maualuga had at a Halloween party was years ago. Both impressed the staff when they visited Paul Brown Stadium earlier this month before the draft.

Smith and Maualuga may not start out at the positions they played in college (Smith could be a right tackle and Maualuga could play an outside spot), but that's how good the Bengals view their new prized rookies. The coaches should give an idea what they're going to do when rookie camp opens Friday at 10 a.m.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who covered the 1984 Bengals for The Cincinnati Enquirer, had to go back that far to rate Smith, Maualuga, defensive end Michael Johnson and tight end Chase Coffman.

"Might be the most starry top four since Hunley-Koch-Blados-Esiason of 1984," King wrote. "Andre Smith is a potential star left tackle who needs coaching and someone to lean on him. Maualuga is the best tackler in the draft and shouldn't have been there when the Bengals picked at 38 ... Michael Johnson, as inconsistent a player as this draft featured, is a pass-rush-prospect steal at 70 ... Chase Coffman could play early as a second TE for Carson Palmer. Nice day for the Bengals."

One former general manager who has called the shots in the AFC gave the nod to the Bengals over the Ravens.

"Pittsburgh had an average draft and I don't know what Cleveland was trying to do with all the trades," the ex GM says. "I didn't hear Michael Oher there until (the Ravens) drafted him (No. 23) and I don't know where Paul Kruger fits into their defense."

He says the Bengals got superb value through most of the draft.

"Your quarterback is going to love Chase Coffman. And I'll say this: If Andre Smith didn't have the bowl game suspension and leave the combine early, he very well would have been the first player taken in the draft. Any other year, those quarterbacks are second-rounders."

In a survey of grades on nine NFL web sites on ESPN.com, the Bengals grade point average of 3.19 bests the Ravens 3.06, with "The Czar" and The Sporting News weighing in with As.

"I gave them an A because of the first two picks. In five years, they've got a chance to be great players," says John Czarnecki of Foxsports.com. "I talked to one guy with a team who thinks if things go right with Maualuga, in five years he can be one of the top 10 players in the league. That's pretty good."

The pick, though, that seems to have people jacked up is third-rounder Michael Johnson, the enigmatic defensive end from Georgia Tech. At 6-7, 265, he's built like a Hall of Fame pass rusher but teams rushed past him because of a perceived lack of motor as well as intangibles. But in writing that the Bengals "had a good day," former NFL exec Michael Lombardi wondered on CBSSports.com that Johnson was "killed by scouts for his perceived lack of toughness, but how many sons of a Marine do you know who aren't tough? He might be a great pick for them." 

"At the very least," says our former GM, "they've got a guy in Johnson that's going to be able to get up the field and rush the passer. The question is what else he can do. But at the minimum, they've got a guy that can get upfield and if he improves they may have the next Jevon Kearse."

He also liked the other defensive lineman they picked up, seventh-rounder Clinton McDonald out of Memphis. At 290, "he's a little undersized, but he's real quick and can be good in that defense as a 3 technique."

There were some downers. Clark Judge of CBSsports.com liked the draft until the Bengals chose Abilene Christian running back Bernard Scott in the sixth round even though he's been arrested five times. Four have been dismissed and one is about to be expunged, but Judge observed, "They were doing well, but that one kind of came out of nowhere."

Our GM didn't quibble as much, observing "The kid's had tremendous seasons and if he doesn't pan out because of something, you don't have much invested in him."

The selection of fourth-rounder Jonathan Luigs, a center from Arkansas, didn't set the gurus aflame, but the ex-GM sees some upside because he's nimble of feet and mind.

"He's not a power guy, but it's an upgrade and he's an intelligent, durable guy that's played a lot," he says.

Another Internet report bandied, "The Bengals had a lot of picks and they did a good job getting good quality with their quantity. Andre Smith, Rey Maualuga and Michael Johnson are great ways to start a draft for any team. These guys could fill big holes for the Bengals. The fourth-round selection of offensive lineman Jonathan Luigs was a little high, but it wasn't crazy. The late-round picks weren't anything to write home about, but they did a good job of getting strength in numbers and getting some depth for their team."

Rang, whose grades appear on CBSsports.com, is out of the same school of thought.

"For the most part they picked explosive athletes that had productive college careers," he says. "They didn't reach and it looks like they stayed true to their board. You'd have to say they came out of it with four to six starters. Certainly they got great value with Johnson and Coffman in the third."

And, yes, it was the kind of draft that had people using the P-word.

Pete Prisco of CBSsports.com gave Bs to the Bengals and Ravens to lead the division while writing, "For a team that has been ripped for poor drafting the past decade or so, they did a really nice job. This draft might just make them a playoff team."

Our ex GM predicts, "Here are my two teams for next year that are going to surprise. The Packers and Bengals."

"This helps make the Bengals a good team," Rang says. "It's the kind of draft that can make or break you if some of them don't pan out."


 

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