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Safe or sorry

Posted Mar 31, 2009

More Mock Madness and it looks like the First Four picks next month in New York are going to be as tough to guess as the Final Four this weekend in Detroit.
 
Which makes handicapping the Bengals pick at No. 6 a real handicap.

But what we do know is that several candidates are headed to Paul Brown Stadium beginning Wednesday for interviews and one of them is most likely going to be Alabama left tackle Andre Smith, whose once tarnished star looks to be rising among several NFL teams.

It's unknown how the Bengals eye Smith these days after his wary encounter with the NFL back in February at the scouting combine. Yet it is looking more and more like the top two left tackles are going to be gone and the Bengals are going to have to decide to take a risk on Smith, reach on Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher, or go elsewhere in what could be shaping up to be the first unsafe pick of a cautious draft.

But it depends who you ask. Some think Smith can only play guard, but others believe he's so athletic and massive that he can at least be a dominant right tackle and probaly at left, too. And while some think Oher is an intangible risk, others see him as a physical lock to be an elite left tackle.

Because the money is so big, the economy so tight, and the talent so close, this could be called The Safeway Draft when it comes to the top 10. Don't do anything crazy, the consensus says. There are no franchise players out there. So just go get a guy you know is going to be a solid, productive starter at a spot you need.

But do all the safety nets drop away by No. 6?

Twenty days after the first 2009 Bengals.com Mock Media Draft, the Bengals don't get to take Baylor left tackle Jason Smith, available back on March 11. This time he goes No. 1.

1. LIONS: LT Jason Smith, Baylor; Alex Marvez, FoxSports.com  

Even though Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford reportedly impressed the Lions in Tuesday's workout, it looks like Smith is the safest pick.

"Especially for a franchise that has drafted Mike Williams and Charles Rogers," Marvez says. "You're going to give $35 million to a junior quarterback? They're also picking 20. They could get a quarterback there if one of those guys falls. It can't be Curry. They've still got Ernie Sims and they just traded for Julian Peterson. How many linebackers do you need?"

2: RAMS: LT Eugene Monroe, Virginia;  Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry is tempting because he can play all the backer spots and Thomas could see it happening if the Rams decide that Curry's grade is so high stacked up to the others that it makes no sense if they don't take him.

But until that happens, look for the Rams to play it safe on a roster that has just one tackle in Alex Barron.

"It's a tough call, but in the last several drafts the safest high picks have been the tackles," Thomas says. "The closest to a bust has been (Robert) Gallery, but he's turned into a pretty good guard."

3. CHIEFS: LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest; Adam Teicher, Kansas City Star 

The Chiefs took a tackle last year (Branden Albert) in the first round and they desperately need front seven players for a defense that allowed 204 yards rushing in the season finale to a Bengals team that had rushed for an average of 95. Curry is viewed as the safest pick in the draft because of his impeccable character and versatility. And versatility is going to be a premium in new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's hybrid 3-4.

4. SEAHAWKS: WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech; Mike Sando, ESPN.com 

With Matt Hasselbeck turning 34 and coming off a back injury, Seattle is going to draft a quarterback at some point next month and Sando wouldn't be all that surprised if the Seahawks pop it at No. 4.

Fourth would be the highest that GM Tim Ruskell has picked a QB, dating back to his personnel days with coach Sam Wyche's Buccaneers, who took Trent Dilfer No. 6 in '94. Of the six QBs Ruskell has been involved in drafting, Sando notes three went in the third round.

Crabtree falls into that safe territory, too. If the Seahawks are worried about his foot injury, lack of experience in a pro set, and a hard-line agent, they've got a corps of veteran receivers to pick up the slack that first season.

5. BROWNS: OLB Brian Orakpo, Texas; James Walker, ESPN.com 

Walker says that Stafford is going to tempt the Browns, but in the end the AFC North's rep as a trench division is going to be a match for Orakpo's mean streak as well as a pass-rushing bookend for the OLB on the other side, Kamerion Wimbley.

Of course, it was only last year with the Jets that new coach Eric Mangini tried to force-feed a college defensive end into being a 3-4 linebacker when he took Ohio State's Vernon Gholston at No. 6 and the gamble failed miserably.

But Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLdraftscout.com, says that Orakpo is a much safer pick than Gholston and that the Browns have fallen in love with his work ethic.

"He's stiffer than Gholston and I think he's a better fit as a 4-3 end," Rang says. "But nobody is going to outwork Orakpo. Gholston didn't want it bad enough. You'll never say that about Orakpo. He might not end up being a 10-sack guy, but he won't be a bust. He'll be solid."

6. BENGALS: ???????? 

And that's just the problem with this draft: No absolutely have-to-haves. Good, solid players. And even those are in short supply.

So maybe it is fitting that now guys like Rang, NFL.com's Steve Wyche and CBSsportsline.com's Pete Prisco can see the Bengals taking Andre Smith at No. 6 as he rebounds from a curious combine and pro day.

It will be recalled that Smith offended the NFL when he not only showed up out of shape at the combine, but he left without telling anybody. Then earlier this month at his campus workout he appalled the senses when he ran the 40-yard dash without his shirt on.

But teams are softening on him.

"If the Bengals don't take him, the Raiders might at seven or Green Bay at nine, or San Francisco at 10," Rang says. "Teams are watching tape and he's a dominant run player. You put him on the right side and your problems running the ball are solved. Teams are taking a second look. Here's a kid that has not had a lot of negativity. He was suspended for his bowl game because of an agent problem and the (perception of his) workout was a joke. He had good numbers and he really thought he had lost enough weight (down to about 330) that he wanted to show it. Yeah, bad decision, but no 6-4, 330-pounder looks good running around with their shirt off."

Steve Wyche calls it "a bad body and plenty of great tackles have those." He also says teams are throwing on tape and finding out that he's dominant.

"Obviously," Wyche says, "the big thing is going to be the character and how they see his maturity. That will have to be a decision after they visit with the guy. But he's athletic enough to play left tackle."

Prisco wouldn't take Smith there because he thinks he is a right tackle. His man for the Bengals is Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji because of the safe factor. You can't miss with a beast in the middle and if he's not the pass rusher Marvin Lewis seeks then he can collapse the pocket for guys like Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom.

"They have to come to a decision," Prisco says. "Put (Andrew) Whitworth at left tackle and (Anthony) Collins at right tackle. They drafted them to play. Play them. And you're a better team with Raji rotating with (Domata) Peko and (Pat) Sims. But if you think you can't line up and play with those two tackles, then you go with Oher."

Others view Andre Smith and Oher as risks. Smith for his post-college career decisions and Oher because of a very inward, quiet demeanor.

"To me," Walker says, "I'd never take a wide receiver in the top 10, but taking the third and fourth tackles would be as much of a risk as that."

So, Raji?

Rang and Prisco say not to forget Oher.

"This is another guy you have to watch the tape," Rang says. "I'd be hesitant about Andre Smith because if you're looking to replace Levi Jones (at left tackle), I'm not sure he's the guy. But Oher is athletic enough and if you've got a shot to get an athletic left tackle, you have to think about it very seriously."


 

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