4-22-04, 12:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
When it comes to running backs, the Bengals' draft discussion these days are probably a lot like the talks before the 2001 draft.
Back then, they didn't think they had anyone behind Corey Dillon who could step in and carry the ball 20 to 25 times per game for a month if needed. Now, while they think they've got solid candidates to spot Rudi Johnson, they don't look to have that proven guy that can carry the load for any stretch.
Which is why in 2001 they drafted Johnson in the fourth round with the 100th pick.
Who could they get around there this weekend? A guy who can take the pounding and be productive when asked? They should have their shots in the third round at No. 80 (Tatum Bell of Oklahoma State?) or No. 96 (Michael Turner of Northern Illinois, or Cedric Cobbs of Arkansas?) or No. 114 or No. 117 in the fourth round with Quincy Wilson of West Virginia, California's Adimchinobe Echemandu, or Notre Dame's Julius Jones?
"It depends what they want," says Jerry Jones, who spent a few years in the Bengals' draft room while compiling his draft survey known as The Drugstore List. "Do they want a guy like Rudi? The bowling ball that knocks them over like pins inside. Or somebody more flashy?"
There are some interesting bread-and-butter, bell-cow guys that they could get earlier, but Florida State's Greg Jones and Michigan's Chris Perry don't figure to be there when the Bengals take their first pick in the second round at No. 49.
But backs such as the 6-0, 224-pound Cobbs, the 5-10, 235-pound Turner, the 5-9, 223-pound Wilson, and maybe later with the 6-0, 222-pound Echemandu, should be available in rounds three through five.
The 5-11, 210-pound Bell is probably the fastest back out there (Jones says, "he's bad news when he gets to the outside"), but he may not be a fit as an every down back as an inside runner, blocker or receiver, and he has a reputation as a fumbler.
The Bengals coached Notre Dame's Jones at the Senior Bowl and liked his hands and his return abilities. But is he fast enough and big enough to take a NFL pounding? Cobbs has the size and production with seven 100-yard games as a senior. Turner may have turned off some people by getting up around 235 pounds and he gets knocked for being slow off the ball. But he's got a 40-yard time in the 4.4-second range and has some juice inside.
West Virginia's Wilson, son of ex-Bears backer Otis Wilson, may slip because of his speed but he's a tough runner who hands out punishment with his low running style. "Totally abusive to the opponents," Jerry Jones says. Wilson got 105 yards on a sprained ankle against Syracuse, carried 40 times against Rutgers, and went for 208 yards against a bowl team in Pitt.
The Bengals' coaches got an eyeful of Greg Jones, a guy that drilled their North team in the Senior Bowl with two touchdowns. The 6-1, 250-pound Jones is sculpted out of wrought iron and his seven-yard burst for a touchdown when he cut to his left and turned it up field may have shown people that his damaged knee from his junior year is fine.
The 6-0, 225-pound Perry may not be glitzy enough to get drafted in the first round, but he may be the most complete back out there. He's not real elusive or real fast; he's just a heck of a back that got a lot of yards in big games. He caught 122 yards when the Wolverines fell behind against Minnesota and 55 of his 209 total yards against Ohio State came through the air.
The two highest-rated backs aren't going to be there when the Bengals pick at No. 24. Certainly not Oregon State's Steve Jackson and probably not Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones. Jones didn't have great 40-yard times in his workouts, so if he falls Saturday, would the Bengals use some of their extra picks and trade up in front of Dallas at No. 22? Doubtful because the picks are just as valuable, if not more, than the small difference between players at that point in the first round.