More than 300 college players converge on Indianapolis this week and one of them will be the Bengals' first pick at No. 24 in the April 29 first round of the NFL Draft. Bengals.com takes a look at how the Bengals stack up on offense and how they might address some of their needs in the draft with tight end leading the wish list by leaps and bounds over wide receiver and tackle. Later in the week we look at a defensive list topped by safeties, linemen and cornerbacks.
QUARTERBACKS (3 under contract for '06):** Carson Palmer, Craig Krenzel, Doug Johnson.
Head coach Marvin Lewis insists Palmer will be his Opening Day quarterback, but does anyone really know? One thing you do know. Palmer won't go on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) and miss the first six games of the season because the only way a player can go on inactive PUP to start the season is if he doesn't take part in any on-field activity at training camp. That won't happen unless he has a major setback. It hasn't happened yet.
Lewis says the Bengals will sign a veteran quarterback by the end of the first week of free agency, whether it's Jon Kitna or not. That figures to be the No. 2 and the guy that would start Opening Day if Palmer can't. The guy lost in all this is Krenzel. After all, the man did win his first three NFL starts as rookie with the Bears in 2004, but that doesn't seem to be registering.
Possible scenario: As Palmer eases back, he's the No. 3 quarterback and works his way up until he's taking the No. 1 snaps. **
POSSIBLE PICKS:** Lewis said as early as 10 days after the Palmer surgery that the Bengals won't take a quarterback on the first day of the draft. But there are some guys on the second day that could entice them, according to long-time Bengals draft observer Jerry Jones, author of the annual draft survey "The Drugstore List." Such as UCLA's Drew Olson and Northwestern's Brett Basanez.
"These are guys that put up big numbers in big programs," Jones says. "I know where Ken Anderson came from, but how often does that happen?"
Still, they've got a fifth-rounder in Krenzel who already has seasoning.
TIGHT ENDS (3):** Reggie Kelly, Ronnie Ghent, Darnell Sanders.
Kelly, who turns 29 Wednesday, is the only guy with any kind of experience. Sanders didn't play last season and has just 18 catches in three NFL seasons and Ghent is listed again as a tight end after making the switch to fullback last year, although he can probably line up at both. It doesn't look like they're going to pay to keep Matt Schobel, although they could make a run at re-signing Tony Stewart.
POSSIBLE PICKS: Lewis has said a pass catcher isn't a must at this position because of the surrounding cast, but you have to figure they'll take a tight end in the first four rounds of what is generally regarded as a deep draft of pass catchers. They can all catch and all are question marks when it comes to blocking in the NFL, but the Bengals need some youth here.
Maryland's Vernon Davis is the only one of the crop that figures to be gone by No. 24 in the first round, and at that point it's going to be down to guys like UCLA's Marcedes Lewis and Georgia's Leonard Pope. Both guys are inviting targets in the 6-6 range, but there are also going to be people like Colorado's Joe Klopfenstein, USC's Dominique Byrd, and Texas' David Thomas available later on the first day. The 6-2 Byrd isn't all that big or fast, but he has performed well in the all-star games and comes out of a pro offense. **
OFFENSIVE LINE (14):** Cs Rich Braham, Larry Moore, Eric Ghiaciuc, Ben Wilkerson; Gs Eric Steinbach, Bobbie Williams, Scott Kooistra, Steven Vieira, Kyle Takavitz; Ts Willie Anderson, Levi Jones, Stacy Andrews, Pete Lougheed, Adam Kieft.
They've got some nice depth here with a starting line of Braham, Steinbach, Williams, Anderson and Jones, as well as backups Kooistra, Andrews, Ghiaciuc and Kieft, assuming he continues to do well on his rehab from reconstructive knee surgery. That looks like one (at the most two) spot for guys like Wilkerson, Moore, Lougheed, and two NFL Europe guys in Vieira and Takavitz.
(Kooistra is a restricted free agent and figures to get tendered.)
POSSIBLE PICKS: There looks to be no need to draft at a spot here unless a tackle slips in the first round that they just can't pass. They do have issues there, after all, with the contracts of all five starters up after this season.
Could there be a guy at No. 24 that would take them off a defensive player? Doubtful, and they have hopes to re-sign both tackles, although it remains a difficult task. Virginia's D'Brickshaw Ferguson and Auburn's Marcus McNeill (in honor of Anderson) don't figure to be there at No. 24 and some aren't enamored with USC junior Winston Justice even though he's No. 16 on Scouts Inc.'s big board.
"But two guys like Eric Winston (Miami of Florida) and Jon Scott (Texas) are guys with high enough grades that could make them look," Jones says. "They both play the left side and they've got top 10 to top 15 grades."
But don't count on it. **
WIDE RECEIVERS (9):** Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Henry, Tab Perry, Kevin Walter, Kelley Washington, Jamall Broussard, P.K. Sam, Mike Warfield.
His legal problems have clouded Henry's status as the third receiver, although they have guys like Washington, Perry and Walter they think can fill it. Walter and Washington are restricted free agents and figure to be tendered. Plus, Broussard has flashed at times and you figure he has to get a long look if Henry is no longer with them. They've also added Sam, a fifth-round pick of the Patriots in 2004, so they're still fairly stacked at the position.
POSSIBLE PICKS: Because of Henry's problems, the Bengals may be tempted to take another wide out if they see a big guy that can run and/or return punts. But don't look for it before the third round, and even then it would probably have to be a guy that slid to them instead of a choice among three or four of the best players on the board at the time.
"For the first time since I can remember," Jones says, "there just isn't a wide receiver you have to have or a crop where you can wait on all but one (Ohio State's Santonio Holmes ) until the second round."
Maybe the Bengals can wait until the second day and look at guys who have punt return abilities to shore up the league's next to worst return game. Jones identifies guys like Fresno State's Adam Jennings and LSU's Skyler Green. But they're out of the small, quick Broussard mold (you know they can't run faster than him) and he's already got two years experience.
NFL.com draft honcho Gil Brandt puts Olympic skier Jeremy Bloom of Colorado and Green on such a list because "they have ability to return kicks and be a No. 3 or No. 4 wide receiver."
"They tipped their hand drafting a big guy like (the 6-4) Henry. They really like height," Jones says.
But guys like the 6-4 Martin Nance of Miami of Ohio and 6-4 Maurice Stovall of Notre Dame probably aren't going to see the fourth round, and they've got enough in the cupboard here that they don't have to pick one before then. **
BACKS (4):** RBs Rudi Johnson, Chris Perry, Quincy Wilson, FB Jeremi Johnson.
The Bengals would like to re-sign third-down back Kenny Watson. If they can't, it's still highly unlikely they'll draft a back and it figures they could go into college free agency to get people for training camp. They will no doubt tender restricted free agent Jeremi Johnson a one-year deal to keep the right to match any offer.