Bengals go small school

Updated: 9:30 p.m.

Coastal Carolina's Jerome Simpson has a small-school reputation for making leaping one-handed catches with a 44-inch vertical and the NFL Draft's biggest hands and on Saturday he leaped over the big school wide receivers to become the Bengals' surprise second-round pick at No. 46.

With Limas Sweed of Texas, Desean Jackson of California, Mario Manningham of Michigan and Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma on the board, the Bengals went for a player that many publications had going in the fourth or fifth round.

Ourlads Scouting Services mocked him to Green Bay on the fifth to last pick of the fifth round at 163. Pro Football Weekly rated him the 15th best receiver.

Although he had been told late two, early three, the call from head coach Marvin Lewis in the mid-second seemed to take even Simpson by surprise. His family was in the car on Highway 29 coming back from dinner and a flea market, about 15 minutes from their home in Reidsville, N.C., (population 14, 630) when the call came.

"We pulled over and we were on the side of the highway just jumping up and down and crying," Simpson said. "It's a blessing to be taken this high. There's a reason I'm going there."

The pundits are no doubt looking for it after the Bengals, decimated at receiver, left so many big names on the board. It didn't take long for Scouts Inc., to weigh in on ESPN.com.

"We're surprised he came off the board earlier than Limas Sweed, DeSean Jackson and Malcolm Kelly. Simpson isn't a great route-runner and played at a small school, so he faces a steeper learning curve. On the plus side, he has adequate size and the frame to get even bigger. He also has good speed, tracks the ball well and can make a spectacular catch."

Not only that, the Bengals passed on Notre Dame defensive tackle Trevor Laws, another massive need that wasn't met Saturday, as well as Auburn pass rusher Quention Groves.

But there's no question the Bengals needed to take a first-day receiver just to line up in the voluntary camps in two weeks. Small school or no small school, the 6-1, 199-pound Simpson automatically becomes the leading candidate to replace Chris Henry as the No. 3 receiver.

With Chad Johnson threatening a holdout and T.J. Houshmandzadeh not at voluntaries yet, the Bengals currently have only Antonio Chatman, Glenn Holt, Marcus Maxwell and Doug Gabriel in camp.

When the draft resumes Sunday with at 10 a.m. with the third round, no doubt the Bengals will add at least one more receiver and maybe two with their remaining eight picks.

Simpson, whose 11-inch hands are the biggest of any receiver in the draft, caught 41 balls this past season with 11 going for touchdowns and 17 yards per catch. He ran 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but he's also an all-conference high jumper and long jumper.

"We had a grouping of players and he was at the top of that grouping," said offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. "There are things that aren't known publicly about individuals all the time. Whether it's background, whether it's injury, whether it's things like that that people don't know about that get publicized. What we're looking at here is a guy that is a top-notch young man, he's very healthy, and he has a lot of upside."

The Bengals lost a shot at scoring machine James Hardy, the 6-5 receiver from Indiana that went 41 to the Bills.

Simpson is a Carolina legend, complete with a YouTube video of his highlight catches. He was MVP of the state basketball championship when he led Reidsville to the 2-A state title and he set the state record in the 4 x 400 relay.

Bratkowski, who has been grading receivers for the past 17 drafts, says they separate themselves with uniqueness and he says Simpson's rare skills are his jumping and catching.

"His ability to fly or float through the air and make one-handed catches," Bratkowski said. "His vertical jump is almost 44 inches, which is rare. His long jump he did 11 feet and I don't ever remember any jumping that far at the combine."

He also says Simpson plays with "courage," and that he's already ahead of Henry when it comes to executing intermediate routes.

But Simpson is more interested in teaming up with Chad Johnson and said he hopes Johnson won't follow through on his holdout threat, "so he can teach me how to run those great routes."

"I've always looked up to Chad. How he played. I like his game," Simpson said. "I'll go pick the ball wherever it is. I've got a good eye for the ball. I can catch anything in sight. That's what I'm going to do for the Cincinnati Bengals."

Bratkowski has been saying it's not a strong year for receivers and the Bengals board certainly reflected that when it came to the big-school receivers. At 5-9, 169 pounds, Cal's Jackson's size didn't fit what the Bengals think can make a receiver successful in the NFL. Kelly and Sweed had been clocked at 4.6 seconds in the 40, and Manningham had been hit by the marijuana bug.

"We've got two receivers that are about his size," Bratkowski said of Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "You don't see many small ones make it, and over 6-3 or so, that's a small group, too. He's right in that area."

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