2-02-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON
The Bengals have the fourth pick in April's NFL Draft and at the moment, it could be anyone.
They figure among quarterbacks, wide receivers, offensive tackles, and defensive linemen, there are potentially about a dozen players to be discussed.
A major reason for the glut is the uncharacteristic depth on the defensive line, which means for the first time in years the Bengals have a shot at drafting an end or tackle who can help immediately in the first 35 picks.
And they desperately need help up front.
Tackle Tom Barndt is to miss the first minicamp with what the club hopes doesn't become a chronic pectoral muscle problem. John Copeland, who turns 31 in September, showed the affects last season of eight injury-plagued years and looks to be moved back to end from tackle. End Michael Bankston, who turns 31 himself next month, figures to be gone via free agency.
"There'll be a run on defensive tackles early because this is such a unique year where there are a lot of them," said Jim Lippincott, the Bengals director of college/pro personnel. "And the interior people go quickly. For the last eight drafts it's worked out that about 12 defensive linemen go in the first two rounds."
That's both ends and tackles. And after a season in which their total of 26 sacks is next-to-last in the 2000 NFL stats, the Bengals need a pass-rushing end opposite Vaughn Booker who can push Copeland.
He probably isn't there at No. 4, but the Bengals love the athleticism of 6-5, 275-pound Justin Smith of Missouri and would have to decide if he's big enough to avoid getting engulfed by NFL left tackles.
"After Smith, taking any one of those ends in the top 35 is a gamble," said Jerry Jones, the former Cincinnati pharmacist who authors the draft review known as "The Drug Store List."
"You get guys who are 250 to 255 pounds and there's no way they can stand up," Jones said. "But there is a good chance a good tackle could slide into the second round.
" The early lists just have too many defensive tackles and wide receivers going in the first round," Jones said. "There are more needs than that around the league. There are eight or so good tackles and I don't see all of them going in the first round."
The betting money has the Bengals taking Texas left tackle Leonard Davis or Michigan receiver David Terrell in the first round, but Lippincott says not so fast. Not with three pretty solid
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defensive tackles possibly sitting there in Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton of Texas and Georgia's Richard Seymour.
"Hampton is like Oliver Gibson," said Lippincott of the Bengals' tackle. "He's very explosive, strong, chaotic. Shaun Rogers is the complete package, but he played a lot of the year on a bad ankle and that's tough on those big guys. Seymour is explosive and strong."
Other first-round tackles?
Take a look at Georgia's Marcus Stroud, Miami of Florida's Damione Lewis and Florida State's David Warren.
Jones says they could find a tackle at No. 35, but they have to decide if people like Texas A&M's Ron Edwards and Alabama's Kenny Smith are a reach.
Jones is convinced there won't be a reach at No. 35 when it comes to tackles. But his favorite to slide out of the first round, Hampton (because he played in the shadow of Rogers) is flying up the charts.
"He plays like Tim Krumrie as far as his motor goes," said Jones, referring to the Bengals' defensive line coach. "He's got an endless motor. More than (Rogers), and he makes a ton of plays."
The Bengals, who figure to pursue a veteran rush end in free agency, will be hard pressed to reach for a 250-pound end in the second round. But maybe not if it's a guy like Texas Christian's Aaron Schobel or Minnesota's Karon Riley.
But size makes it a tough call. The pro scouts moved the 6-2, 250-pound Riley to linebacker at last month's Senior Bowl and he looked good.
"With a lot of these guys," Lippincott said, "it comes down to a team's preference because they're pretty much even."