Bengals wheel, deal into draft

4-20-04, 6 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The Corey Dillon trade gives the Bengals their most draft picks in the first four rounds (seven) since the 1986 draft yielded eight and translated into five Super Bowl starters.

A man who was on observer of that draft room thinks this weekend's draft could provide just as much of an impact.

"It can make them," said Jerry Jones, who publishes an annual analysis of draft prospects in The Drugstore List. "That's six percent (of the draft) when everybody else has three percent. Historically, when they have multiple picks, they have cashed."

A cornerback? Now maybe they can get cornerbacks in the first AND second rounds. The best cornerbacks in the draft? Maybe the Bengals can now trade up from No. 24 to get Virginia Tech's DeAngelo Hall or South Carolina's Dunta Robinson in the first round. Or, maybe with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis talking Monday about the need to get better linebacking, they take two linebackers. Or, maybe now they can take the best running back available in their first two picks. Or. . .

With the help of Jones, here is what the Bengals' five picks in the 96 selections of the first three rounds might look like if they keep all five:

First round at No. 24, Ohio State cornerback Chris Gamble.

Second round at No. 49, Virginia Tech center Jake Grove.

Second round at No. 56, Auburn linebacker Dontarrious Thomas.

Third round at No. 80, Ohio State defensive tackle Tim Anderson.

Third round at No. 96, Arkansas running back Cedrick Cobbs.

Of course, you could sub LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson at No. 49, Tusculum cornerback Ricardo Colclough at No. 56, or Kansas State center Nick Leckey at No. 80, or West Virginia running back Quincy Wilson at No. 96.

Or. . .

The point is, the Bengals have ample opportunity to fill positions of need with potential starters in what head coach Marvin Lewis hopes is the first four rounds. They also have two fourth-round picks, thanks to the Deltha O'Neal trade as Lewis is on a kick with draft picks.

"In the age of free agency, we can't keep all the guys, so we while have them for four, five years, let's make the very, very most out of it," Lewis said. "And if we can't afford to obtain their services from that point on, pat them on the butt and wish them well, and now we'll draft the next good guy. Let's not overrate our guys and not overrate what's out there."

With Kevin Hardy making the move from middle linebacker to strong side, Tampa Bay free agent Nate Webster taking over the middle, and backup Adrian Ross recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, Lewis made no bones Monday about "cycling through," some young linebackers.

"We've got to get better at linebacker," Lewis said. "We have to play better defense across the board. Our defense is a little unsettled. We've got guys who have to step up and I do think we have better additions, but we have to play better."

If it sounds like Lewis wants to shore up the defense, it's because he does. But like Jones says, this is the draft to pick off a second-round wide receiver because you can and because a lot of the receivers in this year's second round would be first-rounders in most years.

But he also calls it an above average year for cornerbacks and defensive tackles and says the linebacking corps, "is very good in the second and third rounds," all of which plays into the Bengals' hands.

"With those five picks, they can get five things they need with five guys that should eventually start," Jones said. "To me, the potential is huge. Look at their first 22 players. Nine are first-rounders and eight are second-rounders."

Although they reportedly have a post June 1 agreement with Broncos defensive tackle Daryl Gardener, the second and third round also is ripe with prospects, such as Ohio State's Anderson and Oregon State's Dwan Edwards.

There isn't much out there as far as middle linebackers, but there are some versatile types. The Bengals were able to eyeball two of them at the Senior Bowl in Auburn's Thomas and Nebraska's Demorrio Williams. Plus, Oklahoma's Teddy Lehman is a second-rounder many scouts feel is going to be productive in the pros.

But don't rule out the Bengals taking the same defensive position twice in the first three rounds. Say a Gamble at No. 24 and Colclough, a player they liked in the Senior Bowl, at No. 56. Or two linebackers. If they think Gamble needs time to develop, maybe another rookie can be more of a help more quickly.

"They've done that before, double drafting" Jones said. "Particularly in a draft where they have a lot of picks."

When they had two first-rounders in 1998, they picked linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons.

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