Board play


Marvin Lewis

You've got time. About five days. And maybe you, too, can be mocked to the Bengals.

It seems like everyone else has been assigned to them at one time or another with the 21st pick in Thursday night's anything-goes first round of the NFL Draft.

Just take a look at the 28 mock drafts compiled by manager Andy Ware last week. A total of 13 different players get the call to the Bengals. The four analysts at go four different ways: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, Florida State tackle Menelik Watson, Florida safety Matt Elam and Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. Some of the overflowing mocks at give the Bengals three others: Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen, Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker, and LSU safety Eric Reid.

(With the signing of SAM linebacker James Harrison, it looks like the mocks with Georgia backers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree have gone to re-write.) 

But unlike those organizations, the Bengals are going to have to come to a consensus. And the consensus of those other organizations is that the Bengals have drafted as well as any team in the league over the past four seasons.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis won't say who they're going to draft, but he'll tell you why he thinks the Bengals have drafted so well of late and what kind of traits they seek.

As he did back in February, Lewis last week extolled the work of director of player personnel Duke Tobin. Pointing to the decision of Bengals president Mike Brown to give Tobin more influence in the planning and mechanics of the draft room a few years ago, Lewis believes they have used the art of cross-checking to the utmost.

With the hiring of two young area scouts in Robert Livingston (the Southeast) and Steve Radicevic (the West), it has freed up Tobin to cross-check the top 40 or so schools as well as coordinate the big-picture philosophy.

"I think Mike has put Duke basically in charge and Duke Tobin has done an outstanding job in orchestrating the whole thing and I think that's been great," Lewis said in a sit-down with beat reporters on Friday.

"I think the integration of the coaches, the little time we get to spend with them for about a month, and just basically the integration of everybody and meshing it together. The personnel guys are doing a great job of cross-checking by position."

When Lewis arrived in 2003, he wanted to streamline the scouting burdens of the coaches and it has evolved into a personnel department that still has a lot of coaching input but isn't as coaching-centric. He says there is more cross-checking than what he found a decade ago.

"That's a good thing," he said. "It's important if you're the area scout and you have a plethora of wide receivers and there are three guys on the other side of the country that you take a look at those guys. We're doing a better job of cross-checking within the group, so that when you're writing the report it's reflective of the other guys you've seen. For everybody to see those guys, it's important so they're able to say, 'You know what? That guy over there is probably a notch ahead and if I had my druthers, I'd pick that one.' It's important to share those opinions."

If there is one thing that seems constant with the last four drafts, it has been the unwillingness of the Bengals "to reach." That is, take a player not rated as highly even though he fills a need.

Just look at last year's second round. The Bengals went into the draft actively seeking running backs and wide receivers and were set at defensive tackle with Pro Bowler Geno Atkins, long-time starter Domata Peko, and veteran backup Pat Sims.

But after University of Cincinnati running back Isaiah Pead went to the Rams at 50, the Bengals stuck to their board at No. 53 and took Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still, a tackle. Oklahoma wide receiver Ryan Broyles went the next pick to the Lions at 54 and Oregon running back LaMichael James went to the 49ers at 61.

The Bengals ended up getting the receiver where they graded him (the guy that ended up being their Rookie of the Year in Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers at No. 83 in the third round) when they could have had Temple running back Bernard Pierce, gone a pick later to the Ravens.

When they took Georgia tight end Orson Charles in the fourth round, they didn't try to reach for a speed back that eventually went in the fifth-round to the Steelers, Chris Rainey. They waited untill the board came to them on the running back and took Ohio State's Dan "Boom," Herron in the sixth round.

Or go back to 2009. The year before the Bengals had made defensive end Antwan Odom their richest free agent in history and two years before that they had made left end Robert Geathers their richest defensive player ever.

But when the top of the third round rolled around, Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson was clearly their highest-graded player and became a Bengal even though he may have not have been the greatest fit. The board always seems to win. Odom blew out his Achilles while leading the NFL sacks that October and is out of the league while Johnson just last month hauled down an $11.1 million deal as the Bengals franchise player.

"I don't think you reach," NFL draft guru Mike Mayock said on his media conference call last week. "I think the smart coaches and general managers understand that the more often you reach, the more often you dilute your own roster."

That philosophy is going to be severely tested if right tackle Andre Smith isn't signed by Thursday night. On one hand, Lewis says that would "change the parameters" if he isn't signed. But he also said if the Bengals do sign Smith, they could still take a tackle if he's the best player.

"It's not going to dictate us to take a lesser player. I would say no. We're not going to reach and take a player we don't think is worthy of the value of the pick," Lewis said. "We've been consistent with that and I don't see that changing.

"I don't think that's going to affect (it). I think the overall drafting an offensive tackle if he's the best player even if Andre were signed would be something we would still consider. Because these players that we would be speaking of in those terms, I think it's good for the future of the team."

The big factor that goes into the grade is how the prospect fits the Bengals. With Lewis in place for 11 seasons, along with a defensive coordinator heading into his sixth season as well as an offensive line coach heading into his 19th season and a big slice of the personnel department that has been with Brown for more than a decade, the Bengals know what they like.

"We keep harping on the fit. If you're an area scout and road scout, you understand that we're not taking a little muscled-up strong safety. That guy doesn't fit for me," Lewis said. "We want corners that can cover, safeties that can cover. We want people to pressure the football on defense."

And on offense, it is the Big Butt Theory. In a game plan, you don't like the defense to dictate to the offense. But on Draft Day in the rough-and-tumble AFC North, the defense does dictate.

"On offense we want guys that can bend their knees and be playmakers and offensive linemen have to be able to move and stay on their feet," Lewis said. "But they've got to have some mass to them to be able to block the guys we have to block in our division.

"Our tight ends have to be that way, too, because of the people we have to block and protect against in our division. We know what we're up against week in and week out. A little narrow-butted guy is not going to help us on offense in this division. We've got to have guys that have mass in their butt, bend their knees with big backs and big shoulders and have some strength to them."

Lewis also likes to think that after some severe struggles coping with game plans, concepts and off-field issues earlier in his tenure, smarts have also become more of a factor recently when picking players.

"That's the other area we harp on," Lewis said. "Is he smart enough to handle change day in and day out? Can he make adjustments and revisions throughout the game?"

So we may have a better idea Thursday why the Bengals didn't pick a guy instead of why they did.

You know that Lewis wants that safety that can go both ways, hit and cover, but do his safeties match the mocks?

Another thread in Cincinnati's recent drafts has been opting for players with a lot of production at big schools rather than one-year wonders or small-school phenoms. So how double-threat FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien fits in with the Vaccaros, Elam, and Reids on the Bengals board would be interesting.

"Vaccaro comes off first," Mayock said. "Obviously [the Bengals are] sitting at 21, so that becomes of interest to follow them and see what they do at 16. I think Matt Elam comes into play more at that kind of 25 to 32 range and it would not surprise me if he slipped into the second round and I like him as a first-rounder. And Cyprien is interesting because teams were all over on him. He's got some minor medical concerns with some teams but he's a big, good looking kid with excellent movement skills and I've heard him all over the board from kind of first round all the way down to the third round. So he's kind of a wild card there and I think Cyprien is a guy that goes early second round.

"So if you're sitting at 21 not moving anywhere, I think it's Vaccaro or Elam, with Cyprien as kind of the wild card there."

That's how Mayock has it. But can Vaccaro or Elam or Cyprien do what Lewis wants?

Same thing at offensive tackle, where the top three of Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson figure to be long gone. Mayock thinks Alabama's D.J. Fluker is going to be gone, too. At an all-man 360 pounds, Fluker would seem to fit The AFC North Mass Theory.

So do the Bengals start reaching if Smith is unsigned? Given that draftnicks think Watson is more suited to the left side and he's a junior college guy that has played just 12 games of big-time ball, he doesn't look like a Bengals fit.   

Lewis says they won't reach. That would indicate the Bengals would still take "a slide," a player that may not be a great fit but clearly has the grade. Mayock says that teams like the Bengals and Vikings may have to make a call on Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson, the best raw wide receiver but apparently dealing with the fact he played just one year of major college.

"Patterson is going to slide a little bit and the Vikings are going to have to make a choice at 23 or 25," Mayock said.

At 6-3, 205 pounds, Patterson fits Cincinnati's big wideout dimensions. But is he dynamic enough and polished enough to unseat Sanu and/or Marvin Jones as the No. 2?

As far as Mayock is concerned, Allen could be an option despite his struggles this spring.

"He was a borderline first-round pick. I was at his workout in Greensboro last week or the week before. He was coming off a second minor irritation of the same knee. He wasn't really in running shape," Mayock said. "Ran in the 4.75 range, but that doesn't change anything. On tape to me, he's a 4.55 guy. Always has been, always will be. If you like him, he's a potential Anquan Boldin-type player. Big body, long arms, big hands, tough. If you don't like him, you're going to say he's speed deficient, so he'll appeal to some teams and not others."

(When you say "Anquan Boldin" that also makes him a T.J. Houshmandzadeh-type. But do the Bengals already have that in Sanu?)

The Bengals could also get a slider at cornerback at No. 21. Would they take another one after taking Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 17 last year? It depends on their board. Recent past says they very well may if they like Florida State's Xavier Rhodes and Washington's Desmond Trufant.

And then there is Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. Mayock says while he's known as an explosive receiver, he's also the best blocker of the tight ends and at 6-6, 255 pounds, he's AFC North big.

But, does the grade match the fit?

As Lewis would tell you, that's why they hold the draft.

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