Will rookie Jake Fisher be the first man off the bench for the offensive line?
There is no more competitive spot in the AFC North than the line of scrimmage and the 10 large men on either side trying to commit mayhem in the name of the division title or the Wild Card.
The only other most contested spot up North is the draft room and so it was this weekend when the gurus gave their blessings by sprinkling solid draft grades on all four teams.
When the Wizard of Oz and the first round, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, tried to run a go route past old friend Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati with Central Florida wide receiver Breshad Perriman in the first round, Lewis responded with one of his big safety-like corners in the fourth round with USC's Josh Shaw.
With Browns general manager Ray Farmer bracing for the departure of center Alex Mack, he went for Miami's Cameron Erving in the first round while Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stockpiled a pass rusher at end in the first round (Bud Dupree) and a bruiser at the other end (Anthony Chickillo ) in the third round.
The Wizard then clicked his heels three times and smuggled defensive end Za'Darius Smith out of Kentucky in the fourth. Lewis caught him and went to the PUP list to grab Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round, and then sent a combo block to Colbert and Farmer with Oregon left tackle Jake Fisher in the second round.
With Farmer still reeling from Bengals running back Jeremy Hill's 148 yards last December, he also took Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton in the first round. (If Roger Goodell ever lines up at guard, Hill will have to break a few tackles.)
The Wizard took two tight ends, but Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin responded with two of his own, including a fifth-rounder that runs the 40-yard dash faster than his third-round linebacker.
But that Bengals linebacker, Paul Dawson, is a playmaker that can now chase down dynamic Miami running back Duke Johnson, taken by the Browns.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and Tobin even went down to the wire in the seventh round with the Steelers grabbing Thorpe winner Gerold Holliman at safety and the Bengals taking 4.25 40 burner Mario Alford at wide receiver.
ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., gave the Bengals a B-plus in his NFL Draft grades, marking them down for not helping a "bad pass rush," or getting "more upside out of a pass catcher." That comes out of the school that has rightfully given the Ravens and Steelers A drafts, but they needed to get more impact players than the Bengals thanks to free-agent losses.
One guru's reach is another draftnick's slide. The Bengals came out of it with four of their top 50 players (Ogbuehi, Fisher, Kroft and Dawson), their top tight end (Kroft) and five guys (Fisher, Kroft, Dawson, Shaw and fourth-rounder Marcus Hardison) who should play some significant snaps this season.
Other gurus also marked the Bengals draft as solid. NFL.com gave the Bengals an A-plus and they got another B-plus from Pete Prisco of CBS Sports.com and a B-plus from Sports Illustarted.com.
Grades are grades, but the Bengals appeared to draft well enough to tighten up their depth chart. They are expected to add about a dozen college free agents before the opening meeting of rookie minicamp on Thursday night.
Here's how the draft picks impact their positions. Nothing is official. All speculation. Lewis doesn't put out a depth chart until training camp. (Parenthesis denotes how many players they usually keep at that position.) Backups listed alphabetically. Draft picks in bold.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
STARTERS: LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Russell Bodine, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith.
BACKUPS: T Jake Fisher, G Dan France, T Tanner Hawkinson, G Trey Hopkins, C T.J. Johnson, T Matthew O'Donnell, T Eric Winston; PUP: LT Cedric Ogbuehi.
The physically unable to perform list is the best guess on Ogbuehi, taking him out of the first six weeks of the regular season. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander loves to have his rookies try everything, so look for Fisher to toy with center at some point because he can back up both tackle and guard and he figures to be the first guy off the bench.
The Bengals really liked Hopkins before he suffered a season-ending broken leg last preseason and last year's CFA from Texas has a good shot to make it.
TIGHT END (3)
STARTER: Tyler Eifert.
BACKUPS: Kevin Brock, Tyler Kroft, Jake Murphy, C.J. Uzomah.
Now that Jermaine Gresham isn't coming back and with the drafting of two rookies, Ryan Hewitt is staying put at H-Back and fullback. Kroft now joins Eifert in the double tight end sets. They love how Uzomah runs for a 265-pounder, so it's going to be hard to get him off the roster even though he didn't get a ton of time in Auburn's spread.
STARTERS: MLB Rey Maualuga, SAM Emmanuel Lamur, WILL A.J. Hawk.
BACKUPS: OLB/MLB Chris Carter, OLB/MLB Paul Dawson, OLB Jayson DiManche, OLB Marquis Flowers, MLB Nico Johnson, OLB Sean Porter, OLB/MLB Vincent Rey. REHABBING: Vontaze Burfict (knee).
Burfict is the starting WILL, but as he rehabs the best guess is they'll put the veteran free agent Hawk in there. But Dawson is going to get plenty of snaps and chances to play. If he's as good a playmaker as they say he is, then you figure he could also play SAM when Tez comes back. At any rate, Dawson is the first guy off the bench and he'll learn his role from Rey. When Burfict returns, the spot gets tight fast. Flowers, last year's sixth-rounder, began to come on late as a WILL and nickel backer. DiManche missed the last month with an arm injury, but has put up good special teams numbers in his year and a half here. They could keep seven, but they don't usually. Maybe someone will play well enough to make them go with seven backers.
Does Marcus Hardison get some snaps in the rotation as a rookie?
DEFENSIVE LINE (9):
STARTERS: LE Carlos Dunlap, NT Domata Peko, DT Geno Atkins, RE Michael Johnson.
BACKUPS: DE Will Clarke, T-E Wallace Gilberry, DT Kwame Geathers, DT Marcus Hardison; DE Margus Hunt, DE Sam Montgomery, DT Pat Sims, DT Devon Still, DT Brandon Thompson.
The band is back together. With Johnson returning, Gilberry can go back to being a nickel terror in inside and they'll have to find out about Clarke and Hunt. If you figure they keep five ends and four tackles, then the drafting of Hardison opens up a free-for-all for that final tackle spot with Sims and Still. But they could always keep ten linemen, too. It depends on who plays well and who gets hurt.
STARTERS: Adam Jones, Leon Hall.
BACKUPS: Darqueze Dennard, Brandon Ghee, Dre Kirkpatrick, Chris Lewis-Harris, Onterio McCalebb, Josh Shaw.
The big question is going to be if Dennard and/or Kirkpatrick break into the starting lineup. Shaw would seem to be the fifth corner and maybe they only keep five corners because the 6-0, 200-pound Shaw has all the makings of a swing corner-safety. Plus, they think Shaw has great potential as a gunner covering punts.
STARTERS: Reggie Nelson, George Iloka.
BACKUPS: Shiloh Keo, Derron Smith, Shawn Williams.
Lewis has been giving Williams some love this offseason and it sounds like he's going to get more time with Nelson and Iloka going into their contract years. Keo played for cornerbacks coach Vance Joseph in Houston, but Smith is going to get a long look with his pedigree of 15 career interceptions at Fresno State. At 5-11, 197 pounds, Smith's size probably hurt him in the draft. But he's Lewis' kind of guy as a heady four-year starter.
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
STARTERS: A.J. Green, Marvin Jones.
BACKUPS: Mario Alford, Cobi Hamilton Denarius Moore, Tevin Reese, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, James Wright.
They're happy with their first four of Green, Jones, Sanu, and Wright. Kansas State's Tyler Lockett didn't get a look in the second round because he was too small and he was gone by the time they picked in the third, but Kroft probably would have carried the day anyway for need.
But, note to Kiper, they weren't infatuated with a lot of the wideouts because most of them had what they already have in the first four. What they were after was straight-ahead speed and they didn't have access to the big blazers. One guy they could have had, Dorial Green-Beckham, appeared to be no factor for them at No. 21.
Before we do the old in and out with Alford for Tate, let's see what the 5-8 Alford can do.
He gives them that burner and he found the end zone at West Virginia. And he seems to be a very enticing slot receiver type. But can he be a contributor with his size on this level?
Alford had two kick returns for TDs last season, but hasn't returned punts often. Believe special teams coach Darrin Simmons will see if he can because Tate may not be a game breaker all the time, but he is reliable.
Plus, Moore is going to get a shot. He played for offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in Oakland, where he returned 42 punts with no TDs.
But it's hard to see Alford not making it with Jackson's emphasis on speed.