Draft wafts through future window

Posted: 1:30 a.m.

The Bengals gave the NFL a little bit of everything in this weekend's draft.

After they took the player with the best physique in the nation, they took a defensive tackle with a body so bad that line coach Jay Hayes shuddered until he saw him play.

After the Bengals took a small school receiver who got stiffed by East Carolina, they took another receiver who broke open a national title game and his Senior Bowl.

After taking what may be the biggest character risk in the draft, they drafted a college football folk hero married to the granddaughter of the Rev. Billy Graham.

"It breaks down to five players offensively and five players defensively," said head coach Marvin Lewis.

Something for everybody.

In the neediest Bengals draft since Lewis' first one in 2003, they cracked a window to the future:

  • The first-round pick, the guy with the best body in the draft, linebacker Keith Rivers, figures soon to be their defensive leader.

With second-rounder Jerome Simpson of Coastal Carolina and third-rounder Andre Caldwell of Florida, the Bengals drafted receivers in back-to-back rounds for the first time since they took David Verser and Cris Collinsworth at the top of the 1981 draft.

These are significant rounds for receivers in club history. Collinsworth went on to become the club's all-time receptions leader and the last receiver to be picked in the second round, Chad Johnson in 2001, is the current leader.

The other third-rounder, Auburn's Pat Sims, the guy with body by bad, became the club's first defensive tackle selected before the fourth round since Dan Wilkinson went No. 1 overall in 1994.

Cincinnati's fourth-rounder, Kansas tackle Anthony Collins, has the 6-5, 317-pound wide body that Bengals offensive line Paul Alexander covets as he becomes the team's most versatile lineman since Eric Steinbach.

All eyes are on the intriguing situation at receiver where Simpson and Caldwell come into a position overshadowed by Johnson's trade demands, Houshmandzadeh's year left on his contract, and the vacant No. 3 job.

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Bratkowski

But Bratkowski said the club isn't trying to push out the team's pair of 30-year-old Pro Bowlers. And rookie receivers almost never supply a big impact. Since 1990, only three Bengals rookie receivers have hit the 30-catch mark: Darnay Scott with 46 in 1994, Peter Warrick with 51 in 2000 and Chris Henry with 31 in 2005.

"You always have to stay ahead of the curve," Bratkowski said. "We've lost Chris Henry this year, and Kelley Washington last year. We (also) lost Tab Perry and Kevin Walter. We went from a strong, deep group to a group without depth. I don't think it's a message about anything with T.J.'s situation. We just needed depth at the position. Now, it's going to be a competitive situation for this group to make the roster."

The 6-0, 204-pound Caldwell looks ready to make the best bid to be the most versatile of the two, since he almost acted at running back at times in the Gators spread formation. He's got 4.3 speed, the most catches in school history, a historical appreciation for Johnson, and a physical style the Bengals love.

"He played some slot at Florida, which is a good thing for him. It goes back to starting him off at one spot, and then going from there," Bratkowski said. "We'll get a sense of their football intelligence as we're around them (more). Maybe by the time we get to training camp, one or both of them could play multiple positions. We'll have to assess their football intelligence and how quickly they pick things up."

Bratkowski didn't gloat less than 18 hours after the Bengals got skewered for taking Simpson over the bigger names that went 49, 51, 53 after Cincinnati took him at No. 46. Michigan's Mario Manningham went two slots before Caldwell at No. 95. Caldwell has been nicked by injury (he broke a leg running back a kickoff and missed two games last year because of a knee injury), but the Bengals got him where they targeted him.

"He has the things you look for. He has the good speed and the size," Bratkowski said. "He's in that size range we were talking about last night - the 5-11 to 6-1 range."

Size came into play when the Bengals finally attacked the defensive tackle problem. At 6-2, 310 pounds, Sims is taller and more nimble on his feet than the guy they passed in the second round, Notre Dame's Trevor Laws.

Hayes played enough ball himself that he wasn't put off by Sims' body, a frame that Pro Football Weekly calls, "A poor man's Sam Adams, Sims has the pear shape and growing frame to get up to 340 pounds in a couple of years and is a naturally athletic big man."

PFW isn't kind to him when talking about his lack of passion, but the sudden death of his sister a few years ago had a deep impact on him and that's why he left the team for a year. But Scouts Inc. noted while he wears down, he is a guy that will help the Bengals stop the run and Lewis says he can do it right away.

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Lewis

"I wouldn't say that he was raw. I think that they're well-coached down there at Auburn. (Tigers head coach) Tommy Tuberville felt really good about him and his prospects for the future," Lewis said. " They felt like he still had a lot of upside potential. He's a young kid. He's not very old. He's going to continue to grow, and continue to grow into his body. We will see a lot of change and growth in him."

Alexander stuck to his X-tra large formula for success and took the very large Collins. Too soon to know if he's going to be an heir apparent at tackle or guard because there are things to get through like Willie Anderson's comeback, Stacy Andrews' contract, and Levi Jones' trade request. But Alexander believes Collins can play every spot but center because his philosophy is tackles can always become guards.

"I think he is one of those types of guys, because he's not high-cut," Alexander said. " Tackles, as they translate into guards, where they fail is the fact that they are too high-cut. They are just foot athletes. He's not a high-cut guy. He's a guy that's solid and thick. As soon as he walks in, you'll know. As soon as he starts walking out to the field with our guys, he'll look just like the rest of them."

Size was also a huge factor in taking the most controversial pick of the Bengals draft. The selection of Fresno State's 340-pound defensive tackle Jason Shirley put them back under the character microscope. Shirley only played three games last year because of off-field incidents, highlighted by running his car into an apartment building in a DUI charge.

Lewis acknowledged the risk, but it took away from a draft that yielded three team captains in the first four picks with Rivers, Simpson and Caldwell.

And then right after the Shirley selection the Bengals took Appalachian State free safety Corey Lynch, the husband of Graham's granddaughter and top physics student.

"I'm going to bring a lot of dedication. I'm going to bring character. Those are always tops on my list, and definitely some game-changing plays," Lynch said. "I just thank Jesus Christ for everything he's done for me so far. He's led me to Appalachian through a great career, and I believe he's led me to the Bengals for another great career. So I'm looking forward to it."

Throw in his six career blocked kicks and the 5-11, 205-pound Lynch is another guy that could be around for awhile. He may not be seen as a top contender to start at free safety, but his 24 career interceptions and 300-plus tackles show that he's got the ability to play both safety spots.

"He's someone who will have an opportunity right away to compete at safety," Lewis said. "He has great athleticism and explosion and should be a great contributor on special teams."

Something for everybody.

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