Eye of beholder

4-27-04, 8:50 a.m.

If the Bengals were supposed to be all over the board during this past weekend's NFL Draft, then so were the people grading them.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., gave them an A. CBSsportsline.com went with a B-minus. The Sporting News offered a C. USA Today gave a first-and-10, the average of its five grades.

Which is exactly what Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis meant when he said, "The only thing that matters is what is on our boards."

Everyone pretty much agrees that the Bengals' first-round pick, Michigan running back Chris Perry, is going to be a solid pro, yet they still got graded down for it.

Everyone pretty much agrees that the Bengals made one of the best picks in the draft when they went for Michigan State defensive tackle Matthias Askew with their first of three picks in the fourth round.

Everyone pretty much agrees that the Bengals made some good picks on defense, particularly with the addition of third-round linebackers Caleb Miller and Landon Johnson.

Everyone pretty much agrees that out of the 11 picks, the Bengals got several players who are going to improve them.

"There's no question that Marvin had an opportunity to put his fingerprints all over this team with so many picks and he did," says ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli. "You have to hand it to him. He stuck to his board. But there are people who felt the Bengals drafted some of these guys a half a round or a round early. My take is they could have got a guy like Chris Perry in the second round, and maybe with both picks, and they could have got (Florida cornerback) Keiwan Ratliff later."

Dan Pompei of The Sporting News gave them a C for similar reasons in the early rounds, but he also thinks they came out of it with some good players and understands where Lewis is coming from about trying to find productive players and not necessarily the name players.

"Some teams get judged on what the consensus is," Pompei says. "But what does the consensus matter if the guy is a good football player? What difference does it make? If they come out of it with four starting players, you would have to say that's a good draft."

What seems to bother the graders about Perry is that if the Bengals wanted a running back, they could have had Oregon State's Steven Jackson or Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones instead. The Cowboys passed on all of them and got Julius Jones later, and didn't escape the wrath with Kiper's C-minus.

"(Kevin) Jones is a game-breaker, great speed," says Pete Prisco of CBSsportsline.com. "Don't get me wrong. Chris Perry is a good player. Solid. He's going to get 1,200 yards a year, but he's not going to be a star. New England won two of the last three Super Bowls without a star running back. I don't like the Ratliff pick because he can't run. He did make a lot of plays, though. I like their draft overall, I just didn't like what they did with their two premium picks."

The criticism of reaching for some picks is dangerous. If the consensus is the selection of Ratliff at No. 49 is too high, then all it really means right now is the Bengals did a heck of a job keeping their board a secret. They weren't the only team coveting Ratliff at that point because the Eagles were trying to move to get him. The Packers were apparently waiting to take Arkansas' Miller some time in the third or fourth rounds and weren't happy when the Bengals plucked him in the third.

"Beauty," as Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle said this past weekend, "is in the eye of the beholder." And Coyle, as well as the personnel people, had their own consensus: Ratliff's brains and hands are beautiful for a defense dying for playmakers.

How many times did Lewis go on about "fit," over the weekend?

"It was a good draft, it just wasn't a great draft," Pasquarelli said. "But no one had a great draft. If I was going to give out grades, I would have had to do it on a curve to give out As to anyone. No one really had a draft where your jaw dropped, and no one really had a draft where you said, 'What the heck are these guys doing?'"

Pasquarelli says the 6-5, 310-pound Askew is a bargain. Pompei says he was their best value pick. Prisco calls him, "The steal of the draft."

"I love that pick," Prisco says. "I talked to one GM who said the kid has got first-round talent and was surprised he was there so long. Marvin just has to get those coaches to get on his butt and make him play every snap. And Marvin is the guy that can do that."

Which is another thing about this draft that you can't see right away. They got 11 players who are going to do it Lewis' way. Just look at the smart, fast 230-pound linebackers.

"This draft smells of Marvin all the way," Prisco says. "I really like Miller and Johnson. You know the kid from Purdue (Johnson) is a smart guy and when you watched Arkansas, they had two guys stand out on defense. Ahmad Carroll because he's a flashy corner and Caleb Miller. He was all over the place making plays. He'll be a good pro."

Kiper is another guy who has criticized the Perry pick, but he also wrote that he liked what the Bengals did for their defense with players like Ratliff and Maryland safety Madieu Williams.

The Bengals.com grade?

Give them a B-plus.

What's the problem? Their needs before the weekend were a nickel cornerback, a backup bell-cow running back, and a lot of help on defense. What didn't they do? OK, they couldn't get a center, but we like most of the other choices.

We're a big Chris Perry guy because we think he's got some substance to him inside and, on the field, he makes life easier for Carson Palmer. The Bengals are able to keep the threat of pounding you with two guys and Perry can help him in the passing game like a back hasn't been able to help a Bengals quarterback in years.

And what's wrong with Ratliff? He certainly is going to be ready to play before Chris Gamble, and he's got the smarts to do it right now and step in and be that third guy. People gripe about corners, corners, corners, and they go out and get the guy who led the SEC with nine picks, and people are still griping.

The two backers fit the mold and they filled spots on the defensive line with young, big up-side guys that can grow into it. In the wake of the Lee Suggs coronation against the Browns, if they said the Bengals could add seven players on defense in the draft, that would sound pretty good, right?

The fourth round is kind of high for a flier like Stacy Andrews. But we like the concept, and maybe that's about the time the sure roster bets are about gone, anyway.

But the best thing about this draft is that it leaves Lewis with pretty much an entire roster that has his type of players playing with his kind of attitude.

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