Like Christmas lights, the AARP magazine, and W-2 forms, the Bengals.com Media Mock Draft arrives much too early.
Barely had our cadre of reporters set foot back in their towns from this week's NFL Scouting Combine and they were asked to get on a clock that isn't even set, never mind ticking. Hammered for names, they politely reminded that no team had yet to reorder its draft board after the Combine, free agency is still more than a week away, and the obligatory late-bloomer quarterback prospects have yet to identify themselves.
All of which is reflected is the first Bengals.com Media Mock that runs to Cincinnati's pick at No. 21. While on the clock, the Bengals had yet to see a quarterback or running back taken.
And there were some reaches that may be worthy of a Combine vertical leap (Sharrif Floyd at No. 2 or Ziggy Ansah at No. 6?), and there were APBs out on what were supposed to be certain top-of-the first-round guys in Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore, Florida State tackle Menelik Watson, and Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert.
But this list shows a couple of things. First, it's early, but also that this is a draft with a lot of solid players but few if any signature ones. That promises plenty of volatility from now until April 25.
At the moment, Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel (above) being the first pick could be the only thing close to a maybe. Talk about a game of chance. In honor of Cincinnati's new casino, here is our first mock game of 21 of the draft season:
1. CHIEFS: LT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M; Adam Teicher, Kansas City Star: After the NFL Scouting Combine, Teicher ranked Joeckel No. 1 in his top 10. It's a good way to start the Kansas City career of quarterback Alex Smith with the pending trade, given Joeckel may be this draft's best all-around player.
2. JAGUARS: DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida; Vito Stellino, Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville's new regime of general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley has been preaching speed, and Floyd is not only fast, but big at 6-3, 300 and Jacksonville finished 2012 last in the NFL in sacks.
3. RAIDERS: OLB Barkevious Mingo, LSU; Bill Williamson, ESPN.com/AFC West: The Raiders are seeking any kind of defensive help after a season they had the third-fewest sacks in the league per pass while giving up the fifth-most points per game.
4. EAGLES: LT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan; Les Bowen, Philadelphia Daily News: The Eagles are rebuilding in a draft without any great playmakers, so they opt for a position that gives them a building block.
5. LIONS: CB Dee Milliner, Alabama; Mike O'Hara, detroitlions.com: O'Hara's not sure Milliner is going to be there, but in this scenario he takes him: "He answered questions about his speed at the Combine."
6. BROWNS: OLB Ziggy Ansah, BYU; Tony Grossi, ESPNCleveland.com, WKNR Radio: High risk, high reward, Grossi says. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton is talking about having multi-fronts in his 3-4 defense and Ansah can line up in a couple of different spots even though he barely just discovered football. Jarvis Jones's health issues could be a red flag here.
7. CARDINALS: G Chance Warmack, Alabama; Darren Urban, azcardinals.com: New GM Steve Keim may be looking at Warmack as a guy with more value than your average guard. He's not a quarterback, but the Cards need to solidify their line and if they believe Warmack is going to be a multi-Pro Bowl player, what better guy to take in the top 10? But Urban knows this is a pick still up in the air given the situation at quarterback.
8. BILLS: WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee; Tim Graham, Buffalo News: The Ryan Fitzpatrick era looks to be all but over, but this could be too high for a quarterback, and the Bills may come back early in the second round for that guy. It also may be too early for a receiver, but not if the only one you've got coming back is Stevie Johnson. Buffalo decided not to tender Donald Jones and David Nelson, who combined to catch 176 balls since they were rookies in 2010.
9. JETS: DE Dion Jordan, Oregon; Rich Cimini ESPN New York: In the last two first rounds the Jets have gone with inside rushers in their 3-4 with tackle Muhammed Wilkerson and end Quinton Coples at backer, and it's time for an outside pass rusher in a defense that finished 24th in the NFL in sacks per pass.
10. TITANS: DT Star Lotulelei, Utah; Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean: The thinking is this is a good spot for Warmack since the Titans guards are aging and banged up with high cap numbers. But the Titans could always get a guard in the second round and fortify a defensive front that has to stop the Texans twice a year. Tennessee finished 24th against the run in 2012.
11. CHARGERS: LT Lane Johnson, Oklahoma; Michael Gehlken, Union-Tribune San Diego: As their loss to the Bengals reflected (three of their four sacks coming from the Cincinnati ends), the Chargers need help protecting Philip Rivers, and Jared Gaither doesn't appear to be the answer.
12. DOLPHINS: CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State; Ben Volin, Palm Beach Post: The anticipation here is that cornerback Sean Smith is headed off to free agency, but the Dolphins could also be looking at pass rushers like Ansah in the effort to help what Cameron Wake does naturally inside.
13. BUCCANEERS: LB Alec Ogletree, Georgia; Roy Cummings, Tampa Tribune: This would allow the Bucs to possibly move Mason Foster to the strong side and give them an athletic presence in the middle of a defense that finished first against the run but last against the pass.
14. PANTHERS: DT Sheldon Richardson, Missouri; Joseph Person, Charlotte Observer: The Panthers feel like they've got cornerstones on each side of the ball in the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year, quarterback Cam Newton, and the 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Now they want to find people to put in front of them and here comes a potential double-digit sacker from the 3-technique for Kuechly.
15. SAINTS: DE Bjoern Werner, Florida State; Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com/NFC South: The Saints need to overhaul their defensive line and develop versatility for the 3-4, and the 6-4, 275-pound Werner has the motor, production and build to be a rush linebacker.
16. RAMS: WR Tavon Austin, West Virginia; Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The Rams covet a right tackle, but they're also picking at No. 22 and could get him there. Like the Bengals, free agency may dictate this pick and the Rams are bracing for the loss of wide receiver Danny Amendola's 63 catches. Even if they re-sign Amendola, it is going to be hard for the Rams to turn down the draft's most exciting player, a jack of all trades that plays the slot and can return punts with an electrifying 40 time that hit 4.25 on some Combine watches. The Rams could use some juice after finishing 25th in points per game. If the Bengals lose Andre Smith in free agency, they may look right tackle, too, but it's doubtful the Rams would trade up to get ahead of the Bengals, given they've got only one extra pick and that they traded down last year.
17. STEELERS: WR Keenan Allen, California; Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The Steelers need that monstrous outside rush linebacker, but they've never taken one in the first round because it has been too much of a projection and teams need as close as they can get to sure things in the first round. So if the Steelers do take a backer here, it could be an inside guy, say a guy like LSU's Kevin Minter. They've never replaced James Farrior, the career of Sean Spence, last year's third-round pick, is in doubt with a knee injury, and they may re-sign Larry Foote. But the Steelers need wideouts and they have to replace Mike Wallace.
18. COWBOYS: G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina; Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas: The Cowboys need to beef up in the middle in the ongoing effort to protect quarterback Tony Romo after they finished next-to-last in rushing.
19. GIANTS: OLB Jarvis Jones, Georgia; Mike Eisen, Giants.com: Neck issues seem to be secondary for a very large (6-3, 240) man who is extremely versatile and disruptive. He's built like a SAM and the Giants need three backers despite last April's trade for Keith Rivers, now a free agent. With end Osi Umenyiora on the way out and backer Mathias Kiwanuka possibly replacing him, Jones fills the need.
20. BEARS: RT D.J. Fluker, Alabama; Brad Biggs, Chicago Tribune: Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert would be a nice target for quarterback Jay Cutler, but the Bears also have to protect him, and although the massive Fluker isn't all that mobile it looks like he's going to an NFL starter for a long time at right tackle.
21. BENGALS: FS Kenny Vaccaro, Texas; Joe Reedy, Cincinnati Enquirer: Reedy says he doesn't like to take safeties this high, but he says Vaccaro, Florida's Matt Elam and Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien make this an above average class.
"When you look at what's out there at safety in free agency, you see that the Bengals have to develop a young one in-house and Vaccaro looks to be the perfect candidate," Reedy said.
We have high regard for Reedy, the ultimate effort player who goes sideline-to-sideline, but we're going to have to disagree with him on this one with the old premium position argument.
We don't see how the Bengals can take a safety (or a running back or a wide receiver for that matter) this high with players like this on the board in this scenario:
Cornerback Desmond Trufant of Washington, Florida State tackle Menelik Watson, defensive ends Sam Montgomery of LSU, Alex Okafor of Texas and Damontre Moore of Texas A&M.
If the Bengals can't re-sign Andre Smith then that may force them into a tackle here. But maybe not. Anthony Collins has proven to be a capable player at both tackle spots.
Either way, the Bengals can get their two biggest needs—safety and running back—in the second and third rounds. It's the beauty of the Carson Palmer trade, the gift that keeps on giving. Two picks in the second round with deep crops of safeties and running backs really hits them in this draft.
The Marvin Lewis Track Record in concert with the personnel department picking No. 21 or higher also favors the premium position argument with the selection of two corners, one college defensive end, and one tackle as opposed to no safeties and running backs.
But free agency is going to dictate this draft, as well the first 20 picks. As one AFC personnel boss mused this Combine week, after Joeckel and Fisher, anything could happen on the board.
If the Bengals don't know yet, can we?