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Gurus tackle Bengals

Two weeks before the NFL scouting combine and ESPN has pigeon-holed the Bengals No. 6 pick at left tackle in their NFL mock drafts with Mel Kiper Jr., taking Baylor's Jason Smith and Todd McShay opting for Alabama's Andre Smith.

But maybe Mr. Smith won't be going to Cincinnati.

With T.J. Houshmandzadeh looking to spread his wings out of his self-proclaimed pigeon hole, some gurus are starting to look at wide receivers such as Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Missouri's Jeremy Maclin as a match with Cincinnati.

Even though Rob Rang just gave the Bengals the 6-4, 300-pound Jason Smith in his first mock draft, the senior draft analyst for thinks the receivers could also be in play and he likes Maclin's 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

"If a guy like Crabtree is staring at them, he's got to be a guy they look at because of all their question marks at receiver," Rang says. "I didn't give them a receiver here because they spent a second and third on that position last year."

But this year the Bengals may not have Houshmandzadeh and while third-rounder Andre Caldwell emerged as a Housh heir in the slot, second-rounder Jerome Simpson had just one catch and didn't do enough to progress past the "project" tag.

And even though Chad Ocho Cinco is having a placid offseason, his status is always a tad iffy.

"I could see them looking at a receiver and I guess they would have to look at Crabtree, who is very good," says Jerry Jones, the one-time long-time Bengals draft day insider who publishes the draft survey The Drugstore List.

"But what does that say about what they did last year?" Jones asks. "I think this draft is good enough that they can wait on that idea for a round or two."

So, like ESPN says, it all keeps coming back to tackle. Even though Kiper and McShay have the 6-3 ball-hawking Crabtree and the 6-1 quicksilver Maclin rated in the Bengals' ballpark. Kiper sends Crabtree to Seattle at No. 4 and Maclin to Oakland at seven. McShay has both on the board when the Bengals pick and gives the Raiders Crabtree and the 49ers Maclin at No. 10.

There is some concern about Maclin's routes because Mizzou tried to get the ball to him quickly on short stuff, but there seem to be no doubts about Crabtree.

But here's what to like about Maclin: The Bengals haven't returned a punt for a touchdown in five seasons and Maclin averaged nearly 12 yards per return in '08, so maybe he's the DeSean Jackson of this draft.

But fair to say the Bengals would also jump at a defensive player if they decide left tackle can wait another year.

Still, still.

It always comes back to tackle.

Jones gives the Bengals University of Virginia left tackle Eugene Monroe.

"I think he's the best of them by simply what he did at Virginia," Jones says. "That spot was supposed to go to Branden Albert, but Monroe won it and they had to put Albert at guard and he was a first-round pick. Monroe is the surest bet."

Rang agrees that the 6-5, 310-pound Monroe is the best of a very good lot of four.

"The most dominant, the most polished," Rang says. "He's played a lot of football and he practiced a lot against (last year's No. 2 pick) Chris Long."

Yet Alabama's Andre Smith might not be what the Bengals seek. Kiper has him going No. 2, but Rang has him falling to No. 10 to San Francisco. At 6-4, 340-pounds, Andre Smith has those Bengalish dimensions of Andrew Whitworth and Stacy Andrews, but there is some belief out there that Smith is more about a right tackle. Rang says "he doesn't have great lateral movement and with the Bengals playing in that 3-4 division, you need a guy that has to pick up those linebackers."

With Andrews (knee) shelved for what could be the first six games of the season, it would appear the Bengals have a right tackle in either Whitworth or Anthony Collins. They need a left tackle if they don't think Whitworth or Collins can do it because Levi Jones' future is cloudy with issues revolving around injury. Making him even more expendable is that they could cut him and not feel much of an impact on the salary cap because his '09 salary is close to what the bonus acceleration would be.

Jason Smith looks to be the most athletic of the tackles, although at 6-4, 300 he doesn't fit the Whit-ish dimensions, not to mention those of the 6-5, 310-pound Jones and 6-5, 340-pound Willie Anderson. Plus, he played in a spread offense in which he worked out of a two-point stance.

"That will be his toughest adjustment, but I think he can play right away; he's such a tough guy," Rang says. "He's a good run blocker and he's a very strong athlete."

Both Jones and Rang and guys like NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock rate Mississippi's Michael Oher the fourth of the top four tackle prospects. And not because of the 6-5, 330-pounder's athleticism. In fact, some of the Bengals thought he showed well at the Senior Bowl.

Some teams may be scared off by question marks about the effects of Oher's unusual upbringing. Rang spoke with him three times at the Senior Bowl and still couldn't get a feel for him.

But the guy is a talent and he displayed it in Mobile during one-on-one passing drills. Rang thinks since the Jaguars coaching staff worked with the South at the Senior Bowl and got to know Oher that they'll take him No. 8. If they don't, Rang says he could see Oher lasting to No. 22 and the Vikings, where McShay has him projected.

Jones says there is only one defensive player the Bengals need to look at if they do decide they don't need a left tackle.

B.J. Raji, the 6-1, 335-pound Boston College tackle that so impressed the Bengals coaching staff when they worked with the North.

"He plugs the middle; he's the guy they've been looking for," Jones says. "To be able to rotate him with the guy they got last year (Auburn's Pat Sims in the third round) would make a difference for them."

The gurus say Raji may or may not be there. McShay has him gone (to Seattle at No. 4). Rang gives him to the Packers at No. 9 and Kiper sends him to Denver and No. 12.

The only other defensive lineman the experts see possible at No. 6 is Florida State's Everette Brown, a 6-4, 253-pound pure end who had 13.5 sacks this past season.

"But not now," Rang says. "He's not really in the top 10 yet but I think by the time the draft comes around he'll be a top three guy. I know how he's going to work out and how he's going to interview and he'll be impressive."

McShay seems to have got the word and tickets Brown to Cleveland at No. 5. Rang made him a Chief at No. 3, but Kiper has Brown 15 to the Texans, two spots behind Texas end Brian Orakpo. The highest the trio have Orakpo is 13th to Washington.

After giving so much money to ends Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom the past two years, would the Bengals use such a high pick on an end? But they were apparently discussing Florida end Derrick Harvey along with other possibilities at No. 9 last year just a month after signing Odom.

Since they ended up drafting USC WILL linebacker Keith Rivers at that spot, the draftnicks don't see Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry being a fit in Cincinnati.

"He's really the same kind of guy; smooth and doesn't make any mistakes," Jones says.

But while he's got the reputation as a pass rusher, Curry only had 2.5 sacks as a senior.

"If you make him a pass rusher, you take away what he does best," Rang says. "He makes his best plays in space."

There's a good shot Curry wont be there anyway. Rang and Kiper have him going the pick before the Bengals to the Browns and McShay sends him to Kansas City at three.

USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga impressed the Bengals coaches playing for the other side in Mobile, but he hasn't impressed the gurus. Kiper doesn't have him in the top half of the round, and McShay and Rang each send him to Denver's 3-4 defense at No. 12.

They rave about his physicality and mindset, but they aren't enamored with his instincts and his tendency, at times, to play out of control. A fine player, but they don't see him in the top 10.

"You look at (inside) backers like Patrick Willis and Dan Morgan when they came out," Rang says. "They were about the best you could be and they were both No. 11."  

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