Hobson's Choice: Can't wait on first-rounder

Do you believe that the Bengals have enough depth and talent to draft the best player possible at 24, even if that player is a potential project or of questionable character? (Think Randy Moss or Chris Gamble.)

I think we would be better served to take the best defensive back available if just to add depth. After our last playoff game I think the need for a quality at the backup positions became very apparent.
**--Jamil, Rock Hill, S.C.

JAMIL:** The fine print of the new collective bargaining agreement isn't so fine for NFL teams taking a flyer on the character issue. Teams are no longer allowed the ability to take away all or some of a player's signing bonus because of a violation of the contract.

If there wasn't a premium on character before there certainly is now, particularly with a first-round pick.

And, money is also the major reason they don't want to take a project in the first round. No matter where a player is drafted in the first round, his contract is going to be so big that you can't wait a year or two for them to pan out because it would be an economic disaster. The kid has to play.

The best place for projects is the draft's second day, which the Bengals did in the 2004 fourth round with offensive tackle Stacy Andrews and defensive tackle Matthias Askew. There is no drumbeat, financially or otherwise, to get them in there right away.

The only position where it makes sense is sitting a rookie first-round quarterback for a year, as Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis proved so brilliantly with Carson Palmer.

But even that was a unique situation. Lewis knew a team and fan base that had been down and out for so long and had been through two first-round quarterback busts in 11 seasons needed to win right away and not rush another one. A more established team, like Green Bay, or even Tennessee, can probably get away with playing a rookie QB right away, provided their offensive lines won't get him killed a la David Klingler and David Carr 10 years apart.

(Not so the Jets or Lions).

You make a heck of a point on defensive backs, and I'm thinking more cornerback than safety at No. 24. Tory James doesn't have the tread on him that most 33-year-olds have, but that's old for a corner and Keiwan Ratliff knows he has to prove he can be more than a nickel back.

The Bengals depth chart is more stacked than it's ever been in the free-agency era. There is no stop-the-bleeding pick need in the first round, but there are assignments on that first day of the draft:

They need a tight end fairly high to at least play behind starter Reggie Kelly and possibly be the other guy in double tight-end formations, they have to be mindful defensive end Justin Smith is a free agent after this season, and there is always the cornerback need for a team that plays six of the NFL's top 10 passers this season.

That would be the Colts' Peyton Manning (Dec. 18), the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger (Sept. 24 and Dec. 31), the Patriots' Tom Brady (Oct. 1), the Broncos' Jake Plummer (Dec. 24), the Chiefs' Trent Green (Sept. 10) and the Saints' Drew Brees (Nov. 19).

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