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Hobson's Choice: Defense improved

Q: What is your grade on the Bengals 2008 draft? I think they did great addressing needs without selling the farm to move up. Rivers becomes instant stabilizer in middle, and two good looking WRs (big names don't always translate to pros, i.e. Peter Warrick) add depth which we've lost. Sims' big body will get PT at NT, then we rounded out with Shirley and the big OT from Kansas. Bengaldom rest easy. The Bengals are making the right moves!
--Heath H., Las Vegas, NV

HEATH: Every day after, the grade is an incomplete. Indeed, maybe as long as three years after is it an incomplete.

The 2001 draft that gave you Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rudi Johnson and Justin Smith was a D until '02, a C until '03, and a B until '04.

But for now, in the cozy confines of speculation, you'd have to give them high marks for going after their needs, sticking with their board, and immediately improving their defense.

And, not so high grades for being inconsistent on the character issue.

After watching Keith Rivers in action here Sunday and talking to the coaches, I give myself an F for lobbying for cornerback Leodis McKelvin at No. 9 in place of Sedrick Ellis.

Heck, Rivers should have been their guy even if Ellis had been there, now I'm thinking. It's no secret that the backer corps is rife with inexperience and question marks. Rivers automatically gives them a mature, athletic force that just hasn't been there with any consistency.

You hate to put so much on a rookie and you have to give him time to adjust to the speed and the pro game, but there's no question that he was the best linebacker in the draft and that linebacker is one of their biggest holes, so it is a beautiful thing.

What would really be a beautiful thing is if they get the linebacker and the defensive tackle out of this draft. If they get both, plus a productive No. 3 receiver, it has to be an A.

Auburn defensive tackle Pat Sims, the third-rounder, supposedly comes with red flags and Pro Football Weekly writes about his immaturity and lack of discipline. But no one who has seen him play doubts he can play and the word is if he seems a bit unfocused, he's an absolute bear on Gameday, very difficult to block, and plays the game with great intensity.

Hey, he's only a junior and has only started for one year. But there are guys like Chad and Rudi that became Pro Bowlers even though they played just one year of Division I ball. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph had just 14 games of Division I, so Sims has a shot.

Any time you get three receivers for Carson Palmer, it's a hell of a year, never mind weekend. It's funny that people were taking the second-round pick in the veins because Jerome Simpson played at little Coastal Carolina, and, heaven forbid, Mario Manningham was still on the board.

Where were the people who were saying Palmer can throw to anybody? That it doesn't matter who the receivers are?

Believe me, Palmer will get the ball to a guy who runs a 4.45 40, has a vertical leap of 44 inches, and has 11-inch hands. If the kid had those measurables at Ohio State, Mel Kiper, Jr. would have legally changed his name to Jerome Simpson, Jr.

And, the other third-round pick, Florida receiver Andre Caldwell, is as solid a pick as they come. Tough to miss on an SEC skill guy with a lot of experience.

We said this after the Bengals picked Andrew Whitworth in the second round in '06 and we'll say it again after they picked Anthony Collins in the fourth round Sunday: Any time you pick a big offensive lineman that can protect Palmer at a couple of different positions, it's a good pick.

Here's why the fifth-round selection of Fresno State defensive tackle Jason Shirley makes me a little uneasy: The guy's three off-field incidents that includes a spectacular DUI in which he ran into an apartment building takes away from all the hard work Cincinnati's scouts, coaches, and execs did in preparation for the draft and overshadows the great character picks they did make.

I'd be willing to bet that Shirley is not the biggest character risk in this draft and that there was more than one team willing to take him.

The repeat offender Pacman Jones can get traded for draft picks, and the Giants can pick Manningham in the third round and the Bears can take defensive tackle Marcus Harrison five picks before Manningham despite marijuana questions for both, and it's the Bengals that get the national headlines.

But they have to expect they're going to get impaled more than anyone else when they take a pick like that because of that horrific arrest stretch in '06.

Which is why when they do take a high-risk, people forget about the other 99.9 percent good guys. Rivers is a rock of character and three of their first four picks were team captains. In the sixth round they got a pair of brilliant students in Villanova tight end Matt Sherry and Appalachian State safety Corey Lynch.

Sherry graduated after his third season of eligibility with a degree in finance and then played this season while in the MBA program and taking graduate courses in economics, accounting and statistics and Lynch is a big-time physics major.

But, you won't hear about them, which is why you wish the Bengals would just take a safer pick.

And you hope Shirley makes it. If he's willing to try to get his life back on track with this new start, we ought to have the decency to give him a fresh start.

Sorry to digress ...

Who knows what we'll be saying about this draft in 2015? But I like how they helped their front seven, and how they gave Palmer some more speed and athleticism at receiver and size up front.

Q: Since the Bengals did not draft a RB this past weekend, do you think they will go after recently let go Dominic Rhodes?
--Mike C., Cincinnati, OH

MIKE: The most encouraging thing to come out of the weekend besides Rivers and Sims is Marvin's hope that Chris Perry can get on the field in two weeks for the voluntary workouts.

Maybe it will change, but I think the sense right now is they'll see how Perry and Rudi Johnson look on the field starting May 13 and if they don't like what they see, they may pursue a veteran back like a Rhodes or Shaun Alexander.

The Bengals execs and coaches watched Perry and Johnson on the field last week before the draft, and given that they didn't draft one it makes you think they liked what they saw.

And they had their chances.

They could have had Kevin Smith and Jamaal Charles in the second round (where they got Corey Dillon) but went for a receiver, or Tashard Choice in the fourth (where they got Rudi), but went for a tackle.

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