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Hobson's Choice: Offensive players running out?

Q: Most scouts are saying there is more good player depth at the defensive line position than there has been in a long time. I hope the Bengals don't reach with their first round pick for a need (TE or WR) rather than taking the best player available.* --T.J. R. Batavia, IL

TJ: We have to answer a note from the birthplace of Hall of Famer Ken Anderson and it has to lead off.

You make a great point. After hearing people talk about the defensive talent of this draft at the NFL scouting combine along with the injuries of tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Rob Gronkowski, and the anonymous field of wide receiver after Dez Bryant, the odds aren't so long that the Bengals go defense in the first round for the fifth time in head coach Marvin Lewis' eight seasons.

The word is you can get productive receivers and tight ends after Thursday night's first round and any time you walk out of the draft with a solid starter on either line in the AFC North is a good day. We give you the second-round pick of Andrew Whitworth in 2006, an uninspiring selection at the time because they already had Levi Jones and it didn't hit their needs. But where would they be without Whitworth now?

When you draft the best guy and not reach for a need, good things happen. Look what happened when they were looking to replace Chris Henry in 2008 and reached (make that leaped) to get Jerome Simpson in the second round. They can't do that again in their effort to replace Henry in the first round.

And you get the sense with left end Robert Geathers' bothersome knee and right end Antwan Odom's ruptured Achilles from last season a new, healthier addition at end wouldn't be a bad thing. Plus, with Tank Johnson unsigned, they may have to get another player in the tackle rotation with Domata Peko and Pat Sims.

Q: Why do the Bengals continue to fight the transition of the TE position? Times have changed and the stretch the field TE is extremely valuable to the passing game now and blocking should be secondary. Until the team accepts this they will fail at this position.* --Jim F., Beavercreek, OH

JIM: Up until a few years ago, they didn't need a stretch-the-field tight end because of their three receivers and the presence of wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh over the middle and in the red zone. They rarely threw the ball to tight end Reggie Kelly, but that all began to change when offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski came into the 2008 season wanting to use more double tight-end sets and then it accelerated when Houshmandzadeh left after the season.

You could see the emphasis begin to switch when they signed Colts receiving tight end Ben Utecht to a three-year, $9 million deal at the beginning of the '08 season. Then last year they drafted a tight end that had never got down in a stance in high school or college in Chase Coffman. That was a pick that never would have been made two years before.

Well, they would have if he'd been there. In '06 they coveted Anthony Fasano, but the Cowboys broke their hearts just in front of them and the Bengals went for Whitworth at No. 55.

But we'll recycle here what head coach Marvin Lewis said at the NFL scouting combine last week when asked if a tight end can come up with the chunk plays this offense desperately needs. You'd be thrown out of the draft room with the statement, "Blocking is secondary."

"The thing that people realize is that guy's ability to block people on the line of scrimmage, particularly, in our division, is a no-joke job and it takes a man," Lewis said. "You've got to be able to do that. That's why nobody in our division has one. You see what I'm saying? It didn't work. There was one picked very high (Kellen Winslow in Cleveland) and it didn't work and he's no longer there, because it takes a man to stand up and play the six division football games against the teams we'll go play six times."

So there were a bunch of things working against drafting a receiving tight end high: A glut of receivers (how many balls do you need?), the division they play in, and not getting the right guy to fall your way. But, as you correctly indicate, the landscape has changed. Ready or not for the AFC North, they need a tight end that can make plays down field given where we are now.

Q: With Coffman being a real unknown since he didn't see the field due to injury and with his apparent inability to block why is it so many people are high on the Bengals drafting Gresham in the first round when he isn't known as a solid blocker himself? Do they really need two TE who can't block? --*Gabe L., Dubuque, IA

GABE: They need somebody. Gresham is also coming out of a spread offense, but he's a better blocker than Coffman and that isn't saying much but he can apparently do it a little bit. Still, you make the point.

If you think you've got a stretch-the-field tight end in Coffman, then wait for the fourth round and get a kid that can block. The tight end class is supposed to be deep enough that you can get a productive guy there. It's why you don't take Florida's Aaron Hernandez. He's got better speed than Coffman, but Coffman has better hands. Either way, they're the same guy. If Tim Tebow is going to have a tough time coming out of the spread, how can his tight end block LaMarr Woodley?

And, yes, that has to be a factor. If you're calling for them to draft Gresham, you're not allowed to gripe the Monday morning next year after they rush for 37 yards against the Steelers.

Q: Shouldn't the Bengals be looking for an O-lineman? The reason they don't throw is because the line can't pass protect! The 29 sacks are misleading because they didn't pass often this last season.* --Andy B., Cincinnati, OH

ANDY: Here's a stat for you. They were 10th in the NFL allowing sacks per pass. I agree it wasn't always good. But with four new guys, top 10 is more than you could have hoped for when you play Baltimore and Pittsburgh four times.

I don't think they go for one early. But I think you'll see them start looking in the third or fourth round for a guard. If they're purely taking the best guy on the board at No. 21, it very well could be Idaho guard Mike Iupati, a guy that some think is the next Steve Hutchinson. But given their needs, wouldn't that be ridiculous?

Or would it if they think he can be a perennial Pro Bowler?

I would go back to the Whitworth pick and say it never hurts you in the AFC North to take a guy that projects to being a solid NFL lineman. But why do I think Bengaldom would storm PBS a la the Bastille with Carson Palmer scraping bottom with receivers?

Q: In the past, the Bengals needed as many bodies as possible to re-stock their talent. There are still at least four or five areas on the team that could use an immediate upgrade. However, there may be a time when you have to go for quality over quantity. Do you see any scenario that would cause the Bengals to trade up in this draft? --*Keith J., Seoul, Korea

KEITH: I see it, but it's not their style.

The only time they traded up in the last decade came when they desperately needed a tight end in 2002 and they went up and got Matt Schobel. This would be a good draft to do it. It is deep in a lot of spots and the Bengals should have an extra third and maybe a fourth. But they don't like to give away draft picks. Their draft picks are how Redskins owner Dan Snyder sees free agents. Life blood.

I wish they would do it more, but then they would point at the success they've had from the fourth round on with guys in that same decade: Houshmandzadeh, Robert Geathers, Domata Peko, Tab Perry, Jon Fanene, Stacy Andrews, Bernard Scott and Chinedum Ndukwe. Those are guys, they would argue, you give away when you trade up.

How do you evaluate '08? A lot of people felt they should have traded up to take to tackle Sedrick Ellis. Not a bad player, but by staying pat they got Keith Rivers and Pat Sims. Better? Probably.

But it sounds like the way to go this trip in this first round is to trade back, not up. With no drop-dead tight end or receiver sitting there at No. 21 (it sounds like they'll get the same guy at the top of the second round), trade back and get a Damian Williams late in the first or early second.

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