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Hobson's Choice: Out with reach

Q: If the Bengals take the third OT off the board at number six overall, wouldn't it be an obvious reach for a team need as opposed to "picking the best player" mantra they say they go by? Oher coming to town looks like they are stretching out to make that reach. What are your thoughts? *--Troy C., Richwood, OH **

TROY: First of all, thanks to everyone for being so patient with the change over to the new site and tolerating for so long the Levi answer, which was posted for longer than his career. Which is still in Cincinnati as of this moment.

As for reaching at No. 6 for Smith and Oher, is it really a reach? That's what the Bengals and the rest of the NFL have to figure out because there is no consensus on them.

Just because they're here for a visit doesn't mean much. They'll probably bring in about 20 guys. For instance last year they brought in running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart but decided to go with linebacker Keith Rivers.

Certainly from a physical standpoint for Smith and Oher, it's far from a reach. Given the position they play and their athleticism they are top 10 picks in this draft.
Particularly Smith, who is a beast against the run. But can he be an NFL pass blocker? And what of some of his past decisions?

And while Oher is an athletic freak and a computer printout of specifications for an early 21st century NFL left tackle, what about his background and quiet, inward nature? Does that make him a reach?

No more than anybody else in this draft. The top two tackles also have question marks. Baylor's Jason Smith has the great attitude and personality, but he's not real big and comes out of an un-NFL offense in which he didn't get down in a three-point stance. Virginia's Eugene Monroe is another quiet guy that some scouts say needs to get more physical in the running game.

All good players but no drop-dead locks. But then, this is shaping up to be a draft where everybody in the top ten could be second-guessed for reaching, unless the pick is Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry or Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

So if the talent is so close, wouldn't the best way to go be need? And that's what they have to decide.

If they think they can line up and play with Andrew Whitworth and Anthony Collins at tackle, why take one and not, say, a defensive tackle in B.J. Raji, a middle linebacker in Rey Maualuga, or even a wide receiver in Jeremy Maclin?

But if they think Whitworth is a better guard and they  still need to solve left or right tackle depending on what side they keep Collins, and if they determine the physical skills trump the intangible concerns for Andre Smith and Oher, is it a reach?

Name a guy they take there that isn't considered a reach at No. 6 if Jason Smith, Monroe, Curry and Crabtree are already gone.

Raji might be the only guy, and he's taken a few shots lately with weight concerns and a 2007 academic suspension.

The ESPN gurus have Andre Smith and Oher going somewhere between Nos. 10-13. Does that make them a reach? Mel Kiper said Levi Jones was a reach at No. 10 in 2002 because he was supposed to go No. 15. But he played like a top 10 pick before he got hurt and proved to be far from a reach.

Yeah, maybe they'll take Andre Smith or Oher and in any other draft it would be a reach. But, like every draft, you won't know it's a reach until you reach a few seasons later.

Q: We are focused on the upcoming draft, but I wonder if you can fill us in on what the team may think of the younger "unknown" players currently on the roster. **While I agree that the team's first round – and maybe second round – pick should be able to come in and start right away, guys who have had 1-3 years of practice squad /limited game experience can be as good as any mid-to-late round pick. *

If, and that's a big IF, the team's evaluation is positive.  Thinking of OL guys like Bujnoch, Cook (excelled at MSU), Mathis (started for Carolina 15 games), Livings (looked good the final stretch last year) and Roland (huge man!) *

Just wondering, is there is a potential player in that group who could step up and get significant playing time and really contribute? *--Steve P., New Bremen, OH

STEVE: The names that pop out on the offensive line are centers Kyle Cook and Dan Santucci, but Eric Henderson always has to be in the mix, as does running back James Johnson.

Henderson, who has bounced between end and SAM linebacker since the Bengals signed him as a college free agent in 2006, has ended his last two seasons on injured reserve and played in just two NFL games. But as long as this team is trying to find a consistent pass rush, he has to be in the roster mix because of his natural pass-rush ability and work ethic.

You're right. Evan Mathis has more NFL experience than Cook and Santucci (still looking for their first game snaps), but the latter two have been in the system longer. Plus, the coaches were close enough to make the move with Cook for Eric Ghiaciuc in the middle of last season while Santucci (ankle) was on IR. But Cook suffered a season-ending toe injury in warmups before that game. Heading into the draft, they're going to be the guys getting the snaps.

Livings played well enough in the last six games that it appeared he could be a backup guard and get you through games if needed. Dennis Roland's one start at right tackle in the finale isn't enough to go on, but he'll get a long look to see if he can be a backup worth keeping. The Bengals rushed for 204 yards against the Chiefs in that game, so he must have done something right.

Johnson, a college free agent rookie who sparked at the end of last season catching the ball as well as running, has at least emerged as a viable roster candidate and figures  to give both Chris Perry and Kenny Watson a serious run. In the past few seasons they have kept three backs and a fullback, so who makes it after Cedric Benson and the drafted rookie?

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