Hobson's Choice: Pass on top 10

Q: Wouldn't we be better off losing the rest of our games? A higher draft pick at this point would be better than not making the playoffs and having a mid-round selection. I'm not saying lose intentionally, maybe just stick our younger players in and let them play. Of course, playing the spoiler for Cleveland's playoff hopes would be sweet and I really don't want to stop Miami from being the only 0-16 team ever. Your thoughts?
--Matt, Pomeroy, OH

MATT: Yeah, you wouldn't want to go down in history as the guys that let the 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs pop the champagne cork. And top 10 picks are the biggest gambles this side of Don Imus, but here's to seeing more of guys like Frostee Rucker, Marvin White and DeDe Dorsey.

Unless there's a sure-shot way of getting a big-time defensive lineman, avoiding a top 10 pick is reason enough to play it out. And the Bengals have done better than most with their last three in Justin Smith, Levi Jones and Carson Palmer.

Just look at the year the Bengals got ripped for taking Jones at No. 10. The nine guys in front of Jones in 2002 were David Carr, Julius Peppers, Joey Harrington, Mike Williams (the Texas tackle), Quentin Jammer, Ryan Sims, Bryant McKinnie, Roy Williams and John Henderson.

Just like the rest of the draft, it's a 50-50 crapshoot. The only difference is you're going to tie up franchise money that anchors you in the salary cap on a guy you don't know if he can play. It would be worth it if you were assured of getting a rare position you really needed, like a Peppers (rush end) or Henderson (a monster defensive tackle).

You can say that Smith was over drafted at No. 4 in '01, but look at that top 10:

Michael Vick, Leonard Davis and Gerard Warren went before him, and Smith has been more productive than Davis or Warren, although Davis is getting revived in Dallas.

After Smith went LaDainian Tomlinson, Richard Seymour, Andre Carter, David Terrell and Koren Robinson.

OK, two potential Hall of Famers in Tomlinson and Seymour, but the other three guys can only drive to Canton. Take Smith's career in the big picture and it is as good or better than half of them.

The only point being that less than half the time you get enough bang for your buck in the top 10.

No thanks. You get the same thing for a lot less at No. 17.

But I'm with you on playing the kids. How are they going to make some of these crucial offseason decisions on defense without working in guys like Rucker at free-agent-to-be Smith's right end spot and White at safety? And rookie safety Chinedum Ndukwe for that matter, even though he's getting snaps in the dime package?

The last time we saw Rucker he had four tackles in seven snaps and was involved in a turnover. Don't put running back Rudi Johnson out to pasture yet, but look at the scrum developing next year if you're going to keep just three tailbacks: Rudi, Kenny Watson, Kenny Irons and Chris Perry. They know what Watson can do and Dorsey may be just a 6-7-8 carry change-of-pace guy, but he sure looks 5.9 yards per interesting.

Free safety Madieu Williams could become a free agent and they rarely spend big money to keep a safety and you can go all the way back to Darryl Williams and Sam Shade, not to mention Cory Hall and Kevin Kaesviharn. That's fine, but do they know if they can replace him?

Still, this whole gig is about winning and momentum. It'd be nice to string some hope and wins into the offseason. It seems like they never got rid of the hangover of losing the last three games in '06.


Q: John Madden was asked in the Sunday night pregame if the Bengals had the talent and the will to win the game. John said that the Bengals had the talent but he did not know if they had the will. Have the Bengals players given up on the season? Have they lost the will to win? Are they just in a funk and are pressing too hard? What are your thoughts?
--John, Maysville, KY

JOHN: You see Landon Johnson play with a dozen stitches in his arm, hear pain in Stacy Andrews' voice as he talks of his false starts, and watch Eric Ghiaciuc work in the snow on his injured knee. Isn't that will?

Yeah, they're in a funk and, yeah, they're pressing. Pressing? There were 27 examples of pressing Sunday night.

Carson Palmer doesn't have 27 incompletions in a training camp. He had 32 in the previous three games combined. That would seem to be the result of the quarterback trying to do too much against the NFL's No. 1 defense with zilch of a running game and a tentative, soaked passing game.

But there's a big difference between pressing and quitting and I'm not so sure Madden meant that.

If you're pressing, that shows you care. There is a little bit of drive-by reporting in the national media and sometimes, like a value meal, they get it right. It's the nature of the beast when you cover 32 teams. And I love Madden and I didn't hear him on the subject, but I think the lack-of-will stuff is a little overstated.

Now, if you want to question the selfishness and the me-first attitude and how it affects winning, as Lewis and many of his veterans have, that's a fair topic. But I don't think it has anything to do with will. And, maybe that's what Madden was talking about.

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