Hobson's Choice: Solid players left

Here's the e-mail from my man Ed A. about 20 minutes or so after the Bengals took USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga with the 38th pick in the second round: "Trade up and get Unger NOW..................."

A: He's talking about Oregon center Max Unger, the man perceived to be the last of the top three centers in the draft. I presume he wanted to trade the Bengals first pick in the third round, the 70th, back up into the second round to get Unger and maybe get three starters in two rounds.

A good thought and one the Bengals apparently explored, but not too deeply because they felt they would have had to give up at least two valuable picks and maybe as much as a second-rounder next year if they went up into the low 40s.

As it was, Unger didn't go until 49 and Seattle gave up two picks to the Bears, the 68th in the third and the 105th in the fourth that the Bengals are eying hungrily. Of course if Nos. 70 and 106 don't pan out and they continue to struggle at center, well, bad call. But if they can get a couple of potential starters at Nos. 70, 98 and 106, Unger might as well be Felix Unger.

We've all spent the last three months since the Senior Bowl hoping they would get Unger, or Eric Wood, or Alex Mack. In order to guarantee the top two, Wood and Mack, it turned out they would have had to get up to at least No. 28 from No. 38 and that would have cleaned them out, starting with Maualuga. And forget a running back or a tight end.

There are some good players left. For instance, NFL.com's Gil Brandt says five of his top 50 are still on the board:  Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech; Jamon Meredith, OT, South Carolina; Jarron Gilbert, DE, San Jose State; Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida; D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt.

Yes, Alabama center Antoine Caldwell is in his 51-100 players, but not in any of the top tiers. How the Bengals have them rated, who knows?

No question the center spot is dicey. Their most experienced guys in the system have never played in an NFL game. But there is also evidence that starting centers come as much from college free agents (Kyle Cook) and late-rounders (Dan Santucci) as they do in the first three rounds.

But, let's face it. We'd all feel better if they get a center before Sunday gets very old.

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