In honor of Reds announcer Marty Brennaman's return to the air waves Wednesday with that melodious baritone that officially ends every Cincinnati winter, what better day to start spring football with the first version of the 2014 Bengals.com Media Mock Draft?
The cones are still being picked up from the NFL Scouting Combine, but Marty waits for no one. You know the drill. We mock to the Bengals' pick, No. 24, and then mull some names:
1. TEXANS -QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida; John McClain, The Houston Chronicle
McClain, a Hall-of-Famer who has blanketed Houston pro football from Bum's rush to J.J.'s swats, doesn't know yet who they'll pick. He will before anybody else. All he knows now it's going to be a QB: "They don't need (Jadeveon) Clowney. Anyone who saw them play last year knows they need a quarterback."
2. RAMS -OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan; Jim Thomas, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
They'd love to trade out of here and did two years ago in the RGIII deal with Washington. If they stay at 2, Thomas isn't going with Clowney even though head coach Jeff Fisher collects defensive ends. He's already got Pro Bowlers Chris Long and Robert Quinn, along with William Hayes, one of the best third ends in the league a la Robert Geathers. But the thinking is offensive line is more of a pressing need. Left tackle Jake long suffered an ACL tear deep in December and may not be back until very late. Lewan is a bruiser and mauler and they seem to like a nasty streak longer than the Mississippi.
3. JAGUARS -DE Jadeveon Clowney; Vito Stellino, Florida Times-Union.
Stellino, who has covered the NFL from the Steelers' move to Chuck Noll, to the Colts' move to Indianapolis, to the Browns' move to Baltimore, has seen the Jaguars fall in the last decade trying to force moves at quarterback. With Jags general manager Dave Caldwell on record saying he won't force this pick that sounds to Stellino as if they'll wait until the top of the second round to get the quarterback. With one receiver already suspended after running afoul of the NFL substance abuse policy, Justin Blackmon, the thinking is they'll stay away from Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
4. BROWNS -WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Pat McManamon, ESPN.com.
McManamon has plenty of opinions on what this team will do after covering it up and down northeast Ohio for years at the Akron Beacon-Journal, FoxSports Ohio and now ESPN. This one is they'll back off on the quarterback at the top of the draft (they also have the 26th pick thanks to the dearly departed) and go get another weapon for quarterback Brian Hoyer. Hoyer is being viewed as a solid "bridge," guy between whomever they draft and getting another beastly receiver to go with Josh Gordon makes life very nice for him.
5. RAIDERS -QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M; Frank Cooney, publisher of NFLDraftScout.com
Cooney covered the Raiders back when They Just Did Win, can't remember the last sellout. The CW here seems to be if they're going to roll the dice, why not put people in the seats at the same time?
6. FALCONS -OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo; D. Orlando Ledbetter, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Ledbetter, a former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter now president of the Pro Football Writers of America, is no lame duck as he heads into his last year. He thinks the Falcons go this way because they run a hybrid scheme and they did it last year without a versatile backer when Kroy Biermann got hurt. Jonathan Massaquoi rushed and free-agent rookie Joplo Bartu dropped, but Mack can do it all.
7. * *BUCCANEERS -OT Greg Robinson, Auburn; Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune
Maybe if Bortles or Manziel is there they'd think about a QB, but they seem fairly settled with Mike Glennon. The bigger need is to protect him as the offensive line gets ready for a major shakeup under new head coach Lovie Smith.
8. VIKINGS -QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville; Dave Campbell, The Associated Press.
Mike Zimmer's first draft pick as a head coach could match Marvin Lewis' first pick all those years ago with a franchise QB. Campbell, who has covered the Vikes for 14 seasons, worked the combine and got the sense they think he's more NFL ready than, say, Bortles. It sounds like they'd be interested in trading down if they could help for their back seven with one of the top cornerbacks or outside backers.
9. BILLS -OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M; Mark Gaughan, The Buffalo News
A wide receiver makes sense because Buffalo didn't have anyone among the NFL's top 50 receiving yardage leaders. But with Watkins gone, Gaughan believes they'll go "Best Player," and here that is Matthews. They're OK at left tackle, but need one on the right side.
10. LIONS -WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Mike O'Hara, detroitlions.com
A tough call for Detroit between Evans and corner Justin Gilbert, but O'Hara has new head coach Jim Caldwell staying true to his offensive roots. They're not looking for a No. 2 wide receiver to team with Calvin Johnson. They're looking for a No. 1 in his own right to draw attention or take over if Megatron is out for any length of time. O'Hara notes Evans isn't a blazer, but he can do everything else.
(That makes three Aggies in the top ten. How many NFL interviews did A&M coach Kevin Sumlin get?)
11. TITANS -OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA; Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean
With old friend Ray Horton changing the defense to his multiple nightmares that he learned at the foot of Dick LeBeau as a player and coach in Cincy, Wyatt gives us the last pass-rushing hybrid at the top of the draft. Wyatt, who has chronicled the Titans from Air McNair to the bursts of the flighty Chris Johnson, also sees the match of Barr with new Titans linebackers coach Lou Spanos, his college coordinator.
12. GIANTS -OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame; Dan Graziano, ESPN.com
Last year at No. 19 the Giants selected a similar guard-tackle type in Syracuse's Justin Pugh and he made 16 starts at right tackle. The thinking is the Giants have to get deeper and more talented on the offensive line.
13. RAMS -FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville; Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A dream scenario for the Rams, a club that desperately needs help in the secondary and this board gives them a shot at all the DBs. Safety seems to be the priority and it's a tough call between Pryor and Alabama's Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. The Rams need a rangy free safety back there playing the ball and Pryor played more in the box. But they like safeties that are big hitters and can close on the blitz. Pryor qualifies on both counts and seems to have a high ceiling.
14. BEARS -CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Brad Biggs, The Chicago Tribune
This is a pure best-guy-on-the-board selection by Biggs. It would be a shocker if Gilbert is here after his dominating combine, where he smoked the rest of the DBs with 4.37 seconds in the 40-yard dash. On top of his seven interceptions, second most in the nation, he's beckoning the top ten. Of course, Gilbert would fit the Bears with some free-agent losses expected at corner and a need for youth at the spot. But if Gilbert isn't there, they'll be looking for a pass rusher with a higher grade than the remaining corners.
15. STEELERS -WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State; Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh would be all over Gilbert with Ike Taylor possibly a salary cap casualty, but they'd probably back off a corner like Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. Although Dennard ran faster than expected at the combine, his speed is questioned and that has been an issue for Pittsburgh in the back end. Plus, he's only 5-11. The thinking is there are a lot of good, serviceable corners out there before the fifth round, but not until the second round or late in the first. In part because, as Dulac notes, only four of the combine's 39 corners were taller than 6-0. Benjamin is the tall, physical receiver they want opposite Antonio Brown
16. COWBOYS -DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; Todd Archer, ESPNDallas.com
As Bengals defensive line coach Jay Hayes says, the 6-1isdh Donald should send two-time Bengals Pro Bowler Geno Atkins a thank you note. Pre-Geno and he may have gone in the fourth round like Atkins did in 2010. But then again, new Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli knows what to do with undersized three techniques. Archer, a former Cincinnati Post reporter who covered the Bengals at the turn of the century, reminds people that Marinelli coached Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp in Tampa.
17. RAVENS -TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina; Matt Zenitz, Carroll County Times
This may be off the board if they reach a long-term deal with incumbent tight end Dennis Pitta or franchise him. But Baltimore has to shore up the passing game for quarterback Joe Flacco, Ebron is the most dynamic tight end in the draft, and this is about where he goes. But the Ravens are also looking for a running mate for wide receiver Torrey Smith, so keep an eye on USC wide receiver Marqise Lee.
18. JETS -WR Marqise Lee, USC; Rich Cimini, NewYorkESPN.com
Lee didn't burn up at the 40 at the combine but, as Cimini notes, two years ago he was the best receiver in the country. Receiver looks to be a lock for the Jets with Santonio Holmes about to be cut and patience wearing thin on Stephen Hill, a second-round pick in 2012 with just four career TDs. If Ebron's there, that could also happen.
19. DOLPHINS -OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama; Chris Perkins, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
If it breaks this way, the Dolphins are going to be hard pressed because they've got to re-order their offensive line in the wake of the Jonathan Martin-Richie Icognito meltdown. Oddly, Zach Martin would be a perfect fit here, as would the other three tackles. But Kouandijo's combine medical (reports of an arthritic knee) and workouts (21 reps for 225 pounds) are under scrutiny this early in the draft and there is no one else rated this high that fits their needs.
20. CARDINALS -S Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama; Darren Urban, azcardinals.com
The Cards are in the market for an offensive or defensive lineman, but this board has thinned out for those spots. They figure to meet their offensive tackle need in free agency, so Dennard is a possibility yet Arizona is looking to get a little younger at safety with Yeremiah Bell turning 36 next week.
21. PACKERS -ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama; Vic Ketchman, Packers.com
Ketchman, who covered the Steel Curtain Steelers, knows defense. Mosley's ability to move outside fits the Packers' 3-4 scheme that covets versatility.
22. EAGLES -CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State; Paul Domowitch, The Philadelphia Daily News
The Eagles have two solid starting corners in old Raven Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, but not much depth. They were so low on corners last season that they couldn't use a dime package. Here's a guy that can help right away in that department. They'd like an edge rusher, but Mack and Barr are long gone.
23. CHIEFS -WR Odell Beckham, LSU; Adam Teicher, ESPN.com.
Dwayne Bowe turns 30 early in the season and is coming off a down year. They need a guy to help him and with Dexter McCluster expected to leave via free agency; the explosive Beckham can also boost their punt return game. That was a big part of the Chiefs' success last season. McCluster helped get them to No. 6 in punt returns while Quintin Demps' career year led to a No. 1 ranking in kick returns.
24. BENGALS -??????????????????????????
First of all, it's far too early for this because teams are just now putting their post-combine boards together and that doesn't even count the campus workouts, the physical re-checks, and the visits to teams that are going to dominate the next 70 days.
And secondly, the Bengals' rankings almost certainly vary from the ones that are bouncing out there in cyberspace.
But it's also fun to see what's out there and it makes you wonder. It's too early to ask someone to make a pick, but never too late to speculate.
Does the NFL's No. 3 defense get richer?
At this point there are two highly-regarded defensive tackles on the board in Notre Dame's Louis Nix and Florida State nose tackle Timmy Jernigan. The Bengals already have Devon Still and Brandon Thompson from the 2012 draft, but they got here because they were the best available, too.
At defensive end, Missouri's Kony Ealy and Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt are names that have been matched with the Bengals in some mocks in case, apparently, Michael Johnson leaves via free agency. It may be a bit high for third cornerback to be taken, but is too high for the next tackle? That could be Virginia's Morgan Moses. But, really, how do you know? The Bengals could have rated seven tackles in the first round or four or none.
The only thing this exercise can give you is an idea of what is going to be out there when the Bengals come to pick at around, say, 11 p.m. on May 8. All we know is it won't be a quarterback or receiver.
Until then, it's all up to the rankings.