Posted: 10:40 p.m.
The national guys have had their say, but this is a grassroots game and the NFL Draft lives off going back to basics: Speed, power, smarts.
So now with the big day a week away, we go back to the local beat guys to mock the first five picks to see what will be left for the Bengals at No. 6. The national guys are saying it's going to be one of three left tackles: Jason Smith of Baylor; Eugene Monroe of Virginia; or Andre Smith of Alabama.
But with a pair of defenders still on the board that would really help the Bengals in the AFC North (Boston College tackle B.J. Raji and USC middle linebacker Rey Malalaugua), as well as Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, don't write the contract in pen just yet.
1. LIONS: QB Matt Stafford, Georgia; Nick Cotsonika, Detroit Free Press.
It appears to be just a matter of time before a deal is announced. After months of angst, Detroit apparently can't walk away from Stafford's big arm, which the Lions think is their best shot at getting the ball to their best player, wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
Last month at the NFL meetings, Cotsonika spent time with Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis asking how he handled Carson Palmer once the Bengals made him the first pick in 2003.
Palmer sat the whole season behind Jon Kitna and while Cotsonkia can't see Stafford sitting for the whole year, he says the luxury of Daunte Culpepper allows Stafford to play when he's ready. The hope is not to repeat the Joey Harrington disaster of '02, when the Lions had to rush the No. 3 pick on the field in the first month in place of Mike McMahon.
2. RAMS: LT Eugene Monroe, Virginia; Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Thomas has been on this from Day One and he admits that the Rams could do something off the beaten track and take Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry. There is some concern that neither Monroe or Jason Smith is in the class of Jonathan Ogden or St. Louis's own Orlando Pace, but it is still a desperate need for the Rams. And the thinking is they believe that Monroe is more polished and more NFL ready than Smith.
3. CHIEFS: LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest;Adam, Teicher, Kansas City Star.
Teicher has also been on this from Day One and he also admits the Chiefs could veer off course and take a tackle. But he also says taking an offensive player makes no sense because they've done nothing to improve a defense that finished next to last in '08.
And while there is a lot of talk about Curry not being a fit for the Chiefs 3-4 defense, Teicher says it's going to be more of a hybrid alignment with 4-3 elements.
"Curry makes the most sense," he says, but he also knows potential trades complicate things. If the Chiefs trade out, how far would Curry fall?
4. SEAHAWKS: LT Jason Smith, Baylor; Mike Sando ESPN.com
Apparently not far. Sando thinks Seattle would prefer Curry over Jason Smith. Yet Sando has changed his thinking on the Hawks being open to taking a tackle.
"Initially several months ago I didn't think they would go for a tackle. Now I look at it and who else is there? I don't think they would do (Michael) Crabtree," Sando says of the Texas Tech wide receiver. "They've got the middle of the field covered with (T.J.) Houshmandzadeh and (tight end) John Carlson and Crabtree doesn't have the great speed."
Sando points to the age of 35-year-old left tackle Walter Jones and the lack of tackle depth as a whole and believes the Seahawks are leaning that way if Curry isn't available.
Yes, he's heard the rumbles about Seattle taking USC quarterback Mark Sanchez and he gives some credence to it because fellow Seattleite Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, has been so good on past Hawks picks and he believes they are ready to pull the trigger on a new QB. Sando is of the school that Seattle likes only Stafford and is merely trying to rustle up a trade for Sanchez to a club that desperately needs a quarterback.
If two QBs go before the Bengals pick, then Curry or Crabtree figure to be there at No. 6. Rang even does what nfl.com's Vic Carruci did in the Bengals.com national Media Mock last week and ponders giving Cleveland Sanchez at No. 5.
"From what I understand," Rang says, "both of Cleveland's quarterbacks can be had."
5. BROWNS: WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech; Tony Grossi, Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
Rang is also throwing out the possibility of a new entry in the top five, LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson. He says he's pulling a Donte' Whitner, a guy that went from the end of the first round to No. 8 in about a week.
Jackson, he says, is a Gerard Warren-type of lineman, a classic 3-4 end that would be a tackle in a 4-3. With the Chiefs, at No. 3, and the Packers, at No. 9, moving to a 3-4 and the Browns at No. 5 already in a 3-4, he sees two top five possibilities.
But Grossi doesn't see it.
"If Crabtree's there, that's the way they go and they'll have to settle for an edge rusher later," he said. And while one of the QBs may get traded, he doubts both will. Yet Grossi isn't going to throw out the Sanchez talk totally, either. He understands the new Browns head coach covets him and he sees Eric Mangini's goal as completely making over the roster.
"But you could make the argument even if they don't make the Braylon Edwards trade, they still need to draft a wide receiver," Grossi says of what seems to be the imminent trade of Edwards to the Giants. "Without Edwards, their leading receivers from last year are a running back (Jamal Lewis) and a tight end that blew out his knee (Steve Heiden)."
That's assuming Donte Stallworth doesn't play this year, a good assumption given his legal problems. But Grossi says don't expect the Edwards deal to get announced until Crabtree is drafted.
"What you also have to think about is how the potential trades impact their first pick," Grossi says of possible deals for Edwards and quarterback Brady Quinn. "If they get two more firsts, that frees them up to get a receiver later and then maybe get the pass-rusher at five. They like (Texas defensive end) Brian Orakpo; they've researched him extensively."
But the Browns won't be able to get the best receiver on the board later, so the thinking is Crabtree in Cleveland.
6. BENGALS:(In alphabetical; order) WR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri; MLB Rey Maualuga, USC; RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia; DT B.J. Raji, Boston College; LT Andre Smith, Alabama; RB Beanie Wells, Ohio State.
All of these six probably have to be in the discussion if those five are off the board. From coaching the Senior Bowl or visits to Paul Brown Stadium, the Bengals have spent significant time with each of the six that would be available. And there are more.
At this point, with no Curry or Crabtree, the first option would seemingly be to trade out. That may be the option, anyway, given that Curry doesn't play an impact position and Crabtree's foot is in a cast.
If there is no trade, Jerry Jones, the former Bengals draft room insider who publishes the annual prospect survey The DrugStore List, says the longest shot there is Maualuga since most project him No. 12-16. Still, he's the guy that may change the Bengals the most with his swagger and playmaking ability inside.
But Jones isn't the best guy to ask about Maualuga. He's an Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis guy, typical of how this draft is so muddy. Or, as Rang says, thin of dominating talent.
But Jones says this draft isn't unique. "After you get past the top two or three players, you're looking at the same 10 guys. It's always like that."
Jones crosses off Raji because of the Tank Johnson signing and doesn't think the Bengals will go for Maclin because they can get a receiver/returner later. According to other mock drafts, it's too high for Moreno and Wells. The highest Moreno goes in five CBSSportsline.com's mocks is 16th, the lowest 28th while Wells goes high fifth to Cleveland and low 28th to the Eagles.
While Wells is rated higher by many experts, Jones disagrees because of the Beanster's lack of durability: "Moreno has special vision and cutting ability."
But special enough to go No. 6?
Even though the Bengals signed Johnson, that doesn't mean they've stopped coveting Raji. There are some off-field concerns, but the Bengals remain impressed by what he did for them at the Senior Bowl. Out of all the guys, he's the ultimate smashmouth AFC North pick as a run-stuffing big man.
Unless, of course, you're talking about Andre Smith. His comeback the past two weeks from a PR nightmare that was seemingly hatched by the Nixon White House is nothing short of stunning. Only in the age of the mouse click could it have happened. If he took off his shirt to run the 40-yard dash 10 years ago, he never would have had time to get out from underneath the criticism.
But since Smith's disastrous Pro Day decision and combine walkout, a testimonial from fellow 'Bama product Ozzie Newsome had to do wonders in the public perception dept., not to mention a vote of confidence from Eagles general manager Tom Heckert. If there is a Hall of Fame drafter in the last 15 years, it is Newsome.
Of course, Newsome and Heckert aren't going to be faced with drafting Smith. But here are three other voices that are on the Andre Bandwagon:
Dave Lapham, former Bengals offensive linemen and the club's current radio analyst who also does color for Big 12 TV games:
"I rate him as the top tackle physically. He's never on the ground. That was the thing I would marvel about with Anthony (Munoz). Great balance. You can't be out too far over your feet and you can't be back on your heels. He's got the balance.
"I don't know how the Bengals can't take him. They've got no depth. It's fine to say you put (Andrew) Whitworth at left tackle and (Anthony) Collins at right tackle. But what if one of them goes down? They're done.
"I think it's a question of immaturity. Did he make some bad decisions? Yeah. He's got his family always hanging around and the entourage and, yeah, that's a concern. But he's not doing anything criminal. I just think he's a guy that's been recruited all his life and maybe is a bit spoiled and he's never been out of Alabama. He's been exposed to the same thing. He's young.
"He reminds me of Willie (Anderson). He can play left tackle, but he's not going to be elite. But he's an elite right tackle. Willie would have been criticized for having a bad body, but he blew people 10 yards off the ball. That's what this kid does. He drills people. And I think he'll be a good pass-protector. His arms are long as hell."
A former NFL general manager who has participated in drafts during the last three decades:
"The two best players in this draft are Crabtree and Andre Smith. The thing about him taking his shirt off is ridiculous. You know how many great linemen look like that with their shirt off? They're big people.
"You know he's been well coached down there with Nick Saban. The guy has great explosion and is a hell of an athlete. I don't think his weight is an issue. I do think there are some maturity questions. But you're not talking about a guy who tests positive for drugs or a guy that gets arrested."
Rob Rang, senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com:
"Sure, he makes me nervous. But there is no denying his talent. It would be a great value pick for a franchise that has to protect its best player. If he gets past Cincinnati, he won't last long. I'd have him going No. 10 to San Francisco."
But, symbolic of this draft, it depends on who you ask. Here is a report from NFLDraftScout.com: "There are times when he simply dominates the action, but when he feels that he is not being challenged, he will throttle down. Scouts have often shown concerns about his lack of a consistent motor, especially questioning his overall aggressiveness. Smith has always battled the "bulge" and while he is best playing at 335-340, he has seen his weight balloon to the 375-380 range, where that added bulk has affected his overall mobility. He needs to be monitored in the training room, but will respond to tough coaching."
One thing to keep an eye on in the next few days is that Smith reportedly is changing agents. Some view it as showing instability just before the draft. Others see it as a sign of maturity.
How the Bengals see it, and the rest of the board, remains to be seen.