Mock around the clock

Updated: 5 p.m.

Like spring and a rollicking afternoon with Franchester "You Hear Me?" Brennaman on the radio, the Bengals.com Media Mock Draft is back. If only for the first five picks so the sifting can begin at what could possibly be available for the Bengals at No. 6.

And there is a lot of sifting.

"This year," says NFL.com's Gil Brandt, who has been studying it so long that his fantasy draft is in a hall of fame instead of hall of mirrors, "there are 23 players I could justify going in the top 10."

With apologies to Marty, this one belongs to the Feds. Since Scott Pioli and Eric Mangini are running things in the top five in Kansas City and Cleveland, respectively, with James Bond-like secrecy, Jack Bauer is the only guy that could get answers out of them 45 days before the NFL Draft.

But if anybody can do it other than Jack, our men on the ground can.

1. LIONS: QB Matt Stafford, Georgia; Nick Cotsonika, Detroit Free Press

With consideration to Baylor left tackle Jason Smith and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the Lions team a big-armed quarterback with a big-play receiver in Calvin Johnson to get off the ground and Stafford can sit behind Daunte Culpepper up there.

Footnote: Marvin Lewis used the quarterback script in 2003 to make his first pick and new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz considers Lewis a mentor.

2. RAMS: LT Eugene Monroe, Virginia; Jim Thomas, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Either him or Smith, and Monroe is the most athletic and probably the best pass protector. But, like Thomas says, that's the way it looks now.

With the Rams checking out tackles in free agency (Khalif Barnes, restricted Willie Colon), it could change. But with the release of left tackle Orlando Pace and his seven Pro Bowls, right tackle Alex Barron is pretty much the only tackle left. For the moment, they're doing kind of what the Bengals are thinking of doing. They've moved Barron to left tackle and left guard Jacob Bell to right tackle.

(The Bengals are mulling moving left guard Andrew Whitworth to left tackle and left tackle Anthony Collins to right tackle. Or keeping Collins at left and moving Whitworth to right tackle.)

No. 2 has tackle written all over it for now and it looks like Monroe.

"But it's early," Thomas says as the team tries to figure out which tackle is the best.

3. CHIEFS: OLB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest; Adam Teicher, Kansas City Star

This is another team that could take a tackle, but with the release of Pace it looks more and more like Curry is going to be here and Kansas City is in desperate need of defense after the Bengals No. 32 offense put up 329 yards on the league's No. 31 defense in the season finale.

4. SEAHAWKS: WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech; Mike Sando, ESPN.com.

The signing of T.J. Houshmandzadeh doesn't preclude it, Sando says, because Seattle general manager Tim Ruskell has a habit of meeting a position crisis with saturation.

Plus, the Seahawks really don't need much at the other spots. Left tackle Walter Jones has some juice left and Sean Locklear is steady at right tackle and may be Jones' heir. That's because Seattle re-signed a guy the Bengals had interest in, Ray Willis, a tackle who probably starts at right guard this year but looks to be in line to move into right tackle eventually.

And the Seahawks wouldn't appear to be interested in Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji after signing Green Bay's Colin Cole in free agency.

5. BROWNS: MLB Rey Maualuga, USC; Tony Grossi, Cleveland Plain-Dealer

Hey, Grossi says, if everyone knew Ray Lewis would turn out like he did, he would have gone in the top five.

Many don't see Maualuga as a top five guy, but Grossi notes the Browns have a crying need for an impact inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense that allowed 191 yards rushing in the 15th game of the season to the Bengals.

And with Mangini putting all of Berea in lockdown, the Browns are probably going to surprise no matter what they do. If this scenario holds, Grossi thinks Cleveland would discuss Jason Smith because they need a right tackle, as well as Texas defensive end Brian Orakpo, and maybe Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.

6. BENGALS: LT Jason Smith, Baylor

Probably too good to be true, so don't plan on it. Like Clark Judge of CBSsportsline.com says, "The three best players are Curry, Crabtree and Jason Smith. Does Smith fall? I don't think so. But Adrian Peterson fell to seven and last year Glenn Dorsey fell to five."

Like all the top tackle candidates, Smith has a flaw. He doesn't have many. Great kid, great athlete, great strength. But he hasn't played in a pro offense and has barely ever been in a three-point stance, so teams would be taking a flyer that he can run block.

(Yet, no question, Judge says, the two most impressive guys in the combine media sessions were far and away Curry and Smith.)

"After he got done with the all-star games and the combine, people pretty much think that's not going to be a problem for him," says Jerry Jones, author of the draft survey The Drug Store List, of Smith's technique. "If Jason Smith is there, the Bengals happily check it off no questions asked."

One thing that's apparent looking at this mock is that it won't take much for Smith and Monroe to be gone in the top five, and maybe as early as the first two picks.

If the Bengals decide they can't take the other two tackle candidates, Mississippi's Michael Oher or Alabama's Andre Smith, the obvious solution is to trade down as far as Citibank. But they probably can't because, who would? So now the problem moves from filling a need to finding the safest pick no matter the position:

A guy you can plug in and know he's going to be productive for five years.

Start pulling from Brandt's list of 23 not in this top six.

There is Orakpo, Jenkins, Oher, Raji, Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, wide receivers Jeremy Maclin of Missouri and Percy Harvin of Florida.

But...

The Bengals already have two first-round corners. Orakpo is a tweener DE/OLB pass-rush guy and Brown is like guys they already have. The Bengals "never seem to have any luck with tweeners" like Orakpo, Jones says, and "they've already got two defensive ends (Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom) that have proven they can get sacks."

There is some concern about Raji's weight and the fact he had only one good year. Maclin didn't run many downfield routes in college and Harvin has been brittle.

But all these guys have solid upside, too.

"After the first three, you've got to take the best player or best available athlete, same thing, because of the money," Judge says.

Brandt says the Bengals don't have to cut off the left tackles after Smith and Monroe. He says Oher is a guy that can go at No. 6.

Cue the debate.

"He's a good player, but for inexplicable reasons he'll whiff on a play out of the blue," Jones says. "And I know there is concern about his background."

But Brandt is convinced Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander is going to find the right guy. He watched him work out Jason Smith at Baylor last week and figures he was at Alabama Wednesday watching Andre Smith.

"Paul is excellent. He's one of the best at working guys out on the field. He's very thorough," Brandt says.

Pro scouts may have watched Andre Smith's workout in Hazmet suits after his toxic performance during last month's scouting combine, where he showed up out of shape before leaving unannounced.

According to NFL.com, he repped 225 pounds just 19 times, far out of his position's top 10 at the combine. He ran 5.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash, good for him but still not top 10 material, and he just has a hard time stacking up against a guy like Jason Smith after he repped 33. According to Web sites such as SI.com and ProFootballTalk.com, sources at Wednesday's workout are saying everything from Andre Smith bombed to he lost millions of dollars.

He looks like a right tackle, and maybe even more so a guard. As he finished off his first mock draft, Judge couldn't give the Bengals Andre Smith for all those reasons.

But then again, you'll find something with all of Brandt's 23 because this draft is more of a bumper with dents rather than a bumper crop.

The knock on Curry, who looks to be an outside linebacker? Great kid. Great player. But at arguably the least position of impact on defense.

"You've got to have something special to be a linebacker and to be looked at that highly in the draft," says ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli. "Curry is a special guy. A smart player at a good college who had a great career. But the view of linebackers in the top 10 has changed the past few years. It has shifted more to defensive linemen and cornerbacks."

The dent on the soft-spoken Monroe?

"That he's too nice. I remember a guy like that out of USC who had bad knees," says Jones of the incomparable Anthony Munoz.

Brandt likes Crabtree as a safe pick "because he has been productive." But how safe?

He may miss some time in the spring after surgery on his foot. He played in an unorthodox offense. And he's got a tough agent (Eugene Parker) unafraid of first-round holdouts like Chris Perry (three weeks) and Cedric Benson (35 days).

"That high of a pick, it has to be a lineman, offense or defense," Jones says, and he points to Raji.

Only one thing is certain:

With 45 days left, the mock will change 45 times.  

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