If you can't believe anything draft week, believe this.
The Bengals.com Media Mock Draft hooked up with long-time NFL beat reporters over the weekend to get a feel for where this first round is headed Thursday night and even many of them aren't sure what their teams are going to do before the Bengals pick at No. 17 and again at No. 21. Many of the draft room doors are going to be flung open to the TV cameras like a frat rush weekend, but in the days leading up to the draft the smoke and BS combine to get heavier than the draft-day expectations themselves.
As always, we entrusted the Bengals picks to the draft guru before there were draft gurus in NFL.com's Gil Brandt. But not before we noticed some things:
» The swing guys in the top part of the first round are shaping up to be Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Cox, a 295-pound inside pass rusher, has caught fire in the last week. Tannehill is a little more iffy, but if teams can entice the Vikings at No. 3, the Jaguars at No. 7, the Dolphins at No. 8, and the Panthers at No. 9 to trade back (which shouldn't be too hard since it is a six-player draft and the rookie pool is sane), then some of these guys those teams won't take so high may be gone later. Such as Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd, cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore, North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples and Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
» If they want to, the Bengals are almost certain to walk out of the first round with a defensive end or defensive tackle.
» Since the Bengals don't figure to be taking quarterbacks and tackles this trip, they love this scenario, which takes Tannehill and three tackles off the board before they pick at No. 17.
» Although this mock has Floyd on the board until the Bears take him at No. 19, nobody, especially the Bears, think he'll be there that long.
» Don't look for Alabama safety Mark Barron to go past the Jets at No. 16.
» Kirkpatrick and Gilmore sound like they could be a bunch of teams' backups in case they don't get their first choice, such as in Jacksonville, Carolina and Buffalo.
» Teams are apparently jumpy about Poe, a workout wonder, and Coples, whose motor has been known to go in and out.
» After the consensus six players (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Kalil, Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon), the next group of players that look to be no-brainers in the top of the first round are Cox, Barron, St. Xavier High School middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, and South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram. Those four players drew the most interest once this mock went past the Rams at No. 6.
So those 10 players figure to be gone by the time the Bengals pick at No. 17. 1. COLTS: QB ANDREW LUCK, STANFORD; Mike Chappell, Indianapolis Star -The only thing we don't know is if the Colts will play it like they always have under their new GM-Coach team and not play Luck against the Bengals in this year's annual preseason finale at Indianapolis Aug. 30.
2. REDSKINS: QB ROBERT GRIFFIN III, BAYLOR; David Elfin, 106.7 FM The Fan Web site in D.C. - Elfin broke a blockbuster a few weeks ago when he reported Gregg Williams offered bounties in the 2006 opener as the Redskins defensive coordinator. The Griffin pick won't be as earth-shaking. Washington drafts a franchise QB high about once every four presidents. The last time was under Clinton (Heath Shuler, 1994) and before that it was FDR (Sammy Baugh, 1937) and JFK (Norm Snead, 1961). Any QB that has started for Redskins coach Mike Shanahan for at least two years has made the Pro Bowl, ranging from John Elway to Brian Griese.
3. VIKINGS: T MATT KALIL, USC; Kevin Seifert, ESPN.com/NFC North - Assuming the Vikings don't trade it to someone in the Ryan Tannehill derby. And it's hard to imagine they would take someone other than Kalil with the gaping holes they have at tackle.
4. BROWNS: RB TRENT RICHARDSON, ALABAMA; Tony Grossi, Cleveland's ESPN Radio Web site - Unlike the turmoil in its war room that began the draft season, the club now seems set on Richardson as a no-brainer here as the best player on the board. If the Browns didn't help QB Colt McCoy last year by drafting Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones, they can help him by taking this 'Bama guy because he can help in three ways: as a runner, as a receiver, and as a sturdy pickup against the blitz.
5. BUCCANEERS: CB MORRIS CLAIBORNE, LSU; Roy Cummings, The Tampa Tribune - The Bucs would love Richardson. New coach Greg Schiano is old school and wants to pound it, but it looks like he'll have to settle for the best cornerback in the draft. It fits. Claiborne's college position coach is now working for the Bucs. Plus, Aqib Talib goes on trial in June and Ronde Barber is 37, although last month's dabbling at safety looks to be only that.
6. RAMS: WR JUSTIN BLACKMON, OKLAHOMA STATE; Jim Thomas, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch - Thomas sees the first six picks going "chalk," with the top six players chosen in orderly fashion even though the Rams would mull trading out of here. But with the Rams having just 12 TD catches last season and hosting such free agents as Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson, their need is clear.
7. JAGUARS: DT FLETCHER COX, MISSISSIPPI STATE; Vito Stellino, The Florida Times-Union - With the seventh pick in a six-player draft, the Jags are trying to trade out if Blackmon isn't there. They need a wide receiver badly for new offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, but Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd's off-field problems don't fit Jacksonville GM Gene Smith's no-gambles approach in the first round. The Jags also need to boost a pass rush that finished 24th in sacks per pass and Cox, the swing guy in this draft that teams may try to trade up and get, looks to be the safest best here when it comes to pass rushers. South Carolina's Melvin Ingram may be a tweener, North Carolina end Quinton Coples has an off-and-on motor and Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe is boom-or-bust. There's an outside shot the Jags could also go cornerback here with South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore.
8. DOLPHINS: QB RYAN TANNEHILL, TEXAS A&M; Armando Salguero, The Miami Herald - The Dolphins supposedly also want Cox. They've got more of a need for him as opposed to QB, where they can get by with Matt Moore and David Garrard. The 295-pound Cox can line up in a couple of different spots in a 3-4 and would be the guy Cameron Wake needs to take heat off of him on the other side. Plus, Cox would play right away and Tannehill would be sitting at least a year. If not here, Tannehill may have a free-fall because the Browns figure to take a receiver at 22. The Bengals would like Tannehill off the board before they pick so it frees up another player.
9. PANTHERS: MLB LUKE KUECHLY, BOSTON COLLEGE; Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com/NFC South - Carolina is also lusting after Cox, but if he's not there it's not set in stone the Panthers are going for a defensive tackle. Free agent Ron Edwards never played last year with an injury and the Panthers picked two in the third round last year. Linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis are coming off serious injuries. Plus, this conjures up the Dan Morgan pick of 11 years ago. General manager Marty Hurney loves finished products and Kuechly may be the most finished guy in this draft as a no-doubt 12-year starter. The Panthers are also looking at corners, but that's kind of high here.
10. BILLS: T JONATHAN MARTIN, STANFORD; Mark Gaughan, The Buffalo News -It's debatable. This is another team that could go corner, but the Bills just dumped a lot of money into QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Stevie Johnson, and they don't seem to have a solid answer at left tackle.
11. CHIEFS: G DAVID DECASTRO, STANFORD; Adam Teicher, The Kansas City Star - Another team that would like Cox or someone else to help in the 3-4. The Chiefs have also been taking a long look at Gilmore. Given Scott Pioli's fondness for interior players while at New England, this may be Kansas City's safest pick.
12. SEAHAWKS: DE MELVIN INGRAM, SOUTH CAROLINA; Mike Sando, ESPN.com/NFC West - No doubt the Seahawks would love to trade back. Their first priority is pass-rush help and Ingram looks to be the best player on the board to help them. But Floyd at wide receiver or Alabama safety Mark Barron (even though Seattle has budding Pro Bowlers in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) may be a better value here. Plus, the Seahawks love big corners and the 6-1 Gilmore and 6-2 Kirkpatrick are still here.
13. CARDINALS: T RILEY REIFF, IOWA; Darren Urban, azcardinals.com - Even though the Cards have re-signed tackle Levi Brown, the thinking is they still need another one and they can do with Reiff what they did with Brown and start him on the right side. And Reiff may be better suited for right tackle. Floyd and Ingram are going to be tempting, but tackle looks to be the bigger need.
14. COWBOYS: S MARK BARRON, ALABAMA; Todd Archer, ESPN Dallas - Barron looks to be the no-brainer. It would fill the need the Cowboys have had since 2004, the year before Pro Bowler Darren Woodson last roamed the greensward for Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in Dallas.
15. EAGLES: DT MICHAEL BROCKERS, LSU; Les Bowen, The Philadelphia Daily News - There wouldn't be a surprise here if the Eagles tried to trade up as high as No. 9 to get Cox or Kuechly. The Eagles have two second-round picks and a need to shore up their Wide 9 alignment with a dominant middle backer and dynamic tackles. They already have a pair of solid tackles in Mike Patterson and Cullen Jenkins, but Jenkins is 31 and they got Patterson in the first round.
16. JETS: DE QUINTON COPLES, NORTH CAROLINA; Rich Cimini, ESPN New York - The Jets like Floyd, but Cimini doesn't see Rex Ryan pulling the trigger on a first-round receiver. The feeling is defense and if Barron isn't there (safety now a desperate need that Reggie Nelson re-signed with the Bengals) then it is an outside pass rusher, and if it isn't Ingram, then it would be Coples. And if both guys aren't on the board, the Jets would probably go with Poe. Coples would be a surprise, though, since they would be inviting back-page comparisons to Vernon Gholston by choosing potential and workout numbers whole ignoring football instincts.
17. BENGALS: CB STEPHON GILMORE, SOUTH CAROLINA; Gil Brandt, NFL.com - The Bengals are supposed to be looking for running backs, cornerbacks, wide receivers, safeties, linebackers, and defensive linemen and in this scenario they can go pretty much anywhere but safety. Floyd is still on the board, as are the Nos. 2 and 3 corners in the draft in Gilmore and Dre Kirkpatrick, as well as Poe and outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. Brandt goes with the corner because he says the corners may be taken out from under the Bengals by the time they come back to pick at 21. And he goes with the 6-1, 195-pound Gilmore over the 6-2, 190-pound Kirkpatrick because "he's been more productive. Kirkpatrick didn't have an interception last year." Gilmore had four picks and comes out of the program that gave the Bengals Johnathan Joseph in 2006. While Gilmore isn't the athlete Joseph is, he comes out with much more experience (39 starts) and more physicality.
18. CHARGERS: ILB DON'T'A HIGHTOWER, ALABAMA; Bill Williamson, ESPN.com/AFC West - A 3-4 inside backer isn't necessarily a need, but he looks to be the best value for a defense that needs an impact player.
19. BEARS: WR MICHAEL FLOYD, NOTRE DAME; Brad Biggs, The Chicago Tribune - The Bears doubt that Floyd is going to be there but they would love it if he is so they can team him with Brandon Marshall. If no Floyd as expected, look for the Bears to take the best pass rusher left.
20. TITANS: CB DRE KIRKPATRICK, ALABAMA; Jim Wyatt, The Tennessean - With the departure of Cortland Finnegan to free agency, it's a fit. And Kirkpatrick would bring the same physical style.
21. BENGALS: WR STEPHEN HILL, GEORGIA TECH; Gil Brandt, NFL.com - Not a surprising pick from the architect of America's Team when he helped build the Cowboys of the '60s and '70s on speed, speed and more speed. Some don't have Hill until bottom of the first round because they see him as a project having played very little football and running very few NFL routes at Tech. But he's got two things you can't teach: He's 6-4 and ran a 4.3 40-yard dash at the scouting combine. Plus, Brandt believes a guy that went to Tech is smart enough to pick it up quickly and he points to two other physically-imposing receivers out of Tech that have translated well to the NFL in Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas. And Brandt is high on Hill's character because a week after he signed with Tech, Georgia rode in to scoop him up but Hill stuck to his commitment.