Need or heed draft?

Posted: 6 p.m.

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Lewis: Not expecting a starter

A sneak peak at Friday's Bengals.com Annual Media Mock Draft:

The guru of gurus, Gil Brandt, the architect of America's team and now the professor emeritus of NFL.com, gives the Bengals a linebacker at No. 18.

(And, no, it's not the kid from Penn State.)

Brandt says it's not only a need pick, but he's the best player on the board. On Thursday, head coach Marvin Lewis insisted the Bengals aren't picking for need.

"I don't see where we draft a guy and he comes in and starts. I don't see that," Lewis says. "I would hope you wouldn't want it that way. Otherwise you'd be picking a lesser player."

Lewis refutes observations that the Bengals are thin at cornerback with the departure of Tory James and injury struggles of Deltha O'Neal, saying, "We might go in a little better than we went in last year.

"We return the two starters from (the end of) last year. Deltha O'Neal and Johnathan Joseph. Keiwan Ratliff, who was our third or fourth corner depending on how it worked. And we get Greg Brooks back healthy."

Lewis also feels comfortable enough at the spot that he says the club won't move Madieu Williams to the corner.

"He has no bearing on the draft; Madieu is playing safety," he says.

If there is one thing Lewis has learned in four drafts is the devastation of injuries and other wild cards, such as the NFL suspensions of Odell Thurman and Chris Henry, players he refuses to discuss.

"Hopefully we get some luck with them and we can stay healthy. That's the unforeseen thing," Lewis says. "You just never know."

Two draft picks have suffered what very well may be career-ending injuries in 2003 fourth-rounder Dennis Weathersby and 2005 first-rounder David Pollack. Running back Chris Perry, the 2004 first-rounder, has played in just 22 of his 48 games. 2000 first-rounder Peter Warrick also disappeared because of injury, and Thurman and Henry, the second- and third-round picks from '05 are, well ...

"They got themselves in trouble and aren't with us, so you're down (six) picks," Lewis says. "You'd hope to have those guys for a longer period of time. We've had to overcome it with other guys. We've overcome it with T.J. (Houshmandzadeh), we may be overcoming it with (linebacker) Rashad Jeanty, we've overcome a lot of it with (running back) Kenny Watson."

Lewis' main beef with the draft pundits is they overvalue players who have already reached a high level and won't improve.

"We're not looking for the guy that's already there or who has overachieved," Lewis says. "This isn't college football. It's a lot better than that. You've got to be looking for guys for who are on the come and are continuing to get better."

He points to three of the club's best second-day picks in the last three drafts in '04 fourth-rounder Robert Geathers, '05 sixth-rounder Tab Perry, and '06 fourth-rounder Domata Peko.

"We got guys who have upside still," Lewis says. "They may not be the guys who had the great numbers in college but they had the athleticism, they're knee-benders, they had the strength and ability to learn and continue to grow physically and mentally.

"They didn't have the experience. But you look at a guy like Rob, a big pass-rushing defensive end that didn't have a fast 40 time. But he made up for it with long arms and want to. Tab Perry probably wasn't the leading receiver at UCLA. Domata hasn't played much football, but all these guys are hard workers and stay on their feet."

Lewis also contends that the four first-rounders were picked for much the same reason. Carson Palmer had knocks on his football acumen and leadership, Chris Perry didn't have much of a chance to show all of his athletic skills at Michigan, Pollack was asked to use his ample athleticism at a new position, and Joseph hadn't played much Division I ball but he had never regressed.

Palmer's strengths now include his ability to think (check out his mastery of the No Huddle) and a growing locker-room presence.

"They knew Carson had the physical skills," says Lewis of the pundits. "They didn't know how good his physical skills were because he wasn't in that kind of offense. But he's come here in an NFL-style offense where the ball spreads around the field, and he's had both the physical skills and all the other capacities. Those are the things we saw and that he had room for growth."

Chris Perry has shown flashes of an improving game (or have you forgotten the 10.3-yard-per-touch game against the Colts in '05?), but he remains the most controversial pick of the Lewis era and in the shadow of the Rams' Steven Jackson, the man the Bengals passed twice for Perry.

If he never got hurt, would the second-guessers still be living off hindsight?

"That we don't know. I don't think so," Lewis says. "Chris has the abilities and that's why we drafted him. We put our chip on Chris. We believe in Chris and unfortunately he's been injured. And nobody's worked harder to get back, it just seems right now that he's snake-bit."

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