4-17-01, 6:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
At the moment, the Bengals could do anything with the NFL's fourth pick in Saturday's NFL Draft. And that's about all that's on their minds this week.
They made a minor move Wednesday morning when they waived defensive end Keith Jackson, a rookie when signed to the practice squad Dec. 8 after getting cut in the Cowboys' camp and playing for Grey Cup champion British Columbia in Canada.
The club is closeted in draft meetings as coaches and officials discuss up to six or seven players with their first pick. Even Purdue quarterback Drew Brees is getting some play. Left tackle? Leonard Davis or Kenyatta Walker? Defensive end? Justin Smith? Wide receivers? How about David Terrell or Koren Robinson?
"It's no secret that our three biggest needs are tackle, defensive end, and receiver," said scout Duke Tobin Tuesday during a break in the Bengals' draft meetings. "I don't think there's any question that we'll be making a decision of players highly regarded in this room in the second round. What we don't take in the first round, you could very possibly get in the second round."
Or 36th pick?
The Bengals aren't exactly sold on reports Davis is headed to Arizona with the second pick as they try to sort through the chicanery of Draft Week and how they rank their own board.
But the conventional wisdom, such as the one shared by NFL draftnick and former Cincinnati pharmacist Jerry Jones, is it is just flat out hard to get an impact player at the 36th pick in the second round.
"Forget it on the left tackle and there'll be some good ends left, but not one of them will be a 10-sack a year guy," Jones said. "They haven't had a pass rusher longer
than they haven't had a (consistent) left tackle."
Bengals quarterback Akili Smith was second in the NFL with 14 fumbles, many caused on hits from the blind side.
The last Bengal to get 10 sacks in a season was Alfred Williams in 1992.
But what there is consensus on is the idea that there should be some attractive pass rushing ends available in the second round after Smith, California's Andre Carter and Florida State's Jamal Reynolds are gone in the first round.
And the Bengals are looking strictly for three-down players who can play the run. They already have linebacker-types who rush primarily on passing downs in Steve Foley, Adrian Ross and Canute Curtis.
"They don't have some of the measurables that a personnel man would like," Tobin said of the next wave. "But they make up for it with effort, toughness and instincts. I think some of those guys will be available in the later rounds."
Here's the problem when you opt for a second-round pass rusher.
Smith is 6-4, 270 pounds and runs about 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Aaron Schobel out of TCU is a guy the Bengals like. But he's half an inch shorter than Smith, about 10 pounds lighter, and about 1/10th slower.
But the Bengals love Schobel's intensity and toughness, which are mirrored in his seven career forced fumbles. Tobin calls Schobel, "an admirable guy with good instincts who plays the run well and gets his sacks primarily off effort."
Still, Schobel had enough skills to secure 31 career sacks on the way to being named last year's Defensive Player of the Year in the WAC.
Nebraska's Kyle Vanden Bosch (6-4, 270) is cut out of the same cloth and although Tobin says he's a level below fellow Nebraska end and current NFL player Grant Wistrom, Vanden Bosch has the same relentless reputation as Schobel in gathering 17 tackles for loss this past season.
"His measurables probably put him right up there with Smith, he just wasn't as productive as Smith," Tobin said. "He's a production guy more on effort than natural ability."
Minnesota's Karon Riley and Mississippi's Derrick Burgess (both 6-2 and 263) are interesting guys who might be too small to be the three-down player the Bengals seek. Riley looked impressive in the zone-blitz packages the Bengals use, but he's a guy who could be more suited to a 3-4 outside backer.
Oregon State's DeLawrence Grant is moving up the charts after putting on a bunch of weight and approaching 280 pounds. But just two years of Division I ball and only five sacks in his senior year have some scouts wondering what he'll do against the big NFL tackles.
Tobin says there are ends even in later rounds who could project to be double-digit sackers as late bloomers, such as the Baltimore bookends of Rob Burnett (a fifth-rounder) and Michael McCrary (a seventh-rounder) who have combined for nearly 130 career sacks.
"There are definitely developmental possibilities in the late rounds," Tobin said. "They might not help you this year, but their second, third, and especially fourth year, you've got guys who can grow into an every-down defensive end."
Of course, with the second-fewest sacks (26) in the league last season, the Bengals need a guy now. And the defensive coaches covet Smith, as does Tobin.
"He's the perfect size for what's playing out there now," said Tobin, who notes only two AFC ends are bigger than Smith. "The guy is as athletic as any guy out there. He's tough, physical and quick."
Smith grew up on a Missouri ranch, which conjures up images of Bengals defensive line coach Tim Krumrie's Wisconsin boyhood. The Bengals compare his hair-on-fire intensity to Krumrie's and like the fact he gets many of his sacks on pure hustle after the quarterback has moved.