Less than two weeks now until this thing gets underway the night of April 28 and the Wonderlic puzzle for the Bengals is The QB Run.
The working assumption among draft gurus in the last 36 hours or so is that quarterbacks are going to start flying off the board at the end of the first round. Much sooner than their abilities warrant because of the lockout-induced shortage of triggermen.
"You've got to line up with somebody," is the desperate cry from Tennessee to Seattle.
So if the Bengals do go wide receiver in the first round (or maybe even Von Miller if the draft's best pass rusher is there or Johnathan Joseph's potential replacement in LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson) are they stymied for a starting quarterback at No. 35 when the dust clears in The Run?
"It's a tough call. Teams are going to be scrambling because they're counting on getting a quarterback and there's a lot of teams that want one that won't get one in the first round," said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay in his conference call Thursday.
He was answering a question about the Vikings at No. 43, but he could have been answering a question about the Bengals at No. 35. What we don't know is where the Bengals cut off the list of guys that can help them immediately. The consensus of the consensus builder, Jerry Jones, chieftain of the draft publication The Drugstore List, is that NFL teams view a handful of guys that can come in and play: Auburn's Cam Newton, Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett. Maybe Washington's Jake Locker. Possibly Florida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton. No on Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.
And everybody likes Kaepernick. Jones says he and Mallett have the two best arms in the draft.
But, as McShay says, "he doesn't answer short-term need. He's a one or two-year developmental project."
With the help of Jones' array of charts at drugstorelist.com, history says it would be rare for five quarterbacks to be gone by the 35th pick. The most in this century has been four (2003 and 2004) and since 1998 it has happened only once when five went in the first 12 picks in 1999.
But with no free agency yet because of the lockout and no one knowing what form it would take or when it is going to occur, all eyes are on the raft of teams that need quarterbacks and the Carson Palmer trade demand has thrown the Bengals into the mix with Carolina at No. 1, Buffalo at No. 3, Arizona at No. 5, San Francisco at No. 7, Tennessee at No. 8, Washington at No. 10, Minnesota at No. 12, Seattle at No. 25, and maybe more.
"I saw a number the other day that said 17 teams need quarterbacks," Jones says. "The problem is, historically this is one of the weaker quarterback classes. None of these quarterbacks would have gone in the first round in 1983."
That fabled draft yielded three Hall of Fame quarterbacks and six altogether in the first round and while six won't go in the first round now, could six be gone by the time the Bengals pick at No. 35?
It is tough finding a mock draft that has more than three quarterbacks gone in the first because most don't trade with the usual trio of Newton, Gabbert and Locker gone before the Patriots start selling their pick at the top of the second round at No. 33.
That's how both CBS analysts mock it, as well as the Writers Mock on Patriots.com. Fox Sports has just Newton and Gabbert in the first. Pro Football Weekly also has two ticketed.
But those mocks that do trade suggest a run. NFL.com's Pat Kirwan has five in the first, with the Bengals trading with New England for a second-round pick next year at No. 28 and taking Mallett, and the Titans trading down with the Jets to take Ponder at No. 30. Kirwan's mock leaves Dalton and someone else potentially trade with New England at 33.
(Kirwan has got that right. With the Bengals needing to fill a host of needs, they figure to resist any deals packaging this year's picks to move up back into the first.)
Sports Illustrated's Don Banks has four going in the first with a trade. In this one the Pats trade No. 28 to Minnesota and the Vikes get Locker.
Former general manager Charley Casserly says the consensus at NFL Network is the Bengals won't take a quarterback at No. 4 and he says "there could be a few guys there" at No. 35 like West Coast quarterbacks fitting new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in Ponder and Dalton.
The problem is, McShay says, personnel people are all over the board on the group after Newton and Gabbert. For instance, Casserly says Mallett is "wildly all over the board," ranging from a first to a third and McShay isn't sure a team is going to trade back up into the first round to gamble on Mallett's maturity questions. And take a look at a guy like Dalton. Jones' consensus puts him in the third round, but it looks like two Sports Illustrated writers, Banks and Peter King, are going to put him in their first rounds. But one draft analyst recalls Dalton was a third-rounder back in January.
Jones has talked to 19 people that he trusts on the pulse of the league about their mock draft and he's got four quarterbacks going in the first round in Newton, Gabbert, Mallet and Locker. He's got Ponder in the second with Kaepernick and Dalton in the third.
(Ten of the 19 mock Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green to Cincinnati.)
"After Newton and Gabbert, it's what you want. Pick your poison," McShay says.
He says the teams that look to heave it downfield in the Don Coryell-like systems with big strong-armers are in the market for guys like Mallett and Kaepernick with Ponder and Dalton more of a fit for the West Coast. And there are a bunch of West Coast-like offenses searching like the Bengals, such as Buffalo, San Francisco, Minnesota and Seattle.
McShay sees some trades at the top of the second with the Bills, Vikes, Titans and Redskins breathing in back of the Bengals and he just doesn't see Kaepernick lasting until 43. Of course, Kaepernick doesn't seem to fit since the Bengals need a guy now.
"I guess if you're the Bengals," Jones said, "and if they decide not to trade, they may have to get that guy at No. 4," Jones says. "Or they have to talk about trading. You also have to keep in mind, are these guys worthy of the pick? But we know that when we get into the 20s, strange things start to happen. And we do know some teams will panic."
The question now doesn't seem to be if there will be a run, but where the Bengals will start running.