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Shock (ey) in draft?

3-12-02, 10:30 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON This is the first in a series of position breakdowns by for the April 20-21 NFL Draft.)

The Bengals, who finished the season with college free agent Kirk McMullen starting at tight end, have a crying need at the position. The man who could be an Opening Day starter in a two tight-end set with Tony McGee may very well be on a 2002 draft board teeming with an outstanding crop of big, athletic candidates.

"There are probably 12 guys that will definitely upgrade us," said tight ends coach John Garrett. "Six of them would start or challenge to start for us in some capacity. It's a deep class."

There is no doubt the class of the class is 6-4, 252-pound Jeremy Shockey from the national champion Miami Hurricanes. Shockey is so good (he ran 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash while long jumping 10 feet at his pro workout), that he must be added to the growing list of players the Bengals could take with the 10th pick in the draft. That includes Shockey's teammate, cornerback Phillip Buchanon,Texas offensive tackle Mike Williams, Oklahoma safety Roy Williams, and a trio of defensive linemen. Players like Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer, and another Shockey teammate, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, figure to be gone.

"There's a possibility we'll take one in the first round and there's one out here that's really good," said Jim Lippincott, director of pro/college personnel. "We have a need there and free agency hasn't yielded anything there yet. You have to lump (Shockey) in with the guys we could take at 10. Even later in the draft, there are guys that catch the ball and run well enough and are good enough blockers that they will help us."

Shockey is the consensus top player, according to draft gurus Mel Kiper of ESPN, Joel Buchsbaum of "Pro Football Weekly," and Jerry Jones, the former Cincinnati pharmacist who publishes "The Drugstore List." The Bengals won't comment on how they rank the players, but here is a cross-section of how Kiper, Buchsbaum and Jones see the top 10:

Jeremy Shockey, Miami of Florida, 6-4, 252 pounds

Daniel Graham, Colorado, 6-2, 245

Jerramy Stevens, Washington, 6-6, 250

Terry Jones, Alabama, 6-3, 270

Randy McMichael, Georgia, 6-2, 247.

Matt Schobel, TCU, 6-4, 257

Derek Smith, Kentucky, 6-6, 260

Darnell Sanders, Ohio State, 6-6, 265

Chris Baker, Michigan State, 6-3, 260

Tracey Wistrom, Nebraska 6-4, 235

As Duke Tobin, Bengals director of pro/college personnel, says, "if you want to get one, this is the year to do it."

Jerry Jones sees Shockey and Graham going quickly in the first round, which he says is "rare. Sometimes you don't get one tight end going in the first round at all."

The one drawback on Shockey is he's a converted wide receiver and is raw on his blocking skills: "He's only played three semesters as a tight end," Garrett said. "But he's got the speed and athleticism to be a top player in the league. He's got power and he's aggressive and those traits should enable him to block until his feet and technique come along. Plus, he's a willing blocker on film."

The tier below Shockey and Graham also has guys who have been productive catching as well as blocking. The questions around Stevens are as big as his frame. A broken foot limited him to three games in his junior year, and he still chose to come out on the strength of his 43-catch sophomore season.

The early-out juniors like Shockey and Stevens make up the core of this group, which makes the campus visits this coming month by the coaches a key ingredient in the scouting process since seniors are the primary focus of in-season scouting.

The stock of McMichael, also a junior, appears to be rising with his weight.He had been projected as an H-Back during a season he played at about 235 pounds.

"But he came in at the combine at 247 and that's really going to help him," said Jones of the workouts in Indianapolis. "The guy has excellent hands."

Jones finds it curious that Sanders wasn't invited to the combine despite a disappointing season in which he had just one touchdown catch after a big season in Columbus in 2000.

"He's got great size and he can move pretty well," Jones said.

Alabama's 270-pound Terry Jones Jr., is more of a blocker than a catcher, but he's got great lineage, not to mention size. His father played with the Packers for eight years, is currently the 'Bama strength coach, and his son has a "great kid, coach's son" rep who will be a solid pro.

Lippincott's sleeper out of this group is John Owens, a versatile sort from Notre Dame.

"He played as just a tight end this year, but last year he played on both sides of the ball," Lippincott said. "He's interesting to me because here's a guy who could play tight end and defensive end, at times, in the same game."

So what exactly are the Bengals looking for in a tight end? A speedy, receiver-type who really can't or won't block? Or a right tackle type who can block, but catching is an afterthought?

"You want a guy that at least keeps the defense honest," Tobin said. "If you've got to run block, at least be a threat catching the ball. Anybody that drafts a tight end is looking for one that can do both. Normally, you have to categorize them by what they do best and the really special ones are the ones who are special doing both."

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