2-22-02, 4:05 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
As the Bengals prepare for next week's NFL scouting combine, they continue to be impressed by the depth available in the April 20-21 draft.
In fact, there is enough talent on the board to make the "T" word a very real option for a team that hasn't traded down on Draft Day in the 10 years since the Bengals swapped the fifth and sixth picks with the Redskins in the David Klingler deal.
"It's not only a deep group, but it's also rich at several positions instead of just a few," says Jim Lippincott, the Bengals' director of pro/college personnel. "This looks like it's the kind of year you would want to come out of the draft with three top picks instead of two."
One of the options the Bengals are considering is using the 10th pick in the draft like they did in 1992 and turn it into an extra high pick. Which is how they got free safety Darryl Williams late in the first round.
The Bengals continue to covet the top players in the hope one might slide to 10. They could immediately bolster a suspect secondary with Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer or Oklahoma safety Roy Williams. They could have the two best young defensive ends in the game by pairing North Carolina's Julius Peppers with Justin Smith. They could end their decade-long search for a young left tackle with Miami of Florida's Bryant McKinnie or Texas' Mike Williams. They could squash a quarterback controversy with Fresno State's David Carr or Oregon's Joey Harrington.
Yet draft gurus such as ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., and Joel Buchsbaum of "Pro Football Weekly," have projected those players gone before No. 10. Which might entice the Bengals at trading the pick down and picking up an extra high selection, possibly giving them three players in the first 40 or so picks.
That would give the Bengals a chance to meet their biggest draft needs even before the end of the second round with a cornerback, safety, and tight end. Or, they could try to pick off a left tackle or left defensive end.
The big question is if there is a player available at No. 10 that a team down below simply has to have and feels it has to jump in front of a team with similar needs. With the Broncos trying to get young at wide receiver, the Raiders trying to get depth on the
defensive line, and Seattle getting just 8.5 sacks out of their defensive ends last year, the Bengals look to be a match with teams picking behind them.
It's another deep field of defensive linemen. Kiper has eight going in the first round and Buchsbaum has four of them (Peppers, Tennessee tackle John Henderson, South Carolina end Kalimba Edwards, and North Carolina tackle Ryan Sims) going in the first eight picks.
"Defensive line is such a rare position that once one goes, it seems to spark a run," Lippincott says. "History says 12 in the first two rounds. It's another good crop of defensive linemen, but we might be stacking at the inside if we took one. If we're looking for anything, it would be an end, but there seems to be a lot of tackles this year."
The down guys go quickly and since Oakland now has an extra first-round pick from the Jon Gruden trade, they may want to leap up from Nos. 21 and 23 to find a replacement for the troubled Darrell Russell. Even with Russell, the Raiders were 22nd against the rush.
At No. 20, Kiper has the Seahawks picking Edwards, but how far will the linemen fall? Last year, half of the draft's top 10 and seven of the top 13 picks were defensive linemen
And consider that defensive head coaches in Indianapolis and Arizona are looking to shore up woeful units. Tony Dungy's Colts, who finished 29th, and Dave McGinnis' Cardinals, who finished 28th, pick right behind the Bengals at 11 and 12, respectively.
With Ed McCaffrey turning 34 in a training camp where he's coming back from a broken leg and Rod Smith going into the season at 32, Denver figures to be looking at wideouts. But the two best, Florida's Jabar Gaffney and Tennessee's Donte Stallworth, probably won't sit until No. 19.
And then there's the case of Boston College running back William Green. Buchsbaum says he has the best combination of size and speed in the draft and Lippincott compares his style to the Bengals' Corey Dillon.
But he won't fall much below No. 10. A trade up for Green could interest the Falcons at No. 16 as they seek a successor to Jamal Anderson. Or maybe Cleveland, at No. 17, could feel it has to jump ahead of Atlanta to get the running back quarterback Tim Couch has needed for years.
Why not? It would be the first trade ever between Paul Brown's Bengals and Paul Brown's Browns.