Wideouts wide open

4-21-03, 10:05 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

Could the Bengals come off a season in which they gave up the second most points in their history and not take a defensive player on the first day of the draft?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. The national consensus for the first-round remains USC quarterback Carson Palmer. Various draftnicks have the Bengals going for a wide receiver (Mel Kiper Jr.) and center (Ourlads' Scouting Services) in the second round, but opting for defense in the third round.

Still, with their need at left defensive end corresponding nicely with a uniquely deep crop of defensive linemen, and their satisfaction with center Brock Gutierrez, they might be able to wait until the second day for offense with the deepest center draft in years and a typically wealthy receiving corps.

Yet, whenever you talk about the Bengals and the second round, you have to talk wide receivers. Three of their top four all-time catchers, Carl Pickens (1992), Cris Collinsworth (1981), and Darnay Scott (1994), arrived in the second round. So did the odds-on favorite to pass Pickens when they took Chad Johnson in 2001.

Now, as they seek a speed merchant to team opposite Johnson, could the second round beckon again because it may be the last stop for speed?

(Here is a list of wide receivers the Bengals may very well see in rounds two and three in a consensus rating by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., Ourlads' Scouting Services, Jerry Jones' "The Drugstore List," and Rick Gosselin of "The Dallas Morning News:")

NAME SCHOOL HT WT
Bryant Johnson Penn State 6-2 214
Kelley Washington Tennessee 6-2 223
Kevin Curtis Utah State 5-11 187
Tyrone Calico Middle Tennessee 6-3 223
Anquan Boldin Florida State 6-0 215
Talman Gardner Florida State 6-0 205
Brandon Lloyd Illinois 6-0 184
Nate Burleson Nevada 6-0 195

Rick "Goose," Gosselin, the draft guru of "The Dallas Morning News," rates the crop a perfect 10 of 10 even though only Michigan State's Charles Rogers, Miami of Florida's Andre Johnson, and Florida's Taylor Jacobs figure to be locks to go in the first round.

"This is a typical year for receivers. There's a lot of good ones, even in an off year it's still seven out of 10," Gosselin says. "But if you want speed, you have to get it early because it drops off fast when it comes to guys getting down the field."

So what else is new? If you want elite speed, you can't go past No. 40, so what the Bengals do at No. 33 at the top of the second round is intriguing. Jerry Jones, who ranks players in "The DrugStore List," thinks the gap between the first-round and second-round receivers might be a bit more than usual, but he projects to go late first round to mid-second guys like Penn State's Bryant Johnson, a 6-2, 214-pounder who ripped off a better-than-expected 4.4-second 40-yard dash in his workout , and Tennessee's Kelley Washington, a 6-2, 220-pounder who dominated games despite injuries and playing just two years.

Then, there are guys like Utah State's Kevin Curtis , a 4.35 burner with a high mental aptitude score, and Middle Tennessee's Tyrone Calico and his eye-popping 4.27-second 40-yard dash time at the scouting combine who are projected from anywhere between late first and early third, depending who you ask.

Forget that Calico ran it on the alleged glacial turf in Indianapolis, but that he carried 220 pounds on a 6-3 frame doing it. Kiper has Calico going to the Bengals at the top of the second round even though some think he might be too raw to go that high. But Kiper insists, " The thing that shines for Calico is his production against teams from the SEC, Big Ten, and ACC. He didn't disappear when the level of competition increased."

The 5-11, 186-pound Curtis doesn't fit the mold of the Bengals' big receivers, but, then, what is the mold that Marvin Lewis is now the head coach? The only thing more impressive than Curtis' 40 time was a reportedly brilliant score on mental aptitude. We know Lewis likes them fast and bright, and here's a guy who averaged 17 yards per catch while racking up seven 100-yards games in being compared to Don Beebe (Kiper) and Ricky Proehl (Ourlads).

Jones says despite his small frame, Curtis is a willing blocker and can make the tough catch in traffic.

While Kiper has Calico going 33rd to Cincinnati, he has Curtis going 10 picks later to St. Louis. Ourlads has Tampa Bay taking Curtis with the last pick in the second round and Calico going 11 picks later to New England.

Meanwhile, Jones has Curtis going early in the third and Calico late in the third. And, Gosselin rates Calico higher than Johnson and Curtis.

Get the idea? Wideouts (and defensive backs) always have varied grades because there are so many of them and they can't be judged on every snap. Tennessee's Washington has been projected as a possible first-rounder, but it remains to be seen how teams will respond to the injuries that held him to four games this year in just his second season of college football, and the fact he'll be 24 when the season starts.

There's a lot to weigh. Kiper says, "He was nearly uncoverable at times, and he took over games."

Possible third-rounders include the Florida State duo of Anquan Boldin and Talman Gardner. Boldin came back from a bad knee injury to lead the team with 65 catches, 1,011 yards, and 15.6 yards per catch, but his 4.75-second 40 time at the combine may not be what the Bengals need. Gardner is a prep state sprint champion trying to find ways to get more yards after the catch.

Maybe the Bengals will keep it in the family in the fourth round, where Stanford's Teyo Johnson, brother of linebacker Riall Johnson, is ticketed by both Kiper (119th to Carolina) and Ourlads, 109th to Baltimore. The 6-5, 247-pound Johnson is an underclassmen athletic enough to play basketball for the Cardinal. He may be another guy who doesn't fit because he is known more for his physical play and size than his speed.

"A very different type of receiving prospect due to this rare size and the mismatches he presents," Ourlads says. "Could project as a tight end."

He has already been in the big time, quite literally. When Teyo Johnson played basketball in San Diego's Nike Select League, his roommate was the Rockets' Yao Ming.

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