The Draft Equation

Now that I'm back and equipped with loads of information and firsthand experience it's time to do what many of you are eagerly anticipating; that is for me to speculate on who the Bengals will draft.

 If this truly is a draft oozing talent and potential at every turn, then whomever is taken with the twenty-first pick should be a player who will compete to start right away.

 My favorite prospect is Idaho offensive lineman, Mike Iupati. It seems impossible to find a knock on this guy. He's enormous (330 lbs.). He has a massive frame (6'6'') with super-solid legs. He said himself that he likes to pull more than anything else, he is likely a guard but is versatile enough to play tackle. Not to mention he is American Samoan—the Bengals seem to like American Samoans and for good reason. They are thick, athletic people who hold up well to the physical grind of the NFL.

 Cincinnati somehow found success last year platooning two undrafted guards in Evan Mathis and Nate Livings. Longtime starter Bobbie Williams is an unrestricted free agent who has played over a decade of pro football already; ESPN blogger James Walker reports that unnamed scouts are still high on Williams and predict he will find a decent market for his services this offseason. I like Bobbie, but his play dipped a bit in 2009 and seems unlikely that he will significantly improve at this stage of his career. Drafting Iupati would not only put the pressure on the existing Bengal guards, but it would add another athletic and versatile lineman likely to start in Week 1 to the team. Iupati for President! Iupati for President!

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 If Iupati is no longer on the board once the Bengals are on the clock another option could be Taylor Mays, the overgrown safety from USC. Before last season, many scouts had Mays as a top-five pick, but he has since slipped based on his inability to cover slot receivers one-on-one. Yet he made up some of that ground running an astonishing 4.26 unofficial 40-yard dash time at the Combine. That kind of speed, combined with his 6'3''/230lbs. size, would give Mike Zimmer a legitimate freak to work with. Zim developed another big safety, Roy Williams, into a pro-bowler; who's to say he couldn't do the same with Mays?

 Mays is a safety/linebacker hybrid type who could help the run defense become even more stout while also being the imposing head hunter striking fear into receivers' hearts as they cross the middle of the field. After drafting Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga in recent years, the Bengals seem comfortable taking former USC defenders. Selecting this Trojan would allow Zimmer to become even more creative with his scheme and also give him a defensive back that can match up with the bigger receivers in the league. If Iupati is gone and Mays is still there, I think this pick is a no-brainer.

 Some of you may feel that the passing game is the area to address in this draft. There have been numerous mock drafts on the web that have the Bengals selecting the tight end from Oklahoma, Jermaine Gresham. Even after sitting out all of last year with torn cartilage in his knee, Gresham still comes into this draft as the most complete tight end available. Since the Bengals will not bring back Dan Coates or J.P. Foschi a tight end makes sense, but this is a deep tight end class and many feel some good ones will still be there in the middle rounds. The first thing Marvin Lewis mentioned when asked about the TE spot was the injuries to the highest rated players of the group and said because of that, other, lesser-known guys, have worked themselves up the draft charts. I wouldn't be dissatisfied with Gresham, but I feel the team should take the very best player available with their first pick rather than rushing to fill a need. In my mind, Gresham is not the best player available at No. 21.

 One receiver that is not considered the best but that I am very high on is Notre Dame's Golden Tate. To me, this guy is the quintessential AFC North wide receiver. He isn't big but his hands are reliable. He is tough and productive, and he says the best thing about himself is that he is hard to tackle. The comparisons of Steve Smith and Hines Ward seem pretty fitting and while there are other receivers who are physically more dynamic with perhaps more potential, Tate could come in right away and become the player that Laveranues Coles was supposed to be last season. I would like to find another Randy Moss or Chris Henry too, but if that means waiting for two seasons for that player to reach his potential I'd rather take Tate and throw him 60 passes next season. Taking Tate in the first round might be "reaching", but I feel the immediacy of his impact would justify that pick.

 The most echoed statement about this draft is that it's deep defensively, especially on the line. While the Bengals improved their pass rush a season ago, it still lacked that one imposing player for whom opposing defenses must account. Antwan Odom showed he could have been that guy, but he ruptured his achilles tendon in Week 6 and his double-digit sack campaign came to a quick and painful end. Jonathan Fanene turned in a good season coming off of the bench for Odom, but benefited from good coverage on most of his six sacks.

 Should the Bengals choose to improve their pass rush, they should take a look at Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham. While potentially more suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 system Graham still has the size (260lbs.) to play end in a 4-3, especially on passing downs. Graham helped himself greatly by demonstrating to scouts a ferocity and "high motor" while rushing the passer at the Senior Bowl and its practices. His ability to stop the run may be in question, but with the Bengals already stacked in that department along its front four his main priority would be to wreak havoc on quarterbacks. Still, I don't know if I would invest a first-round pick on such a specialist if he isn't projected to be an every-down player; this comes into play particularly if teams can find serviceable pass rushers in the later rounds.

 Defensive tackle is another place that may intrigue the Bengals' think-tank. If Cincinnati resigns Tank Johnson the trio of Johnson, Domata Peko and Pat Sims is solid. However, adding another fat guy to the rotation could become an insurance policy to stopping the run late in the season when injuries begin to take their toll. The defensive tackle position has becomes the most important behind quarterback this off-season and at least four should be selected before the Bengals are on the clock. If they go that route, why not take Terrence "Mount" Cody?

Like Andre "Goo" Smith last year, Cody is the heaviest man in the draft and his weight scares teams. He managed to shed 20 pounds for the Combine (bringing his weight to around 350 lbs.) and he moves pretty well for a man of his size, but almost everyone feels he can only be effective as a two-down run-stopper. Cody doesn't seem to warrant going this high in the draft, but I bet both Marvin and Zimmer agree that having a healthy rotation of run-stuffers makes everyone's job easier on defense. With DT's getting so much cash across the league, some teams will put an extra premium on the prospects at this position.

 So there you have it. If April 22nd rolls around and Roger Goodell announces that the Bengals select Mike Iupati, I will audibly cheer for the second season in a row (Maualuga did it for me last year). If it's any of the other guys I've mentioned, I will still be pleased. If it's Mike Williams of Syracuse or, God forbid, Tim Tebow, I will turn the television off and go sulk for awhile.

 

 Mojokong—by the scalp of Mel Kiper, bring me more Samoans!

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