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Thinking ahead to the NFL Draft

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Here's my question to you: Is February the worst sports month? This comes from a Cincinnatian where the NBA is forgotten and college basketball, since Bob Huggins' departure, has taken a backseat to projecting the Reds upcoming season and reflecting the Bengals dismal 2006 effort. NASCAR is getting revved up for the Daytona 500. No one cares about hockey to signify any reason to discuss it on radio, the web or local television. So what's left? Bowling? Cricket? Last weekend, I watched Sugar Shane Mosley own Luis Collazo. It wasn't all that entertaining. The 25-year old Collazo spent most of the time chasing the 35-year old Mosley before a knockdown secured Mosley's win.

And you'll note at this time of year that the two teams that dominate discussion are still in their respective off-seasons.

Which indirectly promotes the debate... is this a college town or a pro town (the answer is pretty obvious in my opinion). Is this a Bengals town or a Reds town? Does it really matter what town this is considering the rarity to have two professional sports teams and a wide-range of quality college basketball teams. This is a sports town, end of debate.

But, in a way, the NFL is like no other. Despite popular belief, the NFL is a year-long sport with longer bye weeks during the off-season. No other sport has a following like NFL fans that read workout and combine reports; that salivate over mock drafts months ahead of the celebrated weekend; that read multiple reports from spring practice to simple voluntary workouts.

After the mega information people like us prepare for the second Super Bowl of the Year -- the NFL draft. A total weekend event. After that its volunteer workouts and then training camp. All of which gets observed, broken down and analyzed. This isn't like baseball where the World Series is played and most people tune out until Spring Training. Basketball is even more silent.

So now...

We're thinking NFL draft. But before that, there's the topic of franchise tags and free agency that will shift the landscape of the team's drafting priority. It's expected that the Bengals will franchise Justin Smith and sign Eric Steinbach to a long-term deal. Both are up in the air. But local beat writers are promoting that as the team's priority during the off-season.

Let's assume Smith is franchised and Steinbach is signed. What position should the team take in each round of the draft? Here's my thoughts... (not arranged by priority)

Defensive line. I'm not sure if Frostee Rucker will make an impact and I'm not convinced that Domata Peko is an every-down defensive tackle. Sam Adams, Bryan Robinson and John Thornton are getting long in the tooth. If Smith leaves with an aging defensive line mixed with unproven youth, the team would likely go with the defensive line early.

Linebacker. I hate to say it, but no one expects David Pollack to make any significant contribution in 2007. Some even speculate Pollack could go to defensive end to limit the risk of re-injurying his neck by not having the violent collisions that linebackers take/give. If Pollack goes back to end, then that would help the defensive line but add question marks to the linebackers. Will Odell Thurman return? Is Ahmad Brooks ready or is he a Stacey Andrews-like project? Paging A.J. Nicholson. We know that Landon Johnson, Brian Simmons and Rashad Jeanty will be back. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

Running back. Two things here. Will Chris Perry ever remain healthy for a full season? Will the team re-sign Kenny Watson? A trend in NFL offenses is the use of a two-running back system. The Colts had Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes. The Bears had Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. The Cowboys (Marion Barber and Julius Jones), the Saints (Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister), the Giants (Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs), the Patriots (Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney), the Jaguars (Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew) and the Broncos (Tatum Bell and Mike Bell) are just a few successful teams (all playoff teams by the way) that have implemented the two-back system. The Bengals had a good one in 2005 with Rudi Johnson and Chris Perry. But depending on Perry's availability is risky and the team clearly didn't think of Watson enough to implement a two-back system last season. Granted, Watson was a good blocking back. So, like tight ends, they could just go in that direction.

Tight end. Now here's the spot that generates debate. For the past few seasons, the Bengals relied on Reggie Kelly to help protect Carson Palmer in passing schemes. Matt Schobel was the closest thing we've had to a pass catching tight end for years; but he's over a year removed now. Tony Stewart is a special teams player that comes in when Kelly lines up in the backfield or the offense puts in a "big" formation. That's the way it's been. Now that Kelly and Stewart are free agents, it gives the team some time to think of their tight end. Will they work towards adding another weapon or keep using it to add protection during passing downs? Your guess is as good as mine.

Cornerback. Johnathan Joseph, in my opinion, is the best cornerback on the team. After an impressive rookie campaign, Joseph will likely replace -- I-hope-to-god-they-dont-sign -- Tory James. Deltha O'Neal is now being labeled as a guy that doesn't care about football from various beat reporters. That's a tad bit concerning. It's also concerning that Keiwan Ratliff went from potential starter to fourth on the depth chart (really second, but fourth best CB). If James leaves and O'Neal continues to act like an assbag, what does that say about the position?

I will always maintain that a good defense is dictated by a good defensive line. But two good cornerbacks that doesn't always rely on help would improve this defense, exponentially.

We'll need your help...

Soon the football SBNation team will be conducting a mock draft. I'll need your help determining the Bengals pick. First off, we need to think what position they could draft. Second, we need to start projecting a list of players that will be available at that position. Start up some diaries so we can brainstorm.

However, there's always a fundamental difference between drafting for need and drafting the best available. The Bengals, in 2004, didn't need Chris Perry, but Lewis claims he was the best available -- that of course depends on if you think the team drafted him to strong-arm Rudi Johnson into signing a long term deal. In 2005, the Bengals drafted linebacker -- a definite need. In 2006, the Bengals drafted cornerback -- a definite need.

So you need to help me analyze what the team will do in the draft.

Looking at mock drafts...

NFL Draft Scout projects Paul Posluszny -- OLB from Penn State.

BengalsZone projects Chris Houston -- CB from Arkansas.

With the Bengals CB picture more than just fuzzy, the most complete CB in the draft would clear up the picture and improve the abysmal pass defense that cost the Bengals a playoff spot in 2006 as much as anything else did.

In the first round of Mock Drafts, BZ projected Jamaal Anderson -- DE from Arkansas.

He is the FREAKBEAST of this draft but his game has got a ways to go. Best suited as the left DE in the Bengals 4-3 base, Anderson adds another dimension of pass rushing DT from the right side. Anderson also has the potential to grow into a huge DT.

On the Clock Draft selects Amobi Okoye - DT from Louisville.

Because he's underage, the Bengals have no worries with Okoye joining the rest of the team and earning a DUI. The Bengals could use a little help on their offensive line, but seeing such a young force still available at 18 is a great pick. Okoye still has time to grow, and will have some great veterans to learn behind in Adams and Thornton.

Huddle Geeks projects Quinn Pitcock - DT from tOSU.

Mock Draft City projects Adam Carriker - DE/OLB from Nebraska.

War Room Report projects LaRon Landry - S from LSU.

The Huddle Report projects Amobi Okoye.

Football Minds projects Quentin Moses - DE/OLB from Georgia. NFL Draft Forecast projected the same.

Draft Tek projects Lawrence Timmons - OLB from Florida State.

One thing is consistent. The players and the positions being projected differ, big time; but it's all defense.

NFL Trade Value Chart.