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Bengals need to draft center in second round; no shot at top centers in free agency

If he's available, the Bengals need to draft Alex Mack in the second round.

It was learned earlier in the week that Cal Center Alex Mack wouldn't take part in drills during the Combine after he supposedly sprained an ankle last Monday. This was good news, from a Bengals perspective who has the 38th overall pick (sixth in the second round). With Mack sidelined, he can't impress teams enough through the Combine to move his value up on the charts, potentially becoming a rare first-round pick for a center. Only four centers have been drafted in the first round in the past 10 years.

I believe that the Bengals are solid with using their second round slot for a center, either Mack or Louisville's Eric Wood. The first round is still strongly believed to be one of the four best offensives in the draft. Mack, who played some guard at the Senior Bowl, is still considered the most valued center in the draft, and it's likely he'll still go in the second round, writes Pete Prisco. "I got to get some good playing time at guard and show that I can be a versatile lineman and play a lot of positions," Mack said.

Versatility among linemen is a valued commodity with the Bengals vision of linemen. In 2008, the Bengals played Stacy Andrews and Andrew Whitworth, both of whom have played either guard or tackle in regular season games in their careers. Even Bobbie Williams took snaps during the 2008 pre-season at center, making him the team's emergency center during the season.

With Eric Ghiaciuc expected to hit the free agency market, the Bengals will be left with three centers under contract: Andrew Crummey, Kyle Cook and Dan Santucci.

Center has always been an underrated position. Case in point, the Bengals offense hasn't been the same since Rich Braham broke his leg against Cleveland ending his career. In fact, two players had their careers end in the game, and Tab Perry's promise as a kickoff return specialist died too, which was only the second game of the 2006 season. Braham was a rock and a quarterback among linemen.

One of the greatest legends of NFL football, the guy that made the NFL and the process in which it is conducted today, Paul Brown viewed center as such an important position, that he drafted Bob Johnson as the team's first ever draft pick in 1968.

In this division, against defensive tackles like Shaun Rogers, Casey Hampton and Haloti Ngata, the Bengals need to pick up the best center available. Otherwise, we'll be stuck with performances we've seen since the loss of Braham, which has seen a steady decline of the team's rushing offense.

There is the question of available free agents, which is a headed by names like Matt Birk and Jeff Saturday. It's not that we think the Bengals can't afford a veteran Pro Bowl center; it's just that we don't think that veteran Pro Bowl centers are interested in coming to Cincinnati after recent seasons that included appearances in the playoffs. Since the Bengals aren't considered a well-run franchise with a limited chance of making the playoffs, and since veteran players tend to view the playoffs as a greater reward (not always, but many do), we don't expect the Bengals to be considered as an option, even if they were interested.

Their best option of upgrading center, is the NFL draft. Alex Mack is generally considered the best, and if he's available by the 38th pick in the 2009 NFL draft, the Bengals need to go after him.