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2011 NFL Draft Bengals Watch List: Top-Four Will Vary

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According to almost every website that has anything to do with the NFL or the upcoming draft and has taken the time to rank the top-32 college prospects (post Andrew Luck) and they all seem to have the same top-four soon to be rookies on their lists. Those four are: Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers and Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley. Each of these players have the ability to immediately start for the team that selects them in the draft and each have the ability to make an immediate impact.

The four NFL teams that have the top-four picks in the upcoming draft are, in order, the Carolina Panthers, the Denver Broncos, the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. Fortunately for these teams, they have a top-five pick to help their team recover from their abysmal seasons. Unfortunately, each team only gets one top-five pick when they could each probably use two or three.

Also, unfortunately for anybody who wants to waste their time (ME!) trying to predict what teams will draft which players, the top-four teams in the 2011 NFL draft could probably use any one of the top-four picks equally.

For example, there is no question that the Carolina Panthers could use A.J. Green because they lack a No. 1 receiver. Green is the kind of player that can change an offense and stop the opposing defenses from stacking the box against DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson or whoever the Panthers quarterback is handing the ball off to.

On the other hand, the Panthers lost Julius Peppers before the 2010 season to the Chicago Bears and with him, went their pass rush ability. One of the most important qualities that a winning team needs to have is the ability to get to the opposing quarterback. There are just too many good quarterbacks in the NFL that can shred a defense if they're left to stand in the pocket. Considering this, the Panthers could draft Bowers with the first overall pick.

Who knows?

It goes like this all the way until the No. 4 pick. Realistically, the Bengals could be on the clock with any of these players left for them to select. The question is, who will be left? Will the Bengals even select one of these top-four with their pick regardless of which of these four is available?

Because the three teams before the Bengals could pick any of the top-four prospects in any order, let's go through all four of them.

If A.J. Green is available:

Would the Bengals pass up on this No. 1 receiver? He's big, he's fast and he can catch. He will make defensive coordinators nervous and make safeties and defensive backs shake in their cleats. However, the Bengals failed TOcho experiment may make the Bengals weary of drafting a wide receiver in the first round. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on the same team may look glorious on paper but it was everything but glorious on the field. What would make the A.J. Ocho show any different?

That is assuming that Ochocinco is on the Bengals roster when the draft takes place in April. The Bengals have said that they picked up his option but that doesn't necessarily mean that they won't trade him. If they do find themselves Ocho-less for the first time in 10 years, A.J. Green could compliment the young quartet of Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham.

If Da'Quan Bowers is available:

If Bowers is available when Cincinnati is on the clock for the first time, the Bengals could draft him with the hopes of creating a Bowers-Dunlap super duo of quarterback carnage. Carlos Dunlap broke the Bengals rookie sack record held by Justin Smith this season with 9.5 but he was also the only defensive end that was able to make his way to the quarterback throughout the season. Antwan Odom spent some time on suspension and the rest of the time on IR. Robert Geathers only found his way to the quarterback once and second year defensive end/outside linebacker Michael Johnson 2.5 times. What does that tell you? It tells me that Dunlap could use a better side kick on the other side of the line.

If Bowers is available and the Bengals select him, it means that Odom and Geathers should update their resumes because they don't have jobs in Cincinnati anymore. It also means that Michael Johnson is going back to a back-up role or that he's going to be working as an outside linebacker once again.

If Patrick Peterson is available:

If Patrick Peterson is available and the Bengals select him with their No. 4 pick, it unfortunately means that the Bengals likely decided it best to part ways with Johnathan Joseph. Peterson and Leon Hall would be the new cornerback duo in the Bengals secondary.

I find it hard to believe that the Bengals would allow Joseph to walk out the door without a fight. If they do sign him or use the franchise tag on him, and Peterson is the player available, would they still draft him for the future? Probably not. The Bengals might grab Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus or North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn with their No. 4 pick.

If Nick Fairley is available:

If Fairley is the guy left over out of the top-four prospects when the Bengals are on the board would they select this dominating and dirty defensive tackle? He showed why he's worthy or a top-five draft pick in the national championship game where he dominated the Oregon Ducks offense like a man among boys. He was in the quarterbacks face on every passing down and was one of the major reasons that the Auburn Tigers were able to slow the Ducks 300-plus yard per game rushing yard average down to 75 yards.

If Fairley is on the board and the Bengals decide that he's their man, it would likely mean that Pat Sims and Tank Johnson aren't their men any longer. Drafting Fairley in the first round would put him in the starting lineup next to Domata Peko where his "dirty" attitude could add a much needed spark to the Bengals defense.

So what's the Bengals best case scenario? Of these four players who could the Bengals use the most? All Pro Blogger John Thornton has an opinion on who the Bengals should use their No. 4 overall pick for if he's available.

If I had to choose a guy for the Bengals right now, it would be Georgia WR AJ Green. He is a big NFL ready WR and he is a No 1 type play maker short and deep. Something that the Bengals are lacking in the passing game. DT Nick Fairley would be my second choice. He’s truly Warren Sapp-like. Real deal. But the Peko/Sims/Atkins DT rotation is ok. Bowers would be my 3rd choice and he would be a luxury pick because of the good young DE’s on the roster. And Peterson is my 4th. He’s a very good cover guy and can return punts. Based on the teams drafting #1 through #3, any of these guys could be gone before #4. But one will be left standing.

What do you think?