With the NFL Combine only a handful of weeks away (around the time that yours truly will come off his vacation -- which began last week), NFL mock drafts, will undergo an evolution similar to free agency -- and how that impacts a team's positional needs. Players viewed with first-round grades could drop after a poor showing in Indianapolis, but generally speaking, players with first-round projections aim to impress scouts at their respective Pro Days -- not the Combine.
But the Combine certainly provides an opportunity for someone to improve their overall impression. Either way, a few weeks remain before we enter that phase in the offseason. For now, many publications are releasing pre-Combine mock drafts.
Contrary to popular belief that the Bengals may select a cornerback or offensive tackle in the first round, Nate Davis with the USA TODAY selects Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy at No. 24.
The Tigers have produced several stellar defensive linemen in recent years (Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson), and Cincinnati will probably be in the market after franchise DE Michael Johnson's disappointing 2013 campaign.
Margus Hunt didn't have that explosive rookie season that the team had hoped for. Maybe it's just a matter of continued development... and maybe there's only so much growth that can take place for him. Either way, Hunt isn't ready to replace Michael Johnson and the team selecting a first-round defensive isn't beyond the realm of possibilities.
However, there is a belief that Cincinnati will make a run at Johnson.
As for Ealy, Rob Rang, who also tabbed the Missouri defensive end to Cincinnati, writes:
STRENGTHS: Ealy's athleticism jumps off the tape. Operating at LDE for the Tigers, Ealy showed good initial quickness off the snap to force right tackles into respecting his speed rush. He also has a quick spin move back to the inside to complement his speed. Perhaps best of all, when he gets a lane, Ealy closes quickly on the ball-carrier.
WEAKNESSES: Ealy is prone to coming off the snap too high, making himself vulnerable to cut blocks. He also spends too much time battling with blockers at the line of scrimmage, needing to improve his hand play to disengage quicker, as well as showing better awareness of where the ball is headed.
Ealy has a build similar to Michael Johnson, standing at 6-foot-5 and nearly 280 pounds.