Saturday, April 20, 2002


Don't bet on Bengals' draft pick

By Tim Sullivan,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The mock drafts are a mockery. Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z has the Bengals spending their first-round draft choice on Miami's Phillip Buchanon. So does Carl Moritz of The Sporting News.

        Don't they know he's a cornerback?

        The Bengals have been drafting football players for 34 years, and they have never drafted a cornerback in the first round. Never. NFL records claim Oklahoma's Rickey Dixon (1988) was a cornerback, but he was selected and trained as a safety. Turned out he couldn't play either position.

        Dixon was the Sooner who was more often later. But he remains the only defensive back the Bengals have ever selected with their top draft choice. Safety Darryl Williams was a first-round pick in 1992, but he was the team's second selection that spring. The first one was spent on the unfortunate David Klingler when the Bengals might have had Pro Bowl corner Troy Vincent.

        Ten times the Bengals have drafted a defensive lineman with their first pick. Seven times they have selected a linebacker. They have always made a priority of rushing the passer, but shut-down corners have strangely been a secondary concern.

Miami cornerback Phillip Buchanon.
(AP photo)
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        “I've been here 11 years and I'll bet every year we say we've got to look at corners in the first round,” Bengals personnel director Jim Lippincott said. “Every year you talk about left tackles and corners. But for some reason, we haven't done it.”

        Though Bengals owner Mike Brown professes that the passing game is the secret of NFL success, he has yet to show the same commitment to curtailing it. Three times in four years the Bengals have picked a corner in the second round, but the results would indicate that's too late for an elite pass preventer. If Artrell Hawkins is the best cornerback the Bengals have drafted in a decade — and he is — the talent pool must be dangerously shallow.


Logic-free war room

        Yet with more offenses using sets that employ three or four wide receivers, and fewer people capable of covering them, effective cornerbacks ought to be in peak demand.

        “Corner is a spot,” said Bengals coach Dick LeBeau, “where you can really use four or five good players.”

        League-wide, this is the trend. During the last 10 NFL drafts, 37 cornerbacks have been selected in the first round, compared to just 16 between 1982 and 1991. Yet each time the Bengals consider using their top pick on a corner, something goes wobbly in the war room.

        Once upon a time, the Bengals found a pair of brilliant blankets in the late rounds. Ken Riley, the franchise's career interception leader, was a sixth-round selection. Lemar Parrish, a six-time Pro Bowl corner, was chosen in the seventh round. But as scouting has become more sophisticated, corners of that caliber rarely slip past the early rounds.

        Quentin Jammer of Texas, who is both the best-named and consensus cornerback choice in today's draft, is widely projected to be taken third by the Detroit Lions. If Buchanon is still on the board when the Bengals pick 10th, he should be as hard to pass up as he is to pass against.

        That is not, however, the way to bet.

        Contact Tim Sullivan by phone: 768-8456; e-mail:


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