Monday, April 26, 2004

Lewis stands by team's picks

Despite lukewarm reaction, Lewis sticks to script

Mark Curnutte
The early reviews are in. The Sporting News counted the Bengals among Day 1 losers in the NFL draft for "reaching for Chris Perry." didn't call the Bengals losers, but didn't give them a winning grade, either. The Lions and Falcons were the top two winners. The Browns and Cowboys were the losers.

"I don't think anybody in the NFL cares what the 'experts' say," coach Marvin Lewis said after the Bengals made Wyoming quarterback Casey Bramlet their final selection of the 2004 draft.

Bengals 2nd round draft pick Keiwan Ratliff led the nation's cornerbacks in interceptions last season.
(Craig Ruttle photo)


First round
• (26 overall) Chris Perry, RB, Michigan.
Second round
• (49) Keiwan Ratliff, DB, Florida.
•  (56) Madieu Williams, DB, Maryland.
Third round
• (80) Caleb Miller, LB, Arkansas.
• (96) Landon Johnson, LB, Purdue.
Fourth round
• (114) Matthias Askew, DT, Michigan State.
• (117) Robert Geathers, DE, Georgia.
• (123) Stacy Andrews, OT, Mississippi.
Fifth round
• (149) Maurice Mann, WR, Nevada.
Sixth round
• (183) Greg Brooks, DB, Southern Mississippi.
Seventh round
• (218) Casey Bramlet, QB, Wyoming.

Three of the final six picks Sunday were defensive players, with Michigan State defensive tackle Matthias Askew (fourth round) looking like the most immediate contributor.

Seven of the 11 picks are defensive players, most with excellent speed, a plan Lewis & Co. executed to bolster the NFL's 28th-ranked unit in yards and points allowed.

Three of the picks, all defensive backs, impressed Bengals coaches during the Senior Bowl.

One criticism circling about the Bengals draft, which concluded Sunday with the selection of six more players, is that the organization selected players too early.

Lewis saw it differently. The Bengals actually selected many players lower than they had them projected to go, he said.

"They don't have to coach them," Lewis said of media draft pundits. "A year from now, it really won't matter what they said this year, will it?"

Much of the criticism concerns first-round pick of Perry, the third-rated back by most experts - behind Oregon State's Stephen Jackson (Rams) and Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones (Lions).

The Bengals had a shot at Jackson at No. 24 in the first round, but traded that pick to the Rams for the 26th choice and a fourth-rounder.

The Bengals had Perry rated highest among running backs, and Lewis said Perry's talents best fit the Bengals' offense.

The ultimate measure of this draft class will be determined by the performances of the seven players drafted in Rounds 2-4.

In Round 2, where the Bengals picked at Nos. 49 and 56, they were hoping either Virginia Tech center Jake Grove or Alabama guard Justin Smiley would fall. They didn't. Then the Bengals received a call from Eagles coach Andy Reid, who wanted to trade up - the Bengals would find out later - to get Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff.

The Bengals took Ratliff at No. 49 and Maryland safety Madieu Williams at No. 56. Experts say they'll bolster the pass defense.

The next two picks in the third round were linebackers Caleb Miller of Arkansas and Landon Johnson of Purdue. Experts say both will contribute on special teams and challenge for playing time.

Give the Bengals credit for drafting fast, aggressive defenders who, Lewis said, "want to be great."

"The experts don't worry about (players who don't play hard) because it's not their problem," Lewis said. "We're not going to deal with that."

The trio of fourth-round picks - Matthias, Georgia defensive end Robert Geathers and 346-pound Mississippi offensive tackle Stacy Andrews (considered a "sleeper") - also should stick around.

The difference between the 2003 and 2004 classes is largely name recognition. The Bengals had the first overall pick last year and took quarterback Carson Palmer. The prized offensive line prospect Eric Steinbach dropped to the top of the second round. Grabbing Steinbach there sealed top draft grades for the Bengals.

Picking much lower this season, the Bengals didn't get as much name recognition but targeted players who fit what they want to do on both sides of the ball.

One need not filled was the interior of the offensive line, but Lewis said he had a plan to add more competition there.

Not all 11 members of the 2004 draft class will be on the opening day roster. Nor will all nine members of the 2003 class likely stick.

"You hope they all make it," Lewis said. "I don't know what the realistic number is."



BENGALS / NFL DRAFT [Special section]
Curnutte: Lewis stands by team's picks
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