Bengals Fans Vote for OT at 6, But Raji Shakes Things Up

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The Cincinnati Bengals should take an offensive tackle with the sixth overall selection in the coming NFL Draft, stripehype.com readers say. An overwhelming 70% chose OT in our online poll, against 18% favoring linebacker and 7% running back.

OT makes sense from almost any angle. Current Bengals left tackle Levi Jones hasn’t really been healthy since the 2006 season, and right tackle Stacy Andrews is a free agent rehabbing a torn ACL, so OT is definitely a need. This year’s draft is flush with quality tackles: Andre Smith, Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith and Michael Oher. At least two of those names should still be on the board when the Bengals pick. The money is right. Whoever gets taken at six is going to get a deal north of $50 million, and OT is one of the positions where top-tier players command that kind of coin. And finally, OT is a reasonably safe selection. While tackles have been known to bust, they can typically still contribute at guard in such a case.

Indeed, barring a big free agent signing or trade that impacts these arguments, I think it’s highly unlikely that the Bengals go in any other direction in the first round. But another name and another position has unexpectedly thrust itself into the mix: Boston college DT B.J. Raji.

While I agree that fixing the o-line is job No. 1 this offseason, I don’t share kirk’s objection to James Walker’s suggestion of DT in the first. Why? Well, if the o-line is job 1, then boosting the Bengals’ anemic pass rush is job 1a. Despite paying a combined $60 million-plus to defensive ends Robert Geathers and Antwan Odom, the Bengals generated just 17 sacks last season, which tied with the Browns for second-worst in the league. Cincinnati’s desperate need for pressure is what points some fans and observers toward picks like DEs Brian Orapko or Everett Brown, or an LB along the lines of Aaron Curry. But I think a very strong case can be made for bolstering defensive tackle as the way to improve the rush. And that case can be summed up in two words: Albert Haynesworth.

Odom wasn’t as successful last season in Cincinnati as he was in 2007 in Tennessee in part because the Titans have Haynesworth. He commands constant double-teams, which in turn create many more opportunities for the players on the edges. The Bengals have no such monster in the middle, and in general fans covet one badly. In fact, signing Haynesworth himself is a persistent pipe dream in Bengaldom.

But that isn’t going to happen, even if Haynesworth is a free agent come March, and Bengals fans, including yours truly, had paid little attention to the possibility of DT in the first because this year looks to be a weak one at the position, with no defensive tackle worthy of a top 10 pick. I didn’t even include DT on this blog’s poll for precisely that reason.

All that changed with the emergence of Raji in Senior Bowl practices this week. Raji routinely owned even top interior offensive line prospects like Alex Mack and Max Unger. Already seen as a mid-to-late first round pick going into this week, Raji is now starting to pop up in the top 10. For example, in his most recent mock, Walter Cherepinsky has him going to the Packers at nine, and after seeing him work in Mobile, gbnreport.com chief scout Jon Cozart declared Raji a top five pick.

Now, huge caveat here: a few good practices does not a future Pro Bowler make. The Great Draft Hype Machine is just getting into gear and Raji is only the first of many players whose stock will soar because of a good practice or pro day or 40 time at the combine. But that said, Raji was a first-rounder even before the Senior Bowl, and I think his performance there has certainly earned him strong consideration by the Bengals. And with the 2009 draft boasting a deep class of offensive tackles — deep enough that a good player will be there in the second — I find myself suddenly tempted to address the other line in the first.

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