Carson Palmer admittedly has a little bias when it comes to Sedrick Ellis.
What would you expect from a fellow University of Southern California Trojan? But the Bengals’ quarterback has better reasons why he hopes the 6-foot-1, 309-pound defensive tackle is still available when Cincinnati’s turn to choose in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft comes Saturday afternoon.
The Bengals have the No. 9 pick and despite the offseason turmoil that has created a hole at wide receiver – once one of the team’s deepest position groups – there is little doubt that the top priority is shoring up a defense that has too long been an Achilles heel of the team. The Bengals lost defensive starters in DE Justin Smith, LB Landon Johnson and S Madieu Williams during the free agency period to signal their desire to fix the problem.
Head coach Marvin Lewis is leaving open, at least publicly, that the Bengals could take a player at any position other than quarterback or tight end with their first pick but after yielding an average of nearly 350 yards and more than 24 points per game last season the obvious choice would seem to be a player on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re going to address our needs upfront both offensively and defensively,” said Lewis this week during a pre-draft press conference. “I think we’ll look very hard at our skill positions and continue to gain young guys there with some talent and ability. There is some depth in this draft at those spots so I think that’s good for us. I think it hits us in good ways. I think we’ll have the ability to fill some of our skill position needs both defensively and offensively with young players that may have an opportunity as they go forward to start sometime this season or particularly for sure to start the following season.”
Ellis and linebacker Keith Rivers, a teammate at USC, are two of the names most linked to the Bengals in the myriad of mock drafts that overrun the Internet prior to the draft. Ellis made a career-high 58 tackles as a senior to go along with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He followed up his forceful season with a dominating performance during Senior Bowl practices in January.
“He’s a tenacious player,” said Palmer of Ellis. “He gets a little bit of a knock for his size but I think his size is an advantage for him because he gets such good leverage on his defenders and he’s got naturally God-given more strength than the guys he’s playing against. When you’ve got better leverage and more strength than the guys you’re playing against it has helped him be successful in college and I think it will help him be successful in the NFL.”
The Bengals have finished in the bottom six of NFL defenses (yards allowed) in four of Lewis’ first five seasons. The lone exception was in 2004 when they finished 19th out of the 32 teams, still well below par for any team hoping to make a serious run at a Super Bowl championship.
The opportunity to draft Ellis, Rivers or any of the other players the Bengals have rated worthy of a Top 10 pick will depend greatly on the trade winds that are fully expected to be blowing rapidly. Miami has already signed Michigan OT Jake Long to a 5-year deal that includes $30 million in guaranteed money to make him the first pick. St. Louis appears to be eyeing Virginia DE Chris Long with the second pick but what Atlanta does with the No. 3 choice will begin a chain reaction of events that will determine Cincinnati’s decision.
New Orleans (No. 10 pick) and Baltimore (No. 8) could be ready to move up to ensure they get the player they want; New England (No. 7) and the New York Jets (No. 6) are possible partners as are the Falcons.
“I do think this is going to be a draft where there is going to be a lot of movement because I think after the first few picks there are going to be varying views of the value of the particular guy,” said Lewis. “I think there is going to be a lot of different opinions of how teams have players viewed and graded.”
So would the Bengals be willing to be involved in any of those trades?
“You always have to be able to listen,” said Lewis. “I think we’re going to be careful not to be too cute and move away from the guy we really want. It will be somebody we feel really good about who can come in here right away and step in and be able to line up in the early part of the season and play productive football for us. We’re not going to say ‘Well maybe if we back up and we can this guy and that guy.’ I would be reluctant to advise us to do that.”