Which QB fits the Bengals?

Which QB fits the Bengals?

Published Apr. 4, 2011 4:18 p.m. ET

That the Cincinnati Bengals will select a quarterback three-plus weeks from now is one of the few certainties in the NFL draft this year.

Like so much with the current state of the Bengals, especially the offense, it's a mystery exactly which QB will be the choice, and which round.

Carson Palmer swears he'll never play another down for the only NFL team he has known, but he's really as likely to walk away from the remaining millions on his contract as owner Mike Brown is to actually beef up the scouting staff for this all-important time of year. Add to the fact that Palmer stunk for most of last year and that his backups are his brother Jordan, who resembles his brother physically but barely resembles a real NFL quarterback, and young Dan LeFevour, a waiver-wire pickup as a rookie last September, and it's clear the Bengals have to try to upgrade the game's most important position.

I've made some calls around the league, and folks who do this stuff for a living insist that there would be more than a couple teams willing to give up a draft pick for Palmer. There are two problems, though:

• They wouldn't give up a very high pick based on the way Palmer threw TD passes to the Steelers last December and the way he's tried to leverage his way out of Cincinnati.

• No one really thinks Brown would trade him. Brown does things Brown's way, and the Bengals have no reason to think Palmer will actually follow through on his promise to retire if he's not traded.

The Bengals are three picks from being on the clock, which in most years means they already would have an idea of which direction they would be going with the No. 4 pick. But there's no way to know this year, and it remains entirely possible that Carolina at No. 1 and/or Buffalo at No. 3 could be interested in the consensus top two QBs, Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert.

The Bengals might be, too. Newton's athletic gifts and off-field question marks make him just the type of prospect the Bengals have often coveted in recent years. Gabbert remains a mystery to many fans and he posted very pedestrian numbers in a short-range spread passing game at Missouri, but scouts believe in his physical tools and leadership qualities.

If you read 10 mock drafts, you get 10 different answers on when Newton and Gabbert will be drafted. Some start at the very top. Some are as low as 15. Many have one or the other going to the Bengals at No. 4, but the Bengals could also target a QB at No. 35 in the second round if they go another direction in the first.

The second group of QBs in this draft includes Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick and, depending who you ask, maybe Andy Dalton.

A big-time winner at TCU, Dalton is probably a West Coast offense QB in the NFL. Ponder made NFL-type throws and line checks at Florida State, but he also battled injury and inconsistency. Locker was once regarded as a very high pick, but he had a very ho-hum senior season at Washington and simply missed on many throws that should have been completed. Kaepernick is every bit the athlete Locker is and might be a better thrower. A couple scouts I've talked to think he's rising.

I've also learned to believe about 40 percent of what I hear this time of year.

Mallett is one of the wild cards of this entire draft, not just in his position group. He's a 6-foot-6 flamethrower who lit it up at times in one season at Michigan and two at Arkansas. At other times, though, he simply rushed throws and made poor decisions. Rumors of drug use have followed him through this process.

The Bengals staff coached Locker, Kaepernick and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, a Cleveland native, at the Senior Bowl. Mallett had a two-day visit with the team last week. New Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been on the pro day circuit and was a confirmed attendee at on-campus workouts for both Dalton and Ponder. That's not something to read a whole bunch in to; Bengals coaches often attend many workouts because the team simply doesn't employ as many area scouts as other teams do.

In my opinion, Mallett's arm strength and experience playing in a pro-style offense make him the best potential fit for the Bengals besides Newton. But I also think Mallett's talent level makes him a guy who shouldn't still be on the board at 35. It only takes one team to look past whatever others are worried about and see him as a guy who can win football games. Waiting for a QB when the Bengals need one badly could be a risk.

It gets a nasty type of windy in Paul Brown Stadium in December — remember the '07 Browns imploding there when offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski insisted on throwing 40 times? That wind is worse in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, places the Bengals will have to win late in the year to get back to respectability. A big-armed guy like Mallett has a better chance to cut through that wind than guys like Ponder or Dalton do. Heck, maybe the Bengals will just go ahead and take Locker. He, too, has a bunch of physical gifts and a bunch of question marks.

All 32 teams are looking for guys who fit their systems and philosophies. The Bengals are such a mess that it's hard to gauge exactly what they're coveting in this draft. That and their history make for good television, but can they find a guy to help lead them and play good football?

Stay tuned.