NEW ORLEANS -- A.J. Green or Julio Jones? That is the question for many receiver-needy teams in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft on April 28.
For most of the off-season, it's been assumed Green was a lock to be the first receiver -- and might even be a candidate to go first overall, to the Carolina Panthers or another team trading up to get him. But then Jones ran two 40-yard dashes at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis between 4.34 seconds and 4.40 seconds with a slight foot fracture (which I'm told will not threaten his long-term pro career). Teams began putting their sniffers out to discover everything they could about the two players as people. Jones is a safer guy, in terms of work ethic and practice habits, several personnel men have told me.
It's now a race. Jones has narrowed the gap between himself and Green to the point where I'm told by two teams with receiver needs that they favor Jones. Draft czar Gil Brandt says, "The gap has closed. I wouldn't be surprised to see Jones picked ahead of Green at this point.''
I'm told the Bengals, who have the fourth pick and are considering a receiver, have Jones ahead of Green on their preliminary draft board. Coach Marvin Lewis wouldn't go that far this morning at the annual NFL meetings, but there's no question he's studying each guy. "That's the fun of the draft,'' Lewis said. "Sometimes we as teams all look at things slightly differently. But they're both going to be outstanding players. They're big, they play the game physically, they run well.
"A.J. has demonstrated acrobatic catching ability. They both have a big catching radius. Julio has been a tenacious blocker. The question is, what do you value most?''
The Panthers, picking number one, reportedly have Green in their list of "six or seven'' players they're considering at the top of the draft. I'd be stunned in Carolina does anything but pick a defensive lineman, quarterback or trades the pick. John Elway has said the Broncos are considering a quarterback at number two, but that would be a shocker. Buffalo is not taking a receiver at number three; the Bills will go quarterback or defensive front-seven player. That brings us to the fourth pick.
"My boss loves offense,'' Lewis said Tuesday morning.
He's referring to the owner and GM of the Bengals, Mike Brown. The Bengals will be the first serious candidate to choose a wideout. Here's where it gets interesting. I'm told Cincinnati has gotten poor reviews of Green as a practice player and willing blocker. The Bengals new offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden, will demand his receivers block downfield. They have no trepidation about Jones on either score.
That's why I believe there's a better chance now, five weeks before the draft, that Jones will get picked before Green -- if Cincinnati is doing the receiver-picking at number four in the first round.
Now onto your email:
SHOULD ROOKIES SHOW UP AT THE DRAFT?
No one said Ware would not hit the guy who stayed away from the NFL Draft, or go easy on him. The point is, union guys like Ware won't hesitate to make it tougher for guys who hug Roger Goodell on national TV on draft night and help the NFL put on a better TV show. More importantly, the guys who hug Goodell are going to walk into a locker room of veterans who will be looking cross-eyed at any player who attends the draft at a time they were locked out.
You can discuss trades, but it's risky. No trade can be consummated for a player until the league year begins, and what happens if you agree for a deal for Kevin Kolb, then bypass a quarterback in the first round, and then you don't get to coach Kolb until the lockout ends, and the lockout ends Sept. 18, and ... you get what I mean. Plus, trading for a player -- after this year's draft -- would mean you'd be getting a 2012 pick in return, which would be lesser value than a 2011 pick, obviously. The value for a quarterback in trade is going to be difficult to determine for all those reasons.
Simple: NFL bosses were interested in making the game more exciting then. Times change. Now, they're more interested in player safety.
WHAT A SILLY OPINION THIS IS, IN MY OPINION.
So in a league that hasn't missed a game due to a labor dispute in 24 years, you're going to stop watching the NFL because five-and-a-half months before the start of the season the two sides don't have a labor agreement? Wow.
You're right, but when I wrote that, it appeared the start of the league year was almost certainly months away. Now it might be three weeks away.
THE GARY BRACKETT CRITIQUE.
Duly noted. I've heard from many who agree with you, Craig.