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Cincinnati Bengals Draft Report Card

By Chris Catania, NFL Correspondent

(Sports Network) - Is it too soon to make Marvin Lewis coach of the year? Since joining the Bengals after the postseason, Lewis has helped turn the franchise into an interesting football club. That, of course, could go out the window if Byron Leftwich proves to be much better than Carson Palmer, but picking Palmer was the right move now. Time will tell if that remains true, but one safe prediction is Palmer will start more than 17 games as a Bengal. Thatís how many times Akili Smith was allowed to start for some woeful Cincinnati squads since being taken with the third overall pick in 1999. Lewis is smart enough to bring Palmer along slowly and when heís ready to play at midseason or next year, the Bengals should be able to protect him. Everyone agreed Eric Steinbach was a first-round talent, and the Bengals wound up with him in round two. If he can come in and play RG, the Bengals will have a better than average OL clearing holes for Corey Dillon. The Bengals have a big WR for Palmer to throw to in Chad Johnson, who had a breakout season last year. Projecting WRs is always tough, but in the third round Kelley Washington was a great pickup. He has ideal size and speed. If he is healthy and can learn the offense -- he only played 16 games at Tennessee -- the Bengals could have their best WR tandem since the days of Cris Collinsworth and Eddie Brown. CB Dennis Weathersby, who is recovering from a shooting incident that happened just days before draft weekend, is another a good value pick. He should see plenty of time on the field if he's healthy this year. Langston Moore is a very quick DT who has a chance to stick. Takeo Spikes was a great LB for the franchise, but the defense was lousy with him. The Bengals used the money it would have cost to keep him and got three starters in free agency: DT John Thornton is a player on the rise, LB Kevin Hardy bounced back with a good year in Dallas and CB Tory James finally has a corner all his own. The key free agent additions and this strong draft class gives Bengals fans a reason to believe that just maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is no longer a train.

2003 Draft Picks: (1st round-1st overall) QB-Carson Palmer, USC; (2-33) OG- Eric Steinbach, Iowa; (3-65) WR-Kelley Washington, Tennessee; (4-98) CB-Dennis Weathersby, Oregon State; (4-118) FB-Jeremi Johnson, Western Kentucky; (5-136) LB-Khalid Abdullah, Mars Hill (NC); (6-174) DT-Langston Moore, South Carolina; (7-215) OT- Scott Kooistra, North Carolina State; (7-259) DE-Elton Patterson, Central Florida.

Overall Draft Grade: A-

04/29 17:49:29 ET

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