Last evening heralded the annual return of the Legendary Mock Draft Muncher to the internet, an event equated by many to the return of the swallows to San Juan Capistrano, the return of the Monarch Butterflies to Mexico, and, perhaps most appropriately, the return of the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio.
For fans in Ohio, though, the eleventh annual Mock Draft Muncher highlights an unexpected conflict between the two NFL teams located at opposite ends of the state.
Over the course of most of the last decade, the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns have both frequently found themselves nestled within the top ten of the NFL's draft, but rarely have the teams been in conflict for personnel. This might be the year that changes, thanks to parallel needs at the wide receiver position.
Despite a clear need for both teams, it's somewhat of a surprise that nearly half the mock drafts in the survey select WR A.J. Green as a Bengal or as a Brown, meaning that all but seven of the mock drafts suggest that one of the two teams will pick the Georgia receiver.
While a number one wide receiver is a clear need for the Browns, as neither Mohamed Massaquoi or Brian Robiskie appears to reach that level, the team has perhaps a more glaring need in their front seven. New defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is shifting the team back to a 4-3 defense after six years as a 3-4. This generally infers a shift in the front seven both in the size of linemen needed and the responsibilities of nearly everyone. Meanwhile, the team has unloaded much of an aging defensive line including top nose tackle Shaun Rogers.
Under Eric Mangini, the team relied heavily on older imported veterans like David Bowens, also recently unloaded, and have had a continuous need an outside pass rushing threat since Jamir Miller's achille's ripped during a pre-season game against the Vikings early in the decade.
Outside of a handful of players, including the surprising Ahtyba Rubin, the Browns will be starting over on the defensive line. Tom Heckert has prepared the Browns to reboot the front seven, and the draft will have to be how they do it.
The Bengals, meanwhile, have a developing situation at the quarterback position, as Carson Palmer has been ineffective, unhealthy and unhappy in recent years after appearing to emerge several years ago as the team's franchise quarterback. With the fourth pick in the draft, the Bengals are in the catbird seat to reboot the most important position on the team. Likewise, Marvin Lewis also badly needs to generate a better pass rush, meaning that the Bengals would likely want to take a hard look at this year's very solid class of defensive linemen.
Still, the mock drafts on the internet point to A.J. Green for both teams, a trend which has been accelerating in recent weeks. The MDM's trend lines for selections at number four and number six show Green emerging from the pack as a favorite selection among the draftniks.
As we watch the mock draft trends moving forward into April, however, expect to see Green potentially fall further in the draft. Peter King has suggested that the Bengals believe that Julio Jones is a safer pick, and the Browns' recent dalliances with players like Cam Newton suggest a team trying to pump up interest in their number six pick for potential trade partners. The Browns continue to have a large number of holes to fill, a situation which begs for trading down, as they did aggressively in 2009.