Good Thursday morning, folks. In exactly one week, all of our collective patience will finally have paid off. The longest draft process in the history of draft processes will finally be over.
Until we reach that point, though, we still have to get through a seemingly endless barrage of mock drafts. As you'll read below, for the Cincinnati Bengals, the projections at No. 24 are beginning to go everywhere:
1. Who will the Bengals pick? Again, as I mentioned in this video from two weeks ago, no one really knows right this minute exactly what the Bengals will do when commissioner Roger Goodell puts them on the clock next Thursday night. Even the folks in the Bengals' intimate draft war room have no idea at this moment. Sure, by now they have an understanding of what they'd like to do. They know which player they might pick if their first choice is unavailable, but that's just the thing: They don't know who will and won't be available because the first 23 picks haven't been made yet! Personally, I'm getting burned out by all the mock drafts by fans, draftniks and draft insiders alike that you see popping up on Twitter, in the blogosphere or even here on ESPN.com. I think I hit my limit oh, right around last week. Oh, that's right. In normal years we would have had the draft last week. So who will the Bengals pick? While you'll still see me and others picking mock drafts here in the next few days, I'm more of a mind to just tell you all to sit still, remain calm and wait.
After all, we've waited this long already.
2. Projections are everywhere. It seems like the projections for the Bengals have started jumping all over the place in recent days. Either some people are getting different information, or it's a case of draft fatigue, or it's a case of over-analyzing and over-thinking. It'll be interesting to follow this draft class in the next three to four seasons to see how individual players do in individual cities. You have to imagine that on at least one of the 32 teams will be a first-, second-, or third-round pick who that team's scouting staff over-analyzed. Perhaps on a normal draft calendar, they would have gone a different direction. But in this extended year, they went with a pick, or multiple picks, that didn't work. You have to imagine that will be the case for someone, which is why I think this class could be good for retrospectives in the coming years. As for the Bengals' projections, after draft boards had been overwhelmingly sending a cornerback to Cincinnati at No. 24, we're starting to see more diversity among potential position targets there. Offensive linemen have crept into the picture at the pick. Defensive ends are making a comeback there, too, with Missouri's Kony Ealy appearing at No. 24 in multiple mocks, including Mel Kiper's latest. The quarterback question continues to rage at that late-first-round spot, particularly if Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater falls that low. As part of a mock draft roundtable Wednesday, Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson took Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, following a "best overall player available" philosophy. Which projection is right? Again, be patient. We'll see in a week.
3. Tougher schedule than we think? Through Friday, we'll be taking a three-day look on the Bengals blog at Cincinnati's regular-season schedule. Upon further review, it appears the schedule could have tougher spots in it than we may have previously imagined. Yes, the Bengals have a comparatively weak schedule based on the 2013 records of the teams they'll be playing, but the games themselves and the journey through them could be a real challenge. We started this short series Thursday by breaking down the Bengals' October gauntlet.
4. Ben-Gal back in court. Former Ben-Gals cheerleader Sarah Jones will be in federal appeals court Thursday. Jones is a former Bengals cheerleader convicted of having sex with a teenager. In July, she won a defamation lawsuit filed against the website thedirty.com. A jury ruled that the site had acted maliciously and with reckless disregard by posting items related to Jones' sex life. Attorneys for the owner of the site, Nik Richie, will argue Thursday that their client should have been immune from the defamation lawsuit in the first place. Because of its relation to first-amendment rights, website owners and regulators and first-amendment attorneys across the country will be watching with interest when the decision from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati gets handed down.
5. Bengals on ESPN. Hopefully you had a chance to catch the noon ET hour of "SportsCenter" on Wednesday, or the day's regular 4 p.m. "NFL Live" show. Quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green were on as part of a tag-team interview conducted by yours truly. That explains the lack of a "Bengal Quick Take" on Wednesday. The earlier-than-usual, pre-8 a.m. departure to Paul Brown Stadium threw off my schedule slightly. Be on the lookout for more Bengals-on-television interviews that feature myself or other ESPN reporters later this offseason.