The NFL's version of Christmas Day and New Year's Eve is finally upon us. The countdown to those magical words, "The Houston Texans are on the clock," has begun.
Let the proverbial ball of pigskin fall in the heart of New York:
1. Draft day is here. Yes indeed, the day we've been anticipating since the day after the Super Bowl has arrived. Thirty-two teams likely woke this morning like little kids anxious to run and see what new goodies have been left underneath their team's draft-day tree. In about 11 hours after this post goes live, they'll get a chance to finally see what shiny new toys commissioner Roger Goodell allowed them to have. On some of their draft lists were fast receivers and even faster cornerbacks. Others have been hoping a big, burly offensive lineman fall into their laps. Others still were looking for quarterbacks who might be able to offer some pre-opening weekend hope and provide peace to fan bases who are tired of saying "wait till next year." At long last, draft-day morning is here.
2. What to expect. Look for the Cincinnati Bengals to be one of those teams who will try to address virtually all of the positions outlined on the hypothetical lists above. As a team that returns a large share of its core foundation and nearly all of its starters, Cincinnati doesn't have many draft needs that will require players to play immediately. Still, the Bengals have needs at cornerback, offensive line, defensive line, outside linebacker, quarterback, receiver and running back that could help direct their immediate and long-term future. Expect the Bengals to address as many of those areas with the nine picks they currently have. Look for them to add offensive players who could be key pieces to offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's offense that will hinge upon physical, run-focused play. Possibly look for a speedy receiver who could be a good change of pace in reverses, screens and yards-after-the-catch plays that could be used in tandem with the run. Anticipate bigger corners and safeties who are equipped to play in a defensive scheme that might in the coming seasons ask them to blitz and play down regularly in run support. Likewise, look for fast and powerful rush ends and linebackers who can cover to be part of their draft plans. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for the possible selection of a quarterback who might have game-management skills that could make him an adequate backup and perhaps an eventual starter one day.
3. Moch at D-end. Perhaps not a big surprise, but former Bengals draft pick and newly acquired defender Dontay Moch said earlier this week that he expected to be used at defensive end this season. After being claimed off waivers from Arizona back in March, Moch started getting his weight back up to near what it was when he was a defensive end during his last stint with the Bengals that lasted from 2011-12. With the Cardinals last season he was moved to outside linebacker. Since they ran a 3-4 defensive scheme, it only made sense to stand him up and use him as a rusher from the next level. He dropped more than 20 pounds in order to play lighter and faster at the position. In the last six weeks, he's gained 15 of those pounds back as he looks to take more of a bruising playing on the defensive line. How could Moch's addition at defensive end, as well as Sam Montgomery's, affect the Bengals' draft plans at end Thursday? We'll soon see, but it probably won't change things much if the Bengals have their eye on a good rush end who can compete with the other ends in training camp.
4. Remember the Day 4 and later players. The header to this blurb may change in coming years with the NFL reportedly looking at adding a fourth day to the draft, but until that happens, we're going to use the phrase "Day 4 player" to describe the bevy of undrafted free agents who sign right after the draft ends. Don't forget how the Bengals' scouting staff has done its homework on these possible diamonds in the rough. It was in the "Day 4" phase when the Bengals got linebacker Vontaze Burfict in 2012. They've gotten other contributors there in recent years and could do the same this year. Running back is one position where "Day 4 players" might be available.
5. Follow here. Draft-mania has already started on ESPN.com and it will continue until long after midnight. In addition to a live draft chat featuring reporters at Radio City Music Hall in New York that starts at noon ET, there also will be a Bengals-specific chat that will start right here at 6:30 p.m. ET. I'll be at Paul Brown Stadium for the Bengals' draft party, and I'll give my observations from there. You'll also get my rapid reaction to the night's pick and a few other thoughts throughout the day and night.