Posted: Tuesday March 22, 2011 11:52AM ; Updated: Tuesday March 22, 2011 1:42PM
Peter King
Peter King>MONDAY MORNING QB - TUESDAY

MMQB Mail: Julio Jones closing gap on A.J. Green as draft's top wideout

Story Highlights

Julio Jones or A.J. Green? Tide shifting in Alabama wideout's direction

WR-needy Bengals, with the fourth pick, appear to be leaning toward Jones

Mailbag questions on prospects skipping draft, the lockout and more

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Julio Jones caught 78 passes for 1,133 yards and seven TDs for Alabama last season.
Bob Rosato/SI

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? "The league should point out the obvious to the potential draft picks. Does anyone think DaMarcus Ware is going to pull up on a chance to hit the guy who skips Radio City? This putting the draftees in the middle of this dispute is really low. It lowers the opinion of the NFLPA leadership substantially in the eyes of the public. And I suspect if you ask the players privately, they would agree.''
--Tom J., San Pedro, Calif.

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.

YES. "If the league year doesn't start before the draft, is there a way teams can agree on trades and execute them after the CBA is signed to get around the restriction on player trades prior to a new CBA? For example, could the Eagles agree in principle to trade Kevin Kolb to the Vikings for their top pick with the Eagles telling the Vikes who they want to pick and then execute the trade once football resumes? In the NBA frequently one team picks for another and they finalize the deal later. I don't know if the NFL has restrictions on trading unsigned draft picks and if they do, could there be some other mechanism to agree to a trade of player for pick at the draft and execute it later once football resumes (perhaps after the draft picks signs).''
--Ian, Chicago

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.

CORRECTAMUNDO. "Peter, always love the column. I think you answered the question as to why the Competition Committee would propose moving the kickoff to the 35-yard-line: player safety. However, your point is right about how many touchbacks there would be. Wasn't the reason the kickoff was moved back from the 35 to the 30 in 1994 to decrease touchbacks and add more excitement on kickoffs? It worked, and now they want to go back on that? They want to take the Devin Hesters out of the game? How do these people not remember why the rule was changed in the first place only 17 years ago?''
--Nick Alexandrow, Springfield, Va.

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. "I stopped watching and attending pro baseball games when their strike killed the World Series that year. I will now stop watching or attending pro football games. I am disgusted by both sides though I tend to side with the owners on most issues. This is just a game played by spoiled millionaires who could care less about the average fan. I can no longer support the greedy monster that the NFL has become. My fervent hope is that the billions being argued about are taken away, that people stop stupidly investing in the NFL and the league comes to a crashing halt. I have enjoyed my last game.''
--Rey Figeuroa, Houston

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.

GOOD POINT. "Your words on Feb 2nd: 'Could we please have a moratorium on the Carson Palmer-to-Arizona or San Francisco or anywhere rumors, and can we please stop speculating where Kevin Kolb's going to go? Come on. This stuff's months away.' Not suggesting it was hypocritical of you to print speculation on Palmer AND Kolb in your MMQB this week. But can you please admit that post in February was a bit heavy-handed. Speculating is what you and all your colleagues are, in part, paid to do.''
--Steve, Toronto

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. "Your interview with Gary Brackett where he likens a car buyer asking for the CARFAX report to NFL players asking to see team financials is way off. Worse than apples to oranges. No, Gary, it would be like a car salesman refusing to work for a car dealer because the owner of the dealership won't show him the company books. It's completely ludicrous to me that so many people have lined up behind the players. I think I read in another of your articles that players were concerned about how they were going to afford to live if there were to be a lockout. Really? On, at a minimum, several hundred thousand per year? I don't feel bad for them at all. Mind you, I'm not on the owners' side, either. I think that these guys need to man up and get a deal done before they ruin the sport for the people who make it possible for them to do what they do -- the fans.''
--Craig, Hoboken, N.J.

Duly noted. I've heard from many who agree with you, Craig.

 
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