The Cincinnati Bengals don't have many needs entering the 2014 NFL Draft, but they do need to add some depth at defensive end early, maybe even in the first round.
But at pick No. 24, it will be hard to find a 'pure' 4-3 defensive end worth taking that high. There will however be some quality 3-4 outside linebackers on the board who could possibly play DE at the NFL level.
The Bengals also have a potential need at SAM linebacker, depending on how new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther uses that position. Mike Zimmer didn't often use a SAM, but when he did, he liked to have him rushing the quarterback in the same was a 3-4 OLB would.
What if the Bengals could find a player who could split time at SAM and DE and play 25+ snaps per game as rookie?
That's where a guy like Auburn's Dee Ford comes in.
Ford was a terror off the edge for a resurgent Tigers team that won 12 games after winning just 3 in 2012.
That was the same year Ford was on his was to having a great season. He started 7 of 11 games at DE, totaling 34 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and six sacks with a batted pass and forced fumble and blocked a field goal, but suffered an abdominal injury that hindered him the second-half of the season.
Ford exploded in 2013 with 10.5 sacks to go with 14.5 tackles-for-loss. He finished his time at Auburn with two sacks in the BCS National Championship of Heisman winner Jameis Winston, who had arguably the worst game of his career thanks in large part to Ford's presence.
Ford dominated off the edge, picking up 2 sacks and 8 hurries on only 30 rush attempts.
He did all of this, despite having missed the first two games (Washington State, Arkansas State) and did not start against Mississippi State due to a sprained MCL.
He's a bit of a tweener, which could cause him to fall into the late second round. He looks like an undersized defensive end at 6'2", 246-pounds, and it will be hard for him to be a full-time starter as a 4-3 DE.
Teams who utilize an undersized defensive end could keep him on the line in pass-rushing situations, but most see Ford's best fit in the NFL as a stand-up pass rusher in a 3-4 defense.
Ford might not have the build NFL teams want of a DE, but his burst off the line of scrimmage may be as good as any prospect in this year's class.
He certainly looked again against supposed NFL talent at the Senior Bowl while playing both 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB. Ford drew rave reviews for his performance during the Senior Bowl practices, then capped-off the week by dominating the actual game with two sacks, one pass deflection and several quarterback pressures on his way to being named the Senior Bowl MVP.
With Johnson gone, that's 15 sacks over the past two seasons walking out the door, and a guy like Ford could certainly help ease that loss.
Ford may take some time finding a position in the NFL in the same way Johnson did. As a rookie, Johnson was switched to LB after playing DE at Georgia Tech, only to move back to DE the next year and slowly develop into a quality pass-rusher.
Either way, Ford is capable of being a solid pass-rusher as a rookie and would be a great pickup.
As far as if the Bengals should take him at Pick No. 24: They probably have about 7 or 8 players in mind that they think will be on the board when they pick then. I would say Ford is a 7th or 8th option for them, as they would rather take a player with a defined position than one that's more of a project.