The Bengals have a lot of issues that will need to be addressed this offseason.
While we might be lucky enough to see Cincinnati do so with a quality free agent or two, most of their upgrades are going to come through the NFL Draft. It helps that Cincinnati currently holds a top-15 pick in the 2017 draft, which appears to be loaded with instant-impact defensive players.
That’s exactly what Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett is, and that’s who ESPN’s Todd McShay has landing in Cincinnati with the 12th-overall pick in his first mock draft.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett's production was outstanding in his first two seasons at Tennessee, but he has taken it to another level in 2016 with an SEC-leading 12.0 sacks. He has good size (6-3, 265) and agility and a consistent motor. The Bengals need more speed at defensive end and linebacker.
Barnett recorded a career-high 12 sacks this season while tying Reggie White’s school sack record (32). He finished the year with 18 tackles for loss, an interception, 12 hurries and three pass breakups. That earned him first-team All-American honors by USA TODAY Sports, the Walter Camp Foundation and Sports Illustrated. He was also a first-team All-SEC selection by The Associated Press.
The 6’3”, 265-pound pass-rusher will need to bulk up a little for 4-3 teams like the Bengals to take him, but he’s more than capable of playing on the end in the NFL. He could be a big upgrade for a Bengals defense that currently ranks 24th in sacks this season (25).
If Barnett is off the board or Cincinnati wants to go with another end, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, and Michigan’s Taco Charlton are all defensive ends worth Round 1 consideration. Though, bowl games, Pro Days, the Combine and the months between now and the draft will surely change how prospects are viewed.
Or, the Bengals can just take another cornerback. There’s plenty of those this year, too.