Much like Mike Mayock's offensive line rankings, there are plenty of players in his top rated defensive tackles, ends and linebackers who the Bengals could be looking come draft day. Along with the offensive line, we've already looked at running back and wide receiver prospects, as well as quarterback and tight end prospects. At most of those positions, the Bengals seem pretty solid. But, there's still a couple of positions like wide receiver and center that could be intriguing for the Bengals early in the draft.
With free agency looming, the Bengals could be facing glaring needs along the defensive line and linebacker positions. . The Bengals could be missing key backups like Wallace Gillberry and Vincent Rey, if they aren't re-signed this offeseason. The Bengals could also look for a nose tackle to eventually replace Domata Peko.Here are Mike Mayock's top five 2016 prospects at defensive tackle, defensive end, and linebacker and our breakdown on each of them:
Geno Atkins finished the 2015 season tied with Aaron Donald and Kawann Short for the most sacks of any defensive tackle in the NFL (11.0). The next closest player was Gerald McCoy with 8.5 total sacks on the season. Combined with the pass rushing prowess of Carlos Dunlap and the solid overall play by Michael Johnson, the Bengals nearly have a complete set of Pro-Bowl caliber defensive linemen starting at each position.
The one weakness? caliber strong complimentary defensive tackle next to Geno Atkins. If the Bengals are looking for one in the draft, here's who Mayock recommends:
1. DeForest Buckner (Oregon)
Much like Calais Campbell, Buckner is a quick, strong, and athletic defensive tackle. He needs to try to play a bit wider, but overall he's potentially the scariest pass rushing defensive tackle prospect since Warren Sapp.
2. Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss)
Nkemdiche has been one of the most talked about defensive tackle prospects since his days in high school. His size and talent at the college level have continued that discussion into the NFL draft. Because of that, he's almost assuredly a first round pick. But, he doesn't quite have the production numbers to back that up. A college arrest record definitely doesn't help those concerns. At one point during the college football season he was considered a top 5 pick, but that may no longer be the case.
3. Sheldon Rankins (Louisville)
Rankins doesn't quite have the size that you'd want out of an NFL defensive tackle, but he's got the numbers and fundamentals to suggest success regardless. An unending motor and great foot movement are his two biggest attributes. Come to think of it, that reminds me a lot of Atkins' scouting report. He probably won't fall farther than the early second round. Despite size issues, there's not much to dislike about this player.
4. Jarran Reed (Alabama)
The Bengals could be looking for an upgrade to their run defense, which ranked seventh worst in the NFL in 2015. Reed is the kind of defensive tackle who won't allow much by him at the line of scrimmage. He's a bit of a liability in the pass rush, but if you're looking for a DT who can stuff the run, Reed would be a great boost.
5. A'Shawn Robinson (Alabama)
Purely from a size standpoint, Robinson might be one of the best defensive tackle prospects in recent history. His biggest drawback is that he played next to Jarran Reed at Alabama. Reed looked like an NFL-ready defensive tackle, while Robinson struggled with technique. He has incredible boom-bust potential, but only a team willing to train him will find extensive value.
The Bengals already have two Pro-Bowl caliber defensive ends at starting positions. While Johnson has never received the honor, his pre-Tampa numbers were comparable to Carlos Dunlap's. His one season back with the team looked like he was on-pace to return to that level of play.
However, the number of free agents this season could see the Bengals potentially needing to part ways with productive backup Gillberry. On top of that, Margus Hunt and Will Clarke haven't quite hit their stride yet as NFL defensive ends. If the Bengals are looking for a new project, or, someone who may come ready to play, here are some suggestions from Mayock:
1. Joey Bosa (Ohio State)
At one time, Joey Bosa was considered to be a lock for the top spot in the 2016 draft. He's since fallen a bit, in mocks due to his speed. But, his unbeatable frame and fundamentals outweigh those concerns enough for him to still be a top-five prospect. The Bengals won't get their chance at him with the No. 24 pick.
2. Noah Spence (Eastern Kentucky)
The obvious starting point here is the reason he was playing at Eastern Kentucky: Multiple failed drug tests and incidents with alcohol after entering a rehabilitation program led to his banning from the Big Ten while he was at Ohio State. But, hehad a major recovery and turn around at Eastern Kentucky that saw him prove himself as an incredible 3-4 pass rusher. He's definitely worth a second look early in the first round.
3. Shaq Lawson (Clemson)
Lawson doesn't have the athleticism or pass rushing skills for teams to consider him early in the first round, but, his sheer power and size are enough to keep him in the first round discussion. He could also potentially be moved inside in the right scheme. Lawson has been mocked to the Bengals in early mock drafts.
4. Leonard Floyd (Georgia)
Floyd is probably too thin to play defensive end in the NFL, not to mention he relies more on speed than strength. However, he could be useful as a pass rushing outside linebacker. The Bengals already have one in Vontaze Burfict and a complement-in-training in P.J. Dawson. Floyd could have been a good prospect to look at in a different year.
5. Kevin Dodd (Clemson)
Dodd might be a prototypical, NFL-ready defensive end with the consistent numbers to back it up. However, there is a fairly sizeable issue with his snap-count in college. It's probably not going to cause him to fall farther than the second round, but any NFL team that looks at him might want to be prepared for inexperience. He could be an intriguing prospect should he fall to the Bengals at pick No. 56.
Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga aren't going anywhere, and P.J. Dawson appears to be in the process of grooming for the third starting linebacker spot. This position isn't much of a need early in the draft for the Bengals. However, losing Emmanuel Lamur or Vincent Rey in free agency could mean the Bengals will be looking at this position in the third round or later.
1. Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame)
Smith tore his ACL and MCL in the Fiesta Bowl, but he's such an incredible prospect that he's still expected to go in the first round. He's a hybrid of the more athletic/speedy linebackers and the truly powerful players who make waves in a 4-3 system. Had it not been for a devastating injury, he would have been right up there in the discussion of the top two or three picks. But, he still has the talent to be top 10.
2. Myles Jack (UCLA)
Built like NaVorro Bowman, Jack has the aggression, explosiveness, and speed to contribute to any system in the NFL. Like Smith, a devastating knee injury (torn anterior meniscus) ended his final collegiate season and hurt his draft stock. Still, he's a sure-fire first round pick.
3. Reggie Ragland (Alabama)
Ragland can stop the run like it's nobody's business. He's more of a traditional inside linebacker in that he is not particularly well-versed in coverage. On the plus side, opposing teams are not going to be able to run up the middle very well with him patrolling the draw. Ragland has been mocked to the Bengals, but may be off the board by the time pick No. 24 rolls around.
4. Darron Lee (Ohio State)
Lee doesn't exactly look like your prototypical outside linebacker, but the film doesn't lie. NFL teams will probably ask Lee to bulk up a bit more to make an impact in the NFL. But, there's no reason why that should scare teams away in the mid-to-late first round.
5. Deion Jones (LSU)
If the Bengals are looking for a value pick at outside linebacker, Jones could be exactly what they're looking for. Due to only starting a single game at LSU before his senior season, teams could be wary of his starting experience. He's shown a hunger for the game and incredible athleticism in his limited tape;he makes sense as a third round pick. He could play inside or outside depending on the system, which would appeal to the Bengals if they're looking for a steady backup.