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Mel Kiper NFL Mock Draft 3.0 has Bengals grabbing big-time pass-rusher

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Noah Spence in Bengals stripes is a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Who will the Bengals take with their first-round pick this year?

With no clear-cut needs yet, (that will change by next week) you could argue for a variety of different positions to be addressed. You could also argue for Cincinnati simply taking the best player on their board when they're on the clock. That appears to be what the latest mock draft from ESPN's Mel Kiper has the Bengals doing.

Kiper has them making a short trip down I-75 to find their next first-round draft pick. It comes in the form of Eastern Kentucky pass-rusher Noah Spence.

24. Cincinnati Bengals

*Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky

Secondary is an emerging need for the Bengals, and I also think they'd grab Fuller or Doctson here if they have high grades on either, but Spence is a potential stud in the pass rush and would be a good value here.

Free-agency effect: The depth of departures at wide receiver and in the secondary could shift the strategy for a "win now" team.

The resurgence of Spence has been one of the better stories surrounding this draft class so far. The former Ohio State Buckeye appeared to be on a lost path as he failed two drug tests, the latter of which led to him being permanently banned from the Big Ten.

After that, Spence transferred to FCS college EKU and played great this past year before deciding to go pro after one year. He then lit up the Senior Bowl so much that many began projecting him as a top-15 pick in this year's draft.

Adding another pass-rusher doesn't seem like a big need, but this guy is a hard talent to pass on for a team looking to take the next step and become an elite defense. This past year, Spence racked up 22.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks for the Colonels to become a FCS All-American.

At his 6-2, 251-pound size, Spence could play end or linebacker in the NFL. For the Bengals, he'd probably be used in a similar role that Chris Carter was last year, except Spence would be far more effective and a much better pass-rusher on passing downs.

The thought of adding Spence to the same defense that has Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and Vontaze Burfict is very scary for the rest of the NFL. After watching how the Denver Broncos just won the Super Bowl on the strength of an elite defense, the Bengals may be wise to follow suit and add a guy like Spence for their defense to take the next step.

Then again, not everyone is sold Spence is the elite pass-rushing talent many make him out to be. For much of this offseason after Spence's big Senior Bowl week, many mock drafts had projected him as a top-15 pick that could sneak into the top 10.

But Spence's stock, at least in terms of the mock drafts, appears to be falling a bit. Bleacher Report analyst Chris Simms notes how Spence's poor technique and other issues is why he shouldn't go as high as he's been projected. The latest roundup from NFL.com's four-man mock draft team has Spence going 20th, 25th, 29th and not going in the first round. That means three of their mocks have the Bengals in position to land Spence with the 24th pick.

Something else that may have hurt Spence's stock was his poor showing at the Scouting Combine. For a guy who plays like an explosive and speedy pass-rusher who should have put up great times and jumps during the combine drills, Spence failed to showcase such. His times in the three-cone (7.21 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.35 seconds) and 40-yard dash (4.8 seconds) were underwhelming to the point it looks like it hurt his stock enough that falling to the 24th pick is now very realistic.

Personally, I don't think the Bengals would take a chance in the first round on a guy like Spence. They had the chance to take a similar player in a similar scenario last year when you could have argued adding another pass-rusher was a bigger need. Missouri's Shane Ray was sitting right there for the Bengals to grab him with the 21st pick, but they passed on the talented but troubled pass-rusher and let him fall to Denver, of course.

Maybe the Bengals should take a page from the Broncos' book and actually take a few more risks if they want to become a Super Bowl contender.