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William Jackson III visiting Bengals among host of AFC North clubs

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It's looking like there's a decent chance William Jackson III is playing in the AFC North next season, given all four teams could use a corner early in this year's draft.

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Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

As the NFL draft approaches fast, the Cincinnati Bengals are taking at look at many defensive backs.

You could make a good case for cornerback being a big position of need now with Darqueze Dennard coming off a major shoulder injury, Leon Hall remaining an unsigned free agenct, and Dre Kirkpatrick not exactly having a great first year as a full-time starter.

So don't be surprised if the Bengals draft a corner fairly early in this year's draft. Houston Cougars cornerback William Jackson III is one of the top corners in this year's NFL draft, so it makes sense the Bengals are looking at him with a big need at that position quietly looming.

Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle and National Football Post reports that Jackson is visiting with the Bengals this week among a host of other teams, including a pair of AFC North rivals.

University of Houston cornerback William Jackson III visits the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars this week following recent visits with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, according to a source not authorized to speak publicly.

Jackson is regarded as a first-round draft prospect and his stock continues to grow as the draft nears. He has also visited the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins and has worked out privately for the Chicago Bears.

Jackson has met privately with Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and secondary coach Carnell Lake.

The Wheatley native ran the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in February.

There's a decent chance Jackson is playing in the AFC North next season, given all four teams could use a corner early in this year's draft. While this isn't quite as big of a need position for Cincinnati as it is for Pittsburgh or Baltimore, it's still possible the Bengals draft a guy like Jackson or another corner with one of their first two picks.

And just as Wilson calls Jackson a first-round prospect, CBS Sports has the 6'0", 189-pound corner ranked as the 27th-overall prospect in this draft. That means the Bengals taking him with the 24th pick would be about as equal value as you can ask for.

However, NFL.com gives Jackson a 5.93 grade and ranks him as the 42nd-best prospect in the NFL Draft. Here's an excerpt of his scouting report from Lance Zierlein:

BOTTOM LINE Tall cornerbacks with length who can run and play the football are usually in high demand and that could be the case for Jackson as well. While he has the traits for the position, the league is turning into small and fast or big and strong at the receiver spot and handling those two elements could take a year or two for him to improve in before he becomes a full-­time starter.

NFL COMPARISON Phillip Gaines

Pro Football Focus actually suggests Jackson may be this draft's best corner.

Jackson was PFF’s second-highest graded cornerback in coverage this season, and second only to Ramsey in overall grade when play against the run is thrown into the equation. He was targeted 93 times this past season, allowing only 46 catches (49.5 percent). He had five interceptions and 12 pass breakups, allowing a passer rating of just 57.9 when thrown his way.

Jackson does seem to have some mental lapses during games, occasionally seeming confused with motion and route combinations designed to force him into a quick decision. However, when he can just line up and play coverage against a receiver he demonstrates high-level ability and an almost limitless potential.

Some will question the level of competition he faced at Houston, but if one takes a look at just his numbers against Power-5 competition, his numbers actually improved. He didn’t allow a touchdown against any of those teams and the passer rating when he was thrown at fell to just 31.8.

It's still hard to picture the Bengals spending the 24th pick on a corner, let alone one from a smaller AAC conference. Cincinnati has a strong history of taking players from Power 5 conferences. You have to go all the way back to 1992 to find the last time the Bengals spent a first-round pick on a player from a school not currently in a Power 5 conference (or Notre Dame).

And who was that player? Why it was none other than Houston's David Klingler. That was such an epic draft bust that the Bengals have steered clear of small-school prospects in Round 1 ever since.

Is Jackson worth breaking that streak for?