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NFL Mock Draft Roundup: WR still favorite for Bengals, but DE gets some love

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Once considered a first-round lock, Noah Spence is no longer certain to even go in Round 1.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

For pretty much the entire offseason, wide receiver has been the position everyone thinks the Cincinnati Bengals will address in Round 1 of the 2016 NFL Draft.

The good news for Cincinnati is that the mock drafters seem to think there will be a quality receiver for the taking at pick No. 24.

Over at NFL.com, their four-man draft crew was divided between Notre Dame's Will Fuller, Baylor's Corey Coleman and TCU's Josh Doctson being mocked to the Bengals.

At CBS Sports, their five-man crew saw Doctson (twice), Coleman, Fuller and Ohio State's Michael Thomas landing in Cincinnati in round 1. That's nine picks for wide receiver as the position addressed in Round 1.

Over at SB Nation, Dan Kadar breaks the trend and instead goes with EKU pass-rusher Noah Spence.

24. Cincinnati Bengals - Noah Spence, DE/OLB, Eastern Kentucky

Although the Bengals do need a wide receiver, and could take one with this pick, they also need to add pass-rushing help. Spence is different from most of Cincinnati's pass rushers. He's capable of lining up at end, but has the athletic ability to stand up and rush from the linebacker spot.

While wide receiver is clearly a need, so too is defensive end when you realize the only two proven guys on the roster are Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. Behind them are relative unknowns Will Clarke and Marcus Hardison, followed by Margus Hunt who has yet to do anything of note at this point in his NFL career.

As you may recall, Spence is a former Ohio State Buckeye who was 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 at EKU. He racked up 22.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks for the Colonels to become an FCS All-American.

Spence then lit up the Senior Bowl so much that many began projecting him as a top-15 pick in this year's draft. A mediocre showing at the Scouting Combine slowed that hype down enough that he's all over the place in mock drafts. Some have him still in the top 15, but most have him sliding to the end of Round 1, even into Round 2.

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 edge-rusher on passing downs.

The thought of adding Spence to the same defense that has Geno AtkinsCarlos 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 reach the next level.

As for the SB Nation writer's mock draft, my latest pick for the Bengals in the second round was a defensive tackle who some have being drafted in Round 1.

55. Bengals: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA

My analysis: (Domata) Peko has been playing far too many snaps in the Bengals defense, which has led to him being worn down by the time the playoffs rolled around. That has been a big reason why the Bengals have continuously been gashed on the ground in the postseason, whether it's by Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jordan Todman, Ronnie Brown, Dan Herron, Danny Woodhead or Ryan Mathews.

When those are the guys gashing you for big yards, you know you've got issues. The 6'3, 314-pound Clark is exactly the kind of nose tackle the Bengals should draft with Peko aging, not to mention 2016 is the final year of his deal. Having a guy like Clark to rotate with him throughout the season will keep Peko and the other tackles more fresh so they can make deep playoff runs.

Dan's Analysis: In a loaded defensive tackle class, Clark may get overlooked. He's a versatile big man who is capable of playing over the nose, but he's just as good playing in the center/guard gap. Getting Clark at this point is a good value.

I really would not be surprised at whatever the Bengals do in Round 1 as long as it doesn't involve an offensive tackle or quarterback. I'd also expect them to add a promising and talented defensive lineman within the first three rounds.

How would you like the additions of Noah Spence and/or Kenny Clark? Or, are you focussed in on the wide receiver position?