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Bengals should focus on drafting a linebacker late in the 2016 NFL Draft

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When will the Bengals pull the trigger on a linebacker in the draft? Here's a look at how things might shape up.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

At the beginning of the 2016 offseason, the Bengals had a pretty significant hole to fill at the linebacker position. Both Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur were free agents and looked like they have legitimate chances to end up signing elsewhere. Although the Bengals did end up retaining Rey, they lost Lamur to Mike Zimmer and the Vikings.

Both events led to the Bengals having one major remaining hole to fill at the linebacker position. In response, they signed Karlos Dansby. Now, it seems like all of the holes have been plugged at the linebacker position, right? They've definitely reduced a lot of the urgency at the position, but they could still stand to improve the depth.

As of right now, the Bengals have two veteran linebackers on the team over 30-years-old. There's the 34-year-old Dansby as well as the 32-year-old A.J. Hawk. In addition to these two, Rey Maualuga will be 30 next year. There seems to be a succession plan in place for last year's third round steal, P.J. Dawson to take over at outside linebacker opposite Vontaze Burfict, but he can only really provide insurance for one spot.

There is certainly the potential for reserve and practice squad players like Marquis Flowers, Jayson Dimanche, Trevor Roach, Jeff Luc, and Dezmond Johnson to step up and make an impact as a high-quality depth player at the position. But, the Bengals should make an effort to introduce more talent at this position in the way that they do best - through the draft.

There's no need to worry about picking up a linebacker on day one or day two, but there is plenty of talent available on day three for the team to find a diamond in the rough and shore up the position. Here's a few options that they could go with:

Josh Forrest, ILB, Kentucky

The Bengals expressed strong interest Forrest, probably in the hopes that he might be available as an undrafted free agent. However, his draft stock has done nothing but rise since then due to his versatility, production, and an impressive pro day. He would be a great fit with the Bengals, who typically place high value on versatility and solid game tape. If he can improve on his tackling technique, he could wind up as a solid long-time backup or even a surprise starter when Maualuga moves on. He'd provide great value if they picked him up in the fifth or sixth round.

Scooby Wright III, ILB, Arizona

Wright has some of the most developed defensive instincts of any player in the draft. Unfortunately, his general play strength could use quite a bit of work. If the Bengals miss out on Forrest in the sixth round, they'll probably still be in play for Wright, who they might even be able to wait until the seventh round to take. He's definitely a boom/bust kind of player, but if you're taking him in the sixth or seventh round, that's somewhat to be expected.

Eric Striker, OLB, Oklahoma

Some of the best fits for the Bengals' linebacker corps in this year's draft are primarily inside players, but they could use depth at the position on the outside as well, providing the player is the right fit. Striker seems to embody that idea. The Bengals have struggled in the past to find linebackers who can play good coverage across midfield, and he is that kind of linebacker. Based on his size and skill set, he might even be a better fit for the nickleback role that Taylor Mays generally plays in. The Bengals re-signed Mays this offseason, but could probably do well to find a decent backup or even a replacement who could compete to take over. In the sixth or seventh round, he'd provide great value for what he brings to the table.