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Bengals mailbag: Defensive tackle depth and draft diamonds in the rough

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We answer the burning questions on the minds of Bengals fans this week, and the queries revolve around defensive depth as well as the team finding another secret gem in the draft.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals decided to toy with their fans a bit in this free agency period, with their flurry of activity bookending the first month of the signing period. Though they have lost a couple of mainstays, the team has plugged a few roster holes this week with the signings of linebacker Karlos Dansby and wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

Send us your questions via email or Twitter weekly to have them answered in our weekly mailbag!

Last week, we had a reader ask us about the depth behind the defensive ends, and the questions about the future of that position was discussed. Many debates have been had about the defensive tackle position status with the Bengals this year, particularly with the aging and embattled Domata Peko, and the 2016 NFL Draft is one of the deepest at the position in a very long time.

Truth be told, I despise the bagging on Peko. He's a great guy and has been a consummate Bengal, who is also coming off of one of his most productive years in his previous 10 professional campaigns. He had a career-high five sacks in 2015, and while fans are quick to point out that he is a beneficiary of surrounding talent, the fact remains that Peko is one of the better defensive tackles the Bengals have ever had in team history. Yes, I said it.

Aside from that, he's a great guy with an infectious smile, who has also done wonders for the community and has been a big part of the Marvin Lewis renaissance. Preach about a defensive tackle upgrade if you want, but don't degrade the man off the field and/or the player he's been for the Bengals over the past decade.

As I climb down off of my soapbox, I can't help but look at recently-re-signed fellow lineman, Brandon Thompson. For all of the ire Peko has received over the past couple of seasons, nobody looks at Thompson, a guy who was drafted a full round earlier than Peko (third in 2012, Peko was fourth in 2006), can't crack the starting lineup, nor has he been a consistent impact player. The same could be said with fellow 2012 defensive tackle, Devon Still, though his circumstances were largely out of control.

Behind All-Pro Geno Atkins and Peko, the Bengals have Thompson, who is likely for the PUP List as he is recovering from a knee injury, longtime productive veteran Pat Sims, as well as the unproven, but promising second-year players in DeShawn Williams and Marcus Hardison. But, as our reader points out, if the linchpin to what the Bengals do defensively, AKA Atkins, goes down with injury, it's hard to imagine the defense being able to recover in a way that could still float the team.

Just look at 2013 and 2014 when the valuable and largely-durable Atkins was both injured and still recovering in the time span. Fortunately for the Bengals, he bounced back to true form in 2015 with 11 quarterback sacks. So, while looking to the future is always needed, especially with the Bengals' roster already being stacked for the foreseeable future, it's hard to point to a replacement for a guy who might go down as the best Bengals' defensive lineman in the history of the franchise. Coming into his seventh season, he's still seems to be at the back end of his prime, but future plans are always wise.

There are a number of options in the draft to supplement the position group though, and a handful of them have been linked to the Bengals. The University of Alabama duo of A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed (who was recently mocked to Cincinnati in Daniel Jeremiah's recent mock draft), as well as Baylor's Andrew Billings have all been linked to the Bengals.

Of the three, Billings has the most pass-rush ability from the get-go, but that isn't saying much of the group. If you want someone with a similar skill set and pass-rush ability of Atkins, Louisville's Sheldon Rankins is the best bet. Opinions on his are completely mixed with the guy, from people like CBS Sports' Dane Brugler and CJ friend/draft guru Joe Goodberry liking the player a lot, to Jeremiah leaving him out of the first round mock completely. However, he has rushed off the edge and in the middle of the Cardinals defense and had eight sacks last season.

More good news? The Bengals could find an effective defensive tackle for development into the mid-rounds of the draft. Heck, both Hardison and Sims were fourth rounders, so at a minimum, the team could get an effective rotational interior lineman past the early rounds. I think it's something that needs to be addressed no later than day two.

*****

Well, sure they should at least check him out. In case you're curious as to who Jimmy is referring to, it's a prospect from Germany named Moritz Boehringer. This international prospect has played wide receiver over in Europe since 2013 and has dominated the competition. He is imposing at 6'4" and 220 pounds, and supposedly has 4.39 speed. He's working out at the Florida Atlantic University Pro Day on Thursday.

Most teams have more robust scouting departments than the Bengals, yet the team still finds a lot of desirable guys in the late rounds and/or their undrafted hauls. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the crown jewel of that aspect of the Bengals' scouting, but he wasn't anywhere near the secret that Boehringer seems to be.

Boehringer's intriguing, but the key with players like this is to not reach for him, especially when the Bengals have holes at wide receiver. Sure, LaFell was just added, but the consensus opinion seems to be that Cincinnati will still look for another pass-catcher in the early rounds of this year's draft. If they do that and feel like they helped the group well enough, then why not take a late-round or heavy undrafted rookie contract flier on a guy who supposedly has this size/speed combination?

Though the Bengals have a stacked roster, they have yet to get over the postseason hump, so my personal stance is for them to continue to add competition to every spot to create an atmosphere conducive to winning. There's no doubt the coaches like Jake Kumerow and James Wright, but the trust level shouldn't be there for immediate big roles for guys who have combined for five NFL catches in their respective careers. While Boehringer is totally unproven as well, he could add some competition with these two for back end positional roster spots.

I admittedly didn't know much about Boehringer when this question came my way, so I decided to look at some of his tape. A few things jump out to me as I watched some of his highlights, most notably that he's the best player on the field. Still, the competition he faced seems very weak, and his speed seems to be a bit more straight line than shifty. There also seems to be a lot of wasted movement in his routes, which might not fool NFL defenders.

Still, if the team thinks he's worth a long-term investment as a project who will pay off, I say go for it. Just don't sacrifice value to do so.