clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

PFF NFL Draft 2017 Big Board: Bengals first round targets

Derek Barnett is a game-changing prospect who could be in prime position on the board when Cincinnati is on the clock.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Tennessee vs Nebraska Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With the offseason here, it’s time for Bengals fans to get to know the latest crop of NFL talent featured in this year’s NFL Draft.

For all of Cincinnati’s struggles in 2016, one of the glimmers of good to come out of it was a premium pick in a quality draft. A 6-9-1 record would typically have a team drafting in the teens, but the Bengals were ‘lucky’ enough that their struggles led to the No. 9 pick this year.

It’s the highest pick Cincinnati has sported since taking A.J. Green with the No. 4 pick in the 2011 Draft. The second-highest pick to come since then was Dre Kirkpatrick at No. 17 in 2012, which was part of the compensation for the Carson Palmer trade.

Needless to say, the Bengals are in great position to land another impact player with their first pick, perhaps even a franchise-changing guy like Green. There are certainly some elite prospects in this draft, and Pro Football Focus just put out their big board of the 32-best prospects this year.

Their top two guys are who should be the first and second picks this year: Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen. They are elite pass-rushers who have little to no chance of falling to No. 9.

However, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett isn’t far behind them as a prospect. In fact, PFF has Barnett ranked No. 3 on their big board, despite many mock drafts having Barnett fall to or past the Bengals.

3. Derek Barnett, Edge, Tennessee

It’s an SEC 1-2-3 at the top of this draft class, with Barnett pushing Myles Garrett close for the nation’s top edge defender in each of the past two seasons. His 62 total pressures, including 12 sacks and 18 hits, from the defensive end position give him a pass-rushing productivity rating of 14.9, good for the sixth-best mark at the position in college this year, while he has been a solid run defender in each of the past three seasons too.

This past season, Barnett recorded 13 sacks while breaking Reggie White’s school sack record (totaled 33 while at Tennessee; previous mark was 32). He finished the year with 19 tackles for loss, an interception, 12 hurries and three pass breakups.

The 6’3”, 265-pound pass-rusher will need to bulk up a little for 4-3 teams like the Bengals to take him, but he’s more than capable of playing on the end in the NFL. There’s plenty of teams ahead of the Bengals who could use Barnett, so we probably shouldn’t get too excited about the prospects of him being there at No. 9.

If the Bengals end up going another direction, one guy who’s been mocked to them early on is Clemson receiver Mike Williams, who PPF has ranked No. 5 overall.

5. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Putting on a show down the stretch is never bad for draft stock, and that’s just what Mike Williams did in the College Football Playoff. The 6-foot-4 receiver has the big body to win in the short game as a possession receiver but also the body control and ball skills to win in contested situations downfield. That versatility has moved him to the No. 1 spot among receivers as he can succeed with different styles of quarterback and in various schemes, though a signal-caller who is willing to let him make plays down the field will help Williams to maximize his potential.

As a redshirt junior, Williams caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2016. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, he’s exactly what you want your No. 1 receiver to be. Even if you’re a team like the Bengals with A.J. Green, it’s hard to pass on a talent like Williams’, who would help Green form one of, if not he best 1-2 receiver combo in the NFL.

Toss in Tyler Eifert...good luck stopping that offense. Even Ken Zampese can’t screw that up.

We mentioned how drafting a running back at No. 9 could be a smart move, and PFF agrees...sort of.

They actually have Florida State’s Dalvin Cook ranked No. 7 overall, seven spots ahead of LSU’s Leonard Fournette at No. 14.

7. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

The nation’s best big-play running back, Cook can turn the slightest crease into an explosive play as he possesses angle-changing speed. He led all running backs with 90 missed tackles forced on the ground while averaging 4.2 yards after contact per rush in 2016. He did a better job of maximizing yardage when his blocking wasn’t there, all while maintaining his big-play ability that can change the game in a hurry. Florida State also used Cook a lot more in the passing game last season and that only adds to his value as a player who needs plenty of touches and he’ll be sure to make a major impact on the offense.

I think one, if not both running backs are on the board at No. 9. The position just doesn’t have enough value for two guys to go in the top eight, even though Cook and Fournette earned top eight consideration with their play.

I really don’t see much of a difference in terms of how good both running backs are, and I won’t be surprised to see the Bengals take either at No. 9.

Another prospect who has been mocked to the Bengals early on is Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, who PFF ranks No. 9:

9. Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster elevated his game this season with a dominant performance that saw him finish with the top grades among the nation’s linebackers. He moves extremely well, mirroring running backs in the run game and in short coverage while also using that agility to slip blocks and make plays on the ball carrier. Not only can he move, but Foster also plays with great power, taking on and blowing up blockers while making runners pay when he closes in on the tackle. In coverage, Foster can have some issues moving backwards, but he’s fantastic with the ball in front of him, and he also adds an explosive dimension as a rusher. Foster will add a versatile, three-down presence to a defense at a time when the value of a three-down linebacker may be higher than ever.

Foster is a beast in the middle, and he’d be a great backer to pair with Vontaze Burfict to make the Cincinnati defense elite again. Even with Rey Maualuga, Nick Vigil, Vincent Rey, P.J. Dawson and Marquis Flowers under contract, Foster would easily be an upgrade over all of them, not to mention, selecting him would ensure the Bengals make the right call and cut Maualuga this offseason.

Who do you like for the Bengals at No. 9?