Following the end of a disappointing 2016 NFL season, the Bengals have the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. It’s the first time since 2011 that the Bengals have enjoyed the luxury of a top 10 pick. With that lofty positioning, the Bengals picked up franchise players in A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, and Clint Boling. They also picked up Ryan Whalen and Dontay Moch who spent a few years with the Bengals and contributed as backups. Therefore, the prospect of the Bengals having a top 10 draft positioning and having less holes on the team to fill than they did in 2010 is an exciting prospect.
In 2011, everyone and their grandmother thought that the Bengals were going to take A.J. Green in the first round. The Bengals surprised no one by doing just that. There was the slim possibility that the Bengals would have taken a quarterback in the first round instead, but that was the only deviation that was even considered.
Heading into 2017, the Bengals’ focus on the draft is less concrete. There are areas of the team that could use improvement on both offense and defense. But, one important area that could use improvement is the defensive end position. The Bengals ranked 19th in the NFL in sacks this season (33), the majority of which came from Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
Dunlap is arguably one of the best defensive ends in the NFL. That was proven last year when he put together an astounding 13.5 sacks over the course of the season to receive his first Pro Bowl berth. He didn’t quite hit that mark in 2016 with only eight sacks, but that was still put him in the top 10 among defensive ends and was by far the best among all Bengals defensive ends.
On the flip side, Michael Johnson has underperformed since coming back from Tampa Bay last year (8.5 sacks in two seasons). The Bengals should seek out a top tier defensive end to pair with Dunlap, which would also allow the team to move on from Johnson, or at least make him a backup. If they are looking to shore up their lackluster pass rush in 2017, these defensive ends from Mel Kiper’s annual draft position rankings might do the trick.
*1. Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)
As a junior at Texas A&M, Garrett racked up 33 tackles (15 for a loss), 8.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. Those are astounding numbers for having only played 10 games. If the football Gods should decide to bless the Bengals with the incredibly unlikely chance at drafting him, they would be foolish to choose anyone else. But, he will probably go in the top three, if not No. 1 overall.
2. Jonathan Allen (Alabama)
Jonathan Allen is another player who likely won’t fall all the way to the Bengals at the No. 9 spot. He isn’t quite as talented as Garrett, but he is more versatile and could arguably be seen as more of a defensive tackle prospect. The Bengals are light at both positions, so there is definitely plenty of value here. There is no guarantee he will be available. But, if he is, he would more than likely be a great fit and a day one starter.
**3. Solomon Thomas (Stanford)
The Bengals might want to be wary of drafting a player who only spent two years in college. But, Thomas’ potential is tremendous. Thomas absolutely dominated for Stanford in the Sun Bowl with seven tackles, a sack, and two tackles for a loss. He was virtually unblockable through the entire game. He has received comparisons to NFL juggernauts like Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt, so there is reason for excitement. Maybe the Bengals coaches will meet with him and decide they like him enough to take a chance by drafting him.
4. Taco Charlton (Michigan)
It took Charlton a while to get going in 2016, but he showed everyone what he could do after his ankle injury healed. His 40 tackles (13.5 for loss) and 10 sacks in 2016 were impressive enough, but it was the final three games of the year in which he registered 4.5 sacks where he made his mark. Unfortunately, his presence wasn’t enough to push Michigan over the hump against Ohio State or in the Orange Bowl against Florida State. The Bengals could probably trade down and still get him. It’s something to consider in a big transitional year.
*5. Derek Barnett (Tennessee)
Despite setting Tennessee’s all-time career sack record (33) and looking dominant during his time in college, there seems to be a lot of disagreement on Barnett’s future in the NFL. It’s hard to say exactly why since he performed so well all season and capped it off with a great performance in Tennessee’s bowl game. But, Kiper only lists him as the fifth best defensive end prospect. Many mock drafts have him going to the Jaguars at No. 4 overall, so it is clear the opinions on Barnett vary greatly. That said, if he is available for the Bengals at No. 9, it would be very tough to justify not jumping on him.
Here’s the rest of Kiper’s top 10:
6. *Charles Harris, Missouri
7. Jordan Willis, Kansas State
8. *Carl Lawson, Auburn
9. Chris Wormley, Michigan
10. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State
One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore for the 2016 season.