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Could Reuben Foster be the Bengals’ first round draft pick?

Reuben Foster is arguably the best linebacker in this year’s draft. Can the Bengals snag him with pick No. 9, and should they?

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College Football Playoff National Championship Media Day Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

One of the Bengals’ most interesting positions to watch this offseason is linebacker.

Between Karlos Dansby hitting free agency, Rey Maualuga being a cap casualty candidate, Vontaze Burfict hitting free agency in 2018, and Vincent Rey turning 30 in September, you could argue this is an area at which Cincinnati could use an upgrade, not to mention more depth.

And let’s face it: That unit wasn’t exactly great in 2016. The Bengals finished No. 17 in total defense, No 23 in rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.4), and No. 25 in rushing fumbles forced (4).

That’s why the latest mock from SB Nation has Cincinnati landing arguably the best linebacker in this year’s draft.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster, MLB, Alabama

Like many of his Alabama teammates in this year’s draft, Foster is a player who could be dropped into a starting lineup straight away. He would give the Bengals a rangy linebacker on the inside to go along with Vontaze Burfict.

Foster just wrapped up his Alabama career with 115 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and five sacks in 2016. He’s the kind of complete linebacker who could impact the Bengals in a huge way, even as a rookie.

He’s not just some hard-hitting run-stuffer. He’s great in pass coverage and can even rush the passer effectively, something none of the Bengals’ linebackers other than Burfict are capable of, and even he rarely does so.

Last week on The Paul Finebaum Show, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper called Foster the best inside linebacker Alabama has produced.

“To me, he’s the best inside linebacker Alabama has ever produced, and they’ve produced some really good ones like C.J. Mosley, remember Rolando McClain and (Dont’a) Hightower, and that list goes on and on,” Kiper said, via SEC Country. “I think you look at Reuben Foster with his ability to get to the sideline, to get to the flanks, be a sideline-to-sideline defender with his speed, be in coverage getting the job done, he can get after the quarterback — I have him No. 4 right now on the Big Board, Paul.

“He got pushed down to No. 11 (overall in the NFL Draft), because hey, you’ve got to go with need, you need to find a team that needs an inside linebacker like Foster. I went with Foster to New Orleans for that reason. But I think he’s a great bargain at that point.”

In order for Foster to even be on the board at No. 9, the Bengals would need a little bit of help in the top 10, such as quarterbacks, who might not be among the 10-15 prospects in this draft, going higher than they should.

Here’s how the top 10 of that SB Nation mock played out:

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

2. San Francisco 49ers: Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina

3. Chicago Bears: DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jonathan Allen, DT/DE, Alabama

5. Tennessee Titans (via L.A. Rams): Jamal Adams, S, LSU

6. New York Jets: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

7. L.A. Chargers: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State

8. Carolina Panthers: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster, MLB, Alabama

10. Buffalo Bills: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Based on how that went, would Foster at No. 9 be the pick you’d make with Clemson receiver Mike Williams and Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett among those still on the board?