The Bengals have a great shot at landing a top defensive prospect in the 2017 NFL Draft.
That’s usually the case when you’re drafting inside the top 10, but it’s never a given you can land a true game-changing prospect at No. 9. Just look at the guy Cincinnati drafted at that spot in 2008: Keith Rivers was viewed as a solid pick at the time, but he failed to ever live up to his potential as a top-10 pick.
If the Bengals go linebacker in this draft, Reuben Foster is a guy who many view as hands down the best backer in this draft. The latest mock from CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler has Foster once again landing in Cincinnati.
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Linebacker Rey Maualuga is a serviceable player, but Foster would be an instant upgrade with his combination of play speed, instincts and violence.
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 15 of how Brugler’s 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
6. New York Jets: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
7. L.A. Chargers: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
8. Carolina Panthers: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster, MLB, Alabama
10. Buffalo Bills: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
11. New Orleans Saints: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
12. Cleveland Browns (via Philadelphia Eagles): Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
13. Arizona Cardinals: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
14. Indianapolis Colts: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via Minnesota Vikings): Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
Looking at how that plays out, it’s clear the Bengals are very likely to have an elite talent at position of need on the board at No. 9. Guys like Leonard Fournette, Tim Williams, Derek Barnett and Mike Williams would be great picks, and they could all slip past the Bengals, based on these projections.
Even if you take out the two quarterbacks going in the top 10 (I don’t think either is worth a pick that high), a great prospect should still be there for Cincinnati to grab at No. 9.
In this scenario, it ends up being one of the best overall players in this draft in Foster, who is ranked No. 7 overall by CBS, No. 4 by Draft Wire, No. 9 by Pro Football Focus, No. 5 by ESPN’s Todd McShay, and No. 4 by ESPN’s Mel Kiper. Landing that guy at No. 9 would be great value and give the Bengals an instant-impact defender.
But while the Bengals may need a little help for Foster to fall to them, Solomon Thomas seems to be making it down to Cincinnati pretty consistently in the early mocks. That’s who CBS Sports’ Rob Rang has landing with the Bengals at No. 9:
9. Cincinnati Bengals Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
Marvin Lewis will remain the Bengals' head coach in 2017 but with the pressure on, he likely will be pushing for players who can make an immediate impact. Despite the fact that he is just a redshirt sophomore, Thomas has that kind of ability, demonstrating the initial quickness, power and refined hand technique of a much more experienced player.
While Foster has more recognition because he played all four years in college, Thomas is a lesser-known commodity after playing just three years, and he didn’t emerge as a stud defender until his final season.
But once the light went on for Thomas, he became one of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football. He finished 2016 with 8.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 61 total tackles.
Thomas would be a great addition to a Bengals defensive line that needs more help to take some pressure off of Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. As great as those two are, this is an NFL where you need four good defensive linemen, and right now, the Bengals have just two.
Between Foster and Thomas, which would you like more for the Bengals at No. 9?