When Alabama clashes with Clemson in the college football national title game, several players worthy of the No. 9 pick will be on the field.
That’s the spot where Cincinnati will be making its first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. At that spot, you almost have to keep everyone in consideration who’s eligible to be drafted.
But don’t count Johnathan Allen among them. The Crimson Tide pass-rusher was one of the most dominant players in college football this past season, so much so that some think he could go No. 1.
It’s very hard to see Allen falling out of the top five, so don’t get too hung up on the Bengals possibly getting him. However, several other Bama defenders are worthy of that No. 9 pick. In fact, linebacker Reuben Foster has been a popular mock draft target.
The All-American middle backer is the kind of instant-impact guy you’d love to see the Bengals add to this defense next to Vontaze Burfict. Between those two, Geno Atkins, and Andrew Billings (even if he’s just a slight upgrade over Domata Peko), this defense could suddenly morph into one that could dominate the run, something they’ve not done much in a division that requires it.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has Roster ranked No. 5 on his newest big board.
Foster is one of the better inside linebacker prospects in recent memory. He just flies to the ball, and when he gets there, he shows explosive tackling ability. Foster has 10.5 tackles for loss in his past nine games and 28 more total tackles this season than his next-best teammate. For a player his size (240 pounds), Foster shows a good combination of agility and speed.
But until the Bengals cut Rey Maualuga and don’t re-sign Karlos Dansby, I’m passing on linebacker at No. 9. Another Bama defender who could be in the running for that spot is Tim Williams. He’s actually more suited as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but he’s good enough that some team may try to develop him into a 4-3 defensive end.
At 6-3, 236 pounds though, it’s hard to see the Bengals spending a top-10 pick on him when they prefer their ends to be closer to 6-6 and 270 pounds. He’s so good though that maybe the Bengals make him a hybrid 4-3 outside backer who lines up at end on passing downs. He’s that good.
McShay ranks Williams No. 12 on his big board:
Williams wasn't playing as consistently as you'd hope to start the season, but he proved to be a disruptive player down the stretch (14.5 tackles for loss in his final 10 games). He has excellent first-step quickness, explosive power and a really high ceiling. But teams will have to take into account Williams' character; he was arrested earlier this season on a misdemeanor gun charge.
The only other Tide player worth the No. 9 pick is offensive tackle Cam Robinson. Right now, it’s really hard to tell how big of a need offensive tackle is to the Bengals. As long as they re-sign Andrew Whitworth, I think they pass on any tackles this high, but you can’t rule it out either.
Robinson is easily one of, if not the best tackle in this class. He had an ugly offseason arrest that may hurt his stock, but the Bengals aren’t exactly afraid of character concerns.
McShay ranks Robinson No. 18 overall in this draft:
Robinson has been a force for Alabama, particularly in the running game, in which the Crimson Tide averaged 260 rushing yards per game in SEC play. He consistently drives defenders off the ball when he's playing with leverage. But I'd like to see more consistency in pass protection, and teams will need to investigate Robinson's character after an arrest in May 2016 for possession of marijuana and illegal possession of a stolen firearm (charges were eventually dropped).
On the other side, Clemson has a pair of players worthy of the No. 9 pick. The first would actually fill one of the team’s biggest needs in a No. 2 wide receiver. Mike Williams is good enough to be a No. 1 for many NFL teams, so the thought of pairing him with A.J. Green is scary for any opposing defense.
Most scouting services have Williams rated as the No. 1 receiver prospect in this draft. Depending on what happens with Brandon LaFell, the Bengals may need to take a hard look at Williams if he’s still on the board.
McShay has Williams ranked No. 10 in this draft:
Williams scored 10 touchdowns in a nine-game span this season and showed all the skills you look for in a legit No. 1 NFL wide receiver. He shows an excellent ability to create late separation when the ball is in the air. At 6-foot-3, Williams has a good size-speed combination.
The only other Tiger worthy of the No. 9 pick is quarterback Deshaun Watson. No, the Bengals aren’t drafting him, but another NFL team may be willing to trade up to that spot in order to secure his services.
The Bengals could be interested in moving down to acquire more assets, though, this year, they certainly won’t need additional picks. But don’t be surprised if they field calls from teams wanting Watson if he’s still on the board at pick No. 9.
McShay actually doesn’t have Watson among his top 32 prospects, but Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, SB Nation’s Dan Kadar, CBS’ Dane Brugler, and Yahoo’s Eric Edholm all have Watson going in the top 12. There should be a market for him at No. 9.
How to watch the National Championship game:
No. 1 Alabama (14-0) vs No. 2 Clemson (13-1)
Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, 8:00 p.m. ET
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
TV Channel: ESPN
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live updates: NCAA.com