Running back, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive end appear to be the best bets for how Cincinnati utilizes the No. 9 pick, at least based on the quality of players at those positions who will be on the board.
ESPN’s Todd McShay just updated his big board, and like most, he sees Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen as the top two prospects. At No. 3, he has LSU’s Leonard Fournette as the next best player, and it’s no secret that’s the kind of superstar back Cincinnati could use.
3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU*
Fournette, who had a nagging ankle injury all season, finished with only 144 touches, far below the 319 he had the season before. That works to his benefit from a wear-and-tear standpoint. When fully healthy, Fournette is a big-play machine with a rare combination of size, power, agility and speed for the position. His angry running style is something at which to marvel, and it will translate well to the next level.
Choosing a running back this high isn’t the kind of move the Bengals are likely to make, but Fournette is a rare prospect more than worthy of the No. 9 pick, that is, if he’s even still on the board. I think there’s a decent chance the Panthers or Jets take him, leaving the Bengals in position to upgrade their pass rush with several quality linemen on the board.
McShay views Stanford’s Solomon Thomas as a top-five prospect, and you probably know how popular of a mock draft target he’s been for Cincinnati.
5. Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford*
Thomas' combination of quickness and power pops off the screen and helped make him one of the biggest draft risers this season. At 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds, he has good size and strength, and he's stout against the run (15.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and seven quarterback hurries).
Thomas is quickly becoming the top-ranked defensive end likeliest to be on the board at No. 9 based on how he’s being ranked by draft experts. Assuming the Bengals don’t add any defensive ends in free agency, while allowing Margus Hunt to depart, defensive end looks like a slight favorite as the position Cincinnati address here.
But if Thomas is off the board, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett has been mocked to the Bengals on several occasions. However, McShay doesn’t even see Barnett as a top-15 prospect in this draft.
19. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee*
Barnett isn't expected to put up elite workout numbers, which could cause him to slip a bit. But he plays with good discipline, a consistent motor and impressive physicality. He led the SEC in both tackles for loss (19.0) and sacks (13.0). He has terrific intangibles and finds a way to affect the game in multiple ways with his natural instincts.
I personally think Barnett is more than worthy of the No. 9 pick, but if he were truly the No. 19 prospect in this draft, it would obviously be a reach taking him in the top 10.
However, Michigan’s Taco Charlton is a pass-rusher McShay seems to think should be in play for the Bengals’ pick based on how high he’s ranked.
11. Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Charlton finished the season on a tear, compiling 10 sacks in his final 10 games. He has always had the raw ability, but this past season he showed more consistency and refined technique. Charlton has the ability to be an edge defender in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme in the NFL.
Charlton hasn’t been someone mocked to the Bengals in any popular mock drafts thus far, but he should probably be getting more attention since he’s not just a great pass-rusher, but also is one of the few guys in this draft who fits the Bengals’ mold of how the team wants its defensive ends.
Charlton measures in around 6’6” and 272 pounds. He has a height and weight advantage over Barnett (6’3 and 266 pounds), so perhaps this could be used as a tiebreaker between the two if the Bengals want a defensive end at no. 9.
However, linebacker may be the best position for Cincinnati to address here based on need and quality of prospect on the board, ala Reuben Foster.
9. Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Foster is one of the better inside linebacker prospects in recent memory. He flies to the ball, and when he gets there, he shows explosive tackling ability. Foster had 11.5 tackles for loss in his final 10 games and 30 more total tackles this past season than his next-best teammate. For a player his size (240 pounds), Foster shows a good combination of agility and speed.
Foster is right there with Thomas as the most popular mock draft targets for Cincinnati thus far, and for good reason. Those are the two players that would not only fill two of the biggest needs for the Bengals, but also give them an instant-impact guy ready to contribute in 2017.
I think there’s a very good chance that, whoever the Bengals draft first, it will come from this group of players. Wide receiver has been bantered about, but I just can’t see this team spending a top-10 pick on a receiver with some of the other needs the team has, not to mention most of the above mentioned names are better than any receiver prospect in this draft.
Who among these players would you most like to see the Bengals Draft?