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NFL Draft: Is cornerback in play for Bengals at No. 9?

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The BPA approach might suggest that corner is the way to go at No. 9.

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NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Houston vs Florida State Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the first round of the NFL Draft, the Bengals have often taken the best player on their big board, regardless of position.

That’s frequently led to the team drafting players at positions that weren’t viewed as needs. Whether it was Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012, Tyler Eifert in 2013, Cedric Ogbuehi in 2015 or William Jackson III just last year, the Bengals go with the best pick available regularly. That approach has typically worked out for the team, so don’t expect it to change this year.

But does that include cornerback, one of the last positions Cincinnati needs to address? Geoff Hobson doesn’t think drafting a first round cornerback is off the table with the No. 9 overall pick, and he doesn’t think that decision will be affected by Adam Jones and/or Dre Kirkpatrick potentially leaving this offseason. Here’s what Hobson had to say about the team’s first round pick this week:

I don’t think Jones’ status is going to impact that first pick. In fact, I don’t think the status of the other starting cornerback, Dre Kirkpatrick, is going to impact that pick. My sense is if they stay at No. 9 that will be a selection in a vacuum, a pure value pick no matter what happens in free agency. Which means, I think, that they’ll lean to either the premium position (pass rusher, cornerback, tackle) or the unique player, say a Mike Williams or running Leonard Fournette.

I hate to say it, but taking a corner in the first round seems sensible if everything plays out like it could/should. Spending the No. 9 pick on a corner seems infuriating, considering Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, and William Jackson III have all been first round picks in the last six years, but I’d rather the Bengals draft another first round cornerback than see Jones on the roster for another season.

The Bengals should have cut Jones already due to his legal issues and should do so regardless of what happens with Kirkpatrick. If the team cuts Jones, it’s still very possible Kirkpatrick hits the open market, gets a big-money offer from a team not in Cincinnati and takes the deal rather than re-signing with Cincinnati on a slightly cheaper offer.

That suddenly would leave the Bengals with just Dennard, Joshua Shaw, Jackson III (coming off a lost season), Bene’ Benwikere (who was just signed this week), Keivarae Russell, and Tony McRae.

But even saying all this, will a corner be the BPA when the Bengals are on the clock? It’s possible based on the recent big boards across the interwebs.

ESPN’s Todd McShay has Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore as the No. 6 prospect and top cornerback, so he could end up being the BPA when Cincinnati goes on the clock.

6. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State - Grade: 92

A first-year starter, Lattimore has truly elite cover skills, and he's more naturally gifted than former Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple, who went No. 10 overall to the Giants in the 2016 draft. At 6-foot, 192 pounds, Lattimore has good length and fluid movement skills. He took full advantage of his spike in playing time, with four interceptions and nine pass breakups this season.

Elsewhere, Pro Football Focus’ latest big board has Florida’s Teez Tabor ranked No. 7, two spots before where the Bengals are picking.

7. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida

Few cornerbacks can close on the ball quite like Tabor, as he’s notched an interception or a pass breakup on 26.5 percent of his targets the last two years, one of the best marks in the entire nation. Those ball skills and the aggressiveness make him an intriguing playmaker, though his aggressiveness can be used against him in the form of double moves. Still, in a cornerback class littered with different styles, Tabor brings an aggressive one who can play in both press and off coverage while making plays on the ball and potentially forcing turnovers.

A Florida corner is also the No. 7 prospect on Sports illustrated’s Big Board, but it’s Quincy Wilson instead.

7. QUINCY WILSON, CB, FLORIDA

There will be a lot of discussion on the differing opinions of this class’s quarterbacks. Just looking around the draft-analysis landscape, a similar variance appears to be emerging at CB. It’s shaping up as a great cornerback class, with upwards of 10 guys with Round 1 talent. Give me Wilson up top. He has the size and technique to be a lock-down NFL defender.

So for now, it looks like a corner could very well be the BPA when the Bengals are on the clock, though they’ll certainly want to upgrade another position like defensive end or linebacker. But it’s possible the guys worth that pick — including Alabama’s Reuben Foster and Stanford’s Solomon Thomas — are off the board here.

Even a guy like LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who is a better prospect at a bigger position of need, could be off the board here. Then it’s a matter of if the Bengals think a guy like Tennessee’s Derek Barnett or Michigan’s Taco Charlton is worthy of this pick more than corners like Wilson, Tabor or Lattimore.

Again, it seems absurd the Bengals would spend ANOTHER first-round pick on a corner, let alone in the top 10, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.