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NFL Draft: Bengals big board entering NFL Combine

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Who will the Bengals pick with the ninth overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 NFL Draft is nearing, and while it’s still off in the distance — every team’s draft needs will at least somewhat change during the free agency period — Draft season is already underway.

As you surely know by now, the Cincinnati Bengals hold the number nine pick in the 2017 Draft. Already in the best draft position since drafting A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in 2011, Cincinnati will also likely benefit from an abundance of draft capital as the team is projected to have 11 total picks due to four compensatory picks from 2016 free agency departures.

Bengals fans seem fairly divided in terms of the team’s top needs, but the one common consensus among fans is that an edge rusher is a top priority. Michael Johnson is a serviceable run defender, but tallying 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons while Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and even Domata Peko have drawn double-teams is frankly unacceptable for a team in need of pass-rushing help.

It’s not all on Johnson. The players behind him, Will Clarke and Margus Hunt particularly, were so unimpressive that the Bengals ended up bringing 32-year-old Wallace Gilberry back to the Queen City in a desperation move to fill the void at defensive tackle in nickel packages.

Others will include wide receiver, offensive line and linebacker as needs. Some believe kicker should be one of the top priorities, while another believe is that the team should consider upgrading the quarterback position.

I’m not here to tell you whether your opinions about the Bengals’ needs are right or wrong. Like with many aspects of football, perceived team needs are completely arbitrary and, an opinion doesn’t necessarily have to be right or wrong. With that in mind, here’s my pre-free agency big board for the Bengals. Keep in mind this big board highlights players I believe fit what the Bengals should be looking for — there are certainly some more talented players who could be options for Cincinnati with the ninth pick, but I believe the team’s first pick should be used on one of these guys.

Bengals Pre-Free Agency Big Board 2017

Player School Position
Player School Position
Myles Garrett Texas A&M DE
Jonathan Allen Alabama DE
Solomon Thomas Stanford DE
Malik McDowell Michigan State DE
Taco Charlton Michigan DE
Corey Davis Western Michigan WR
Marshon Lattimore Ohio State CB
Tim Williams Alabama DE
Mike Williams Clemson WR

I can already hear the “this big board is terrible” comments coming, but I promise this was thought out. Hear me out before you go slandering my name (direct all hate mail to @oneandfun on Twitter). First, I’m going to explain why I believe these are the nine biggest candidates. Afterwards, I’ll explain why your favorite candidate was left off the list.

The potential draftees

Picks 1-3: Myles Garrett, Jonathan Allen, Solomon Thomas

At this stage, I’m pretty sure 99 percent of Bengals fans would be ecstatic about any of these three players dropping to the ninth pick. All are talented pass rushers, and all three are versatile enough to play the edge or inside. Garrett, Allen and even Thomas all have cases to make as a top-3 selection, regardless of position. The value of selecting a top player and fit (defensive end is the most upgrade-able position on the roster, and all three fit what the Bengals do schematically) is worth the pick.

Picks 4-5: Malik McDowell, Taco Charlton

I can already hear the “reach” comments being typed out here, but I’m a firm believer the fit is worth selecting either of these two players. Those who disagree with the McDowell/Charlton pick here will likely cite a deep draft class at the defensive end position, which is fair. However, I’d offer that that same statement has been made about virtually every position in this year’s draft class outside of quarterback and offensive line.

Forget about the fact that both of these players are physical specimens in the mold of Carlos Dunlap — tall, long and athletic — in my personal opinion, the fact that these two fill what is by far the Bengals’ biggest need is worth making a selection some will call a “reach.”

That, added to the fact that both McDowell and Charlton are incredibly talented players who have sky-high ceilings, makes both players incredibly desirable selections, at least in my eyes. Both have been knocked for their inconsistency issues, and to that, I’ll point to Dunlap and the departed Marvin Jones, both of whom have been very productive despite some inconsistency on a week-to-week basis throughout their careers. Check out John Sheeran’s scouting report on McDowell or Lance Zierlein’s on Charlton if you want to convince yourself they’re worth top-10 selections.

6: Corey Davis

This feels low for such a talented player, but Davis’ being this low on my board has 100 percent to do with the fact that Green is still on the Bengals’ roster. Having another top pass-catcher on the roster would be an incredible luxury, and I think Davis is one of those players worth a first-rounder even if he’d be the second-fiddle or even option number three. That being said, I can’t justify putting Davis above the “freaky five” edge players with off-the-charts measurables and/or tape.

7: Marshon Lattimore

I could make the argument the Bengals could re-sign Dre Kirkpatrick and ignore the cornerback position until next offseason — Cincinnati has that much talent at the position (though it’s up to the Bengals to develop that talent and ensure guys like Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson can capitalize on their natural playmaking abilities). But if Kirkparick signs elsewhere in free agency, it’s hard to imagine the Bengals won’t take another corner early. The top corner on the board, Lattimore would be the guy if available at pick nine.

8: Tim Williams

Williams is one of those guys you either love or hate as a player. He looks like an incredibly talented edge player, but there are doubts about whether Williams can develop into a three-down player. Doing so in the Bengals’ 4-3 defense would be an incredibly difficult transition, though Williams is talented enough of a player that many will believe he’s capable of doing so.

9: Mike Williams

The closer we get to the draft, the more I think Davis is going to separate himself from Williams. He’s special. That’s not to say Williams isn’t special, himself. The former Clemson wideout is reminiscent of former Clemson wideout DeAndre Hopkins from a stylistic standpoint. But in terms of fit, how much do the Bengals truly benefit from adding a wideout who excels at hauling in jump balls when Green and Tyler Eifert are already on the roster? It’s also hard to imagine Dalton will immediately develop that trust for a rookie wideout after watching the chemistry between he and Tyler Boyd take time to develop throughout the 2015 season. Williams is a great player, but I don’t think the value is there at pick nine, barring the eight players in front of him all being off the board.

The omissions

Reuben Foster

The former Alabama linebacker has quickly become a fan-favorite among Bengals fans. But I still can’t get behind the selection, because I don’t see the fit. Vontaze Burfict is the Bengals’ inside linebacker in nickel packages, and Nick Vigil is clearly the team’s desired outside ‘backer in nickel. His development has been so great that Geoff Hobson believes there’s a good chance he’ll be starting by next season. For a team which spends the majority of its time in the nickel defense, I find it hard to justify spending a first-round pick on a linebacker, even if he’s the next Luke Kuechly. If Burfict is in the Bengals’ long-term plans (which I believe he is), I just don’t see how a Foster selection would be valuable in the first round, especially considering how infrequently inside linebackers are taken in the top 10 picks of the first round. Foster is going to develop into a great player, but I don’t think his doing so outside of Cincinnati would be something the Bengals regret in the grand scheme of things.

Derek Barnett

Another fan favorite, the former Tennessee defensive end has been a popular player in Bengals mocks. Jason Marcum wrote on Barnett in early November, seemingly spawning a cult following of Bengals fans who have become infatuated with the edge player. Barnett’s not being in the top nine, however, is a result of a perceived lack of talent. He’s a strong player, but Barnett doesn’t feel like a guy worthy of a top-10 selection.

Cam Robinson, Ryan Ramczyk

There’s no debate on whether Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher were disappointing last season (they were), but they’re fortunate enough to play for a Bengals team patient enough not to panic when guys struggle in their first year of pro football. (That’s a double-edged sword in itself.) The bottom line for taking an offensive tackle here is that the Bengals probably wouldn’t start either of these two guys in Year 1, so what’s the point of picking a backup so high? When you’re picking in the top 10, you’re trying to find a guy who is talented enough to start on Day 1. That’s not to say these two aren’t talented, but picking a tackle on Day 1 would essentially be admitting defeat on Ogbuehi and/or Fisher.

Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook

Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard disappointed last season, and Rex Burkhead’s late-season surge left fans wondering whether or not an upgrade is necessary at the position. I’m not here to say whether or not Cincinnati needs a new starting running back, but even in the case that it does, I don’t like the value in Round 1 — especially in what people are calling a loaded Draft class for running backs. If the Bengals were to take one of these two players, I’d suspect it would be Cook. However, I just don’t see it happening.

Jamal Adams, Malik Hooker

Like with inside linebacker, safety is a position teams don’t often look at in the top 10. Adams and Hooker are so talented that they’ve been constantly mocked to teams within the top 10. And while I don’t think either player would be a reach at pick 9, I just don’t see a fit with George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith and Clayton Fejedelem already filling out the safety position. I would be shocked to see the Bengals take a safety with any pick in this Draft, so a top-10 safety selection would be a jaw-dropper.