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NFL mock draft 2017: Bengals favoring LB

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Rey Maualuga should bet cut, and Vontaze Burfict is a free agent in 2018. That’s why linebacker should be in strong consideration for the No. 9 pick.

Cincinnati Bengals v Arizona Cardinals

Will the Bengals strike a trade in this year’s NFL Draft?

The odds would seem to be higher than ever that Cincinnati strikes some sort of deal regarding the 2017 draft, not only because of their wealth of draft picks (around 11 projected) vs limited roster spots, but also the potential for AJ McCarron to be dealt.

That could lead to a lot of moving and shaking in this year’s draft, but for now, SB Nation doesn’t think it happens in Round 1. Their latest mock, which projects several first-round trades, has the Bengals standing pat at No. 9 and taking Alabama All-American Reuben Foster.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Reuben Foster, MLB, Alabama

Foster’s fit in Cincinnati is perfect. Where Vontaze Burfict can be the thumping linebacker between the tackles, Foster can be the one who roams and relies on his smarts and athleticism.

A big reason why Foster continues to be mocked to the Bengals is that Rey Maualuga should bet cut this offseason, Karlos Dansby is hitting free agency, and Vontaze Burfict is a free agent in 2018. That’s most of the linebacker snaps from last year, so having a guy like Foster stepping in would be a perfect setup, and that’s the kind of scenario the Bengals plan for.

Whether it’s drafting two offensive tackles in 2015 when Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith were still starting, taking Tyler Eifert in 2013 with Jermaine Gresham still starting, or taking first-round corner after first-round corner to prepare for departures at that position, taking Foster to eventually take over for one of those other linebackers seems like the perfect script for this team.

The real question is, can the Bengals jump back into Round 1 via a trade? With all of those picks, not to mention McCarron, there should be an oppurtunity for the Bengals to get another first-round pick in this year’s draft if they so choose.

McCarron won’t command a top-10 pick, but perhaps he and a few draft picks could be enough for the Bengals to score a pick in that 11-32 range. The Saints (11), Browns (12), Cardinals (13), Washington (17, but only if they lose Kirk Cousins), and Texans (25) would seem like ideal targets.

That would allow the Bengals to draft a pass-rusher like Solomon Thomas, Derek Barnett or Taco Charlton after taking Foster at No. 9. That seems ideal, but it will take a lot of work to make it happen.