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NFL Draft 2017: Reviewing Bengals targets in new SI and CBS big board

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Is Foster a top-three prospect, Taco Charlton not even a first-round guy and would a team take Cook over Fournette?

Now that we’ve had a few months to digest all of the players in this year’s NFL Draft, we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of who the top guys are and who should be in play at No. 9. That will get more clear after the NFL Combine, but for now, big boards are still being created.

The latest big board from CBS Sports has a familiar group of players in the top 10, including Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, who’s been a popular mock pick for the Bengals. CBS Sports has him ranked as the No. 7 prospect in this draft:

7. Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama, Sr., 6-1, 240, 4.72

Inside linebackers rarely warrant top-10 consideration but Foster is an exceptional talent. Foster might be the most intimidating hitter in all of college football and he possesses the fluidity and speed to cover. He is a more explosive athlete than Alabama’s recent stars at linebacker, showing ridiculous closing speed and an utter disregard for his own safety or that of his opponents. Unfortunately, Foster will not be able to participate in the combine after undergoing shoulder surgery. His status for Pro Day workouts in Tuscaloosa is uncertain.

Getting the No. 7 player at pick No. 9 would be solid value for Cincinnati, but it would be even better value based on how highly Sports Illustrated views Foster. They have the All-American linebacker ranked No. 2 on their latest big board, and he could be in play for the No. 2 pick to the 49ers.

2. Reuben Foster, LB (Senior, Alabama)

While Cleveland may not grab Foster at No. 1 overall, San Francisco should kick the tires at No. 2. That’s rarefied air for an off-ball linebacker, but Foster’s blend of abilities as a three-down defender is worth the attention.

It’s becoming clear that Foster isn’t just the best linebacker prospect in this draft, but a top-five talent that has a great chance of being the best player available if he’s still on the board at No. 9.

At running back, we looked at the possibility of Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook at the No. 9 pick. This is a rare class of running backs that has not one, but two guys worthy of top-10 picks.

CBS thinks Fournette is the better of the two, ranking him No. 3.

3. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU, Jr., 6-1, 230, 4.45

Evaluators were unfazed by Fournette’s decision to skip the Fiesta Bowl because of the ankle injury that hampered him in 2016. He was limited to the extent that Fournette finished second on the team in rushing yards (843 yards, eight touchdowns) to sophomore sensation Derrius Guice (1,249-14). While Fournette’s 2016 season stalled some momentum, when healthy he has shown the most exciting blend of size, speed and power among running backs since Adrian Peterson. The big question facing Fournette at the combine will be the medical concerns.

But while Fournette may be ranked higher, Cook isn’t far behind at No. 6.

6. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State, Jr., 5-11, 206, 4.46

While Fournette’s blend of size, speed and power are certainly intriguing, one could argue that Cook offers the greater recipe for success in the NFL. He offers terrific instincts as a runner, showing vision, patience and burst attack on the ground. Just as importantly in today’s pass-happy era, Cook possesses soft hands out of the backfield, as well as the toughness and selflessness to block when necessary. Cook ended his career in style, running for 145 yards and a touchdown and adding another 62 yards as a receiver to help beat Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

SI has is a little differently with Cook being the top back at No. 5 overall.

5. Dalvin Cook, RB (Junior, Florida State)

As it does, the NFL will dig—Cook has a history of shoulder issues, and he was suspended during the 2015 off-season while awaiting a trial (he was found not guilty of misdemeanor battery). The team that takes the leap will land a game-changing back that can create huge plays out of nothing.

SI has Fournette ranked No. 10 overall, which suggests he won’t be the BPA at No. 9 for the Bengals, though not by much.

10. Leonard Fournette, RB (Junior, LSU)

The type of back that makes defenders feel every single contact with him, Fournette is a bruising 235-pounder with the speed to pull away once he reaches the open field. If he finds the right fit, there is Ezekiel Elliott-like potential for his rookie season.

Both of these big boards show that not only are both backs worthy of the No. 9 pick, but Cook may actually be the superior prospect, despite Fournette being the one who gets all of the attention and hype.

But even if one or both backs are still on the board at No. 9, I think the chances of the Bengals taking one of them are not good. It’s more likely they’ll take Foster or a defensive end, to which there should be a solid prospect still on the board.

CBS has Stanford’s Solomon Thomas ranked as their No. 5 prospect.

5. Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford, rSoph., 6-3, 272, 4.85

Thomas was the runaway winner of the Pac-12’s Morris Trophy last season as the most dominant defensive lineman by a vote of the conference’s blockers. He was as impressive on a snap-to-snap basis as any prospect in the country in 2016, demonstrating the initial burst, power and advanced hand usage to earn comparisons to Rams star Aaron Donald. Also like Donald, however, Thomas lacks prototypical size, making his measurements at the combine one to note.

Si isn’t quite as high on the stud pass-rusher, but they do have him at No. 8 on their latest big board.

8. Solomon Thomas, DL (Junior, Stanford)

Thomas is front and center this year in the case of how prospects get overly nitpicked. Is he too light to play inside? Does he have the length to live outside? You can worry about about those questions, or you can focus on the fact that he has the get-off and nuance in his approach to pummel offensive linemen.

Thus far, Thomas and Foster have been the most popular mock selections for the Bengals, so it’s great to see that both are consistently being ranked among the best players in this draft.

It’s safe to think that either guy would be good value at No. 9, not to mention the BPA if either is on the board.

One player who didn’t fare well in either of these rankings is Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton, who’s gotten some mock draft buzz for the Bengals at No. 9, but CBS thinks he’s closer to being a second-round prospect than a top-10 pick.

26. Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan, Sr., 6-5, 272, 4.87

Charlton missed out on a huge opportunity by opting not to attend the Senior Bowl but scouts are excited about him nonetheless. A twitchy athlete with prototypical length, burst and bend off the edge, Charlton registered a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2016 and may just be scratching the surface of his potential.

SI is even lower on Taco, ranking him No. 46 on their board.

46. Taco Charlton, Edge (Senior, Michigan)

Granted, this ranking pumps the brakes a bit on the recent Charlton hype, but it’s easy to see why he has so many fans. Charlton brings great size, a variety of moves and the ability to finish. He needs the way he played in Michigan’s final four games to be his norm, rather than a spurt.

If you just watch Taco’s game vs Florida State in the Orange Bowl, you’ll see a guy worthy of top-10 consideration, but one game does not get a guy drafted that high.

His season as a whole was not that of a top-10 prospect, so I’d be surprised if the Bengals take him this high, though I can’t see him falling into the second round either.