While a lot can change between now and April, it continues to look like defense is the Bengals’ best bet for spending the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
After all, this is shaping up to be a great draft for pass rushers, something the Bengals desperately need to upgrade this offseason. Between Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, Tennessee's Derek Barnett and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, there should be an instant-impact defensive end on the board when Cincinnati is on the clock.
In Todd McShay’s mock draft 2.0 at ESPN, he has Thomas as the Bengals’ first round pick.
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
A freakishly gifted athlete, Thomas dominated all season (15 TFLs, eight sacks and seven QB hurries) and was a wrecking ball against North Carolina in the Sun Bowl. At 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds, he has good size and strength, and he's stout against the run. Cincinnati could use some more pass-rush help after having just 33 sacks in 2016.
If we’re going off just mock drafts, Thomas appears to be the early favorite for the No. 9 pick. He’s a complete defensive end who should not only play a lot as a rookie, but may be good enough to eventually unseat Michael Johnson as the starter opposite of Carlos Dunlap.
But as good as Thomas is, many view Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster to be the best pick for Cincinnati at No. 9, including Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
The Pick: LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
Getting younger, faster and smarter at linebacker has to be a top-tier priority for the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. Adding a plug-and-play stud like Reuben Foster accomplishes that in one pick.
Foster's range, instincts and tackling skill set are among the best you'll see at middle linebacker in college. He's tailor-made for the pro game with his speed to the edge and what he's been asked to do as the "Mike" linebacker for Alabama. Compared to former Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, I like Foster's upside and athleticism more.
The Bengals are well-positioned on the offensive line and with skill position players on offense, but fixing the defense will be something Marvin Lewis and his staff cannot ignore or put off.
You really can’t go wrong with Thomas or Foster at this spot, and it will be a great debate among the Bengals coaches and front office personnel as to which guy they should take if both are on the board.
Perhaps the bigger surprise in Miller’s mock draft is he has Alabama’s Jonathan Allen falling to the Bills at pick No. 10, meaning the Bengals could have grabbed him instead. Allen has been widely viewed as someone who could go as high as No. 2 and probably doesn’t fall out of the top five, so if he’s on the board at No. 9, it’d be hard to pass on him.
But there’s some debate as to whether Allen will be a defensive end or defensive tackle in the NFL, and it would be hard for the Bengals to draft a tackle this high with as much depth as they have there right now.
All of this is why Bengals fans should be very excited about the upcoming draft and the player the team could land in Round 1.