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NFL Draft: Bengals big board 2.0 following first wave of free agency

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

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 NFL Draft is just about a month away, and teams are still making free agency signings to bolster their respective rosters heading into April’s marquee football-related event. But, the bulk of the big moves have been made.

Since the last big board we posted, NFL hopefuls have participated in the NFL Combine. Some have even gotten the chance to show off at their university’s pro days. While the players’ respective performances at these events can impact their draft stock — John Ross, while on the radar before his record-breaking 40-yard dash, is now soaring up big boards — these performances should be taken with a grain of salt. But with that said, teams do consider what they’ve saw at the Combine in making their draft decisions.

With 11 selections in the 2017 NFL Draft, including the ninth overall pick, the Cincinnati Bengals look primed to reload what is already a strong roster. Even with the team’s offseason losses, the Bengals have pieces in place at every position. Whether or not the team’s past draftees are up to the challenge of adequately replacing their predecessors is yet to be determined, but the Bengals certainly prepared for their offseason losses.

Considering Cincinnati’s roster, there are a few positions the Bengals can go in the upcoming Draft. Fans of the team seem fairly divided in terms of the biggest need on the roster, but common consensus among fans is that Carlos Dunlap needs a position mate on the edge. Michael Johnson is an adequate run defender, but the veteran defensive end’s days as an impact edge rusher are behind him.

With Margus Hunt now in Indianapolis, Will Clarke is the only backup defensive end on the roster. Expect the Bengals to select multiple defensive ends in the draft, one of which will likely come early. Ryan Brown, who spent last year on the practice squad, figures to compete for a spot on the roster as well.

Beyond defensive end, the team’s biggest need on either side of the ball varies, depending on who you’re talking to. With Rex Burkhead’s departure, the Bengals will select a running back at some point in the draft. If Cedric Peerman doesn’t return to the Queen City, multiple running backs could be in play come April. Even with the return of veteran receiver Brandon LaFell, the Bengals — who watched James Wright sign with the Browns after waiving him — could use another pass-catcher. Even with Andrew Billings, Brandon Thompson and Marcus Hardison returning from injury, the Bengals could look to add another defensive tackle at some point in the draft. And, with Randy Bullock’s expendability, perhaps there’s a chance the Bengals take a kicker at some point, too.

As I said in my first big board post, 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 arbitrary and, ultimately, just opinions which are neither right nor wrong — they are what they are.

With that in mind, here’s my post-free agency big board for the Bengals. Keep in mind this big board highlights players I believe fit what the Bengals themselves are looking for, not who I personally believe the team should select — 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 will likely be used on one of these guys.

Bengals Post-Free Agency Big Board 2017

Player School Position Last Rank
Player School Position Last Rank
Myles Garrett Texas A&M DE 1
Solomon Thomas Stanford DE 3
Jonathan Allen Alabama DE 2
Taco Charlton Michigan DE 5
Malik McDowell Michigan State DE 4
Corey Davis Western Michigan WR 6
O.J. Howard Alabama TE NR
Marshon Lattimore Ohio State CB 7
Derek Barnett Tennessee DE NR

The Potential Draftees

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

I’m pretty sure 99 percent of Bengals fans would be ecstatic about any of these three players dropping to the ninth pick. All can rush the passer, all have the versatility to play inside or outside and all, like Joey Bosa last year, appear to be scheme-proof at face value. Garrett, Thomas and Allen all backed up impressive collegiate careers with solid combine performances, and the value at defensive end makes sense for the Bengals here. Even with Thomas’ lack of impressive size and Allen’s medical concerns, I still find it hard to imagine either player dropping past ninth overall.

Choices 4-5: Taco Charlton, Malik McDowell

Bengals fans seem to love throwing out the “bust potential” accusations with these two players, and to be honest, I think the reasoning behind this has a lot to do with the fact that they played college football in Michigan. Excluding Garrett, every defensive end near the top of the draft has “bust potential,” just as Dunlap, Khalil Mack and many of the league’s top pass-rushers did when they were entering the draft evaluation process. Charlton and McDowell are both imposing players with freakish, unteachable attributes and the production to warrant a top-10 selection.

Choices 6-7: Corey Davis, O.J. Howard

It depends on where the Bengals want to go, but a wide receiver or tight end could make sense.

On paper, the Bengals appear to be set at both the wide receiver and tight end positions. Adding one more pass-catcher to the arsenal, however, shouldn’t hurt. A.J. Green has three capable running mates in the pass-catching corps, with LaFell, Tyler Eifert and Tyler Boyd figuring to step up and produce this season. Cody Core and C.J. Uzomah have also shown glimpses of solid potential in their limited time, while Tyler Kroft is a more than capable rotational tight end.

But coming off a year in which Cincinnati was one of the league’s most inefficient red zone teams, adding another pass-catcher, whether a receiver or a tight end, could make sense. Davis would be a nice complement (and potentially successor) to Green, while Howard could give the Bengals extra insurance at the tight end position where, around the league, players have struggled to stay healthy.

Choice 8: Marshon Lattimore

Here’s to hoping at least one of the seven players above Lattimore will be available with the ninth selection. While Lattimore is an incredibly talented player, it really doesn’t feel like the Bengals should go cornerback in the first round this year. Dre Kirkpatrick signed a long-term deal, and the team even brought in more help by signing Bene Benwikere. But, for a team which places an immensely high value on cornerback depth, Lattimore makes a lot of sense considering his talent level. (If the Bengals view defensive back Malik Hooker as a cornerback prospect, he could make sense here too.)

Choice 9: Derek Barnett

I’ve been on the anti-Barnett train for a while, and that was mostly due to early groupthink among Bengals fans, clamoring for the immensely productive player early in draft season. Since then, the bandwagon has jumped back and forth between Barnett, Thomas, Davis and Reuben Foster, so I’m more and more OK with the fact that Barnett could be the guy here. The Bengals love SEC standouts and place a ton of emphasis on players’ collegiate production, especially in the first round, so Barnett could make sense. But again, here’s to hoping one of the top seven guys on this big board will be available. Barnett’s a good player, but I’m not so sure his addition would make a significant impact on the team’s record in the next couple of seasons.

The Omissions

Foster, Hooker and Jamal Adams

These three players are all talented, but they’re omitted due to concerns with fit. Even before the team signed Kevin Minter in free agency, it was hard to believe Cincinnati — which only seems to select linebackers early in the draft once every 10 years — would invest a first-rounder in a linebacker, even if he were the next Luke Kuechly. And in Foster’s specific case, concerns off-the-field have certainly caused the linebacker’s draft stock to take a hit, even if a small one.

Hooker and Adams, while talented, don’t fill a position of need. Cincinnati already has an abundance of talent at the safety position, with Derron Smith sitting behind George Iloka and Shawn Williams. Adding another safety would just be overkill at a position where the Bengals are already deep.

Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook

Leonard Foutnette’s Combine performance did a lot. For starters, it assured critics who were skeptical of the running back’s speed that he can get down the field quickly, despite his size. The more interesting result of the Combine however, was Cook falling out of the top 10 in most mock drafts and big boards. The back’s unimpressive performance will likely cost him some money.

While Fournette seems to be the kind of running back the Bengals value, it appears, for better or for worse, Cincinnati still believes in Jeremy Hill. For that reason alone, the team will likely avoid drafting a running back in the first round, though an early-round back could definitely be within the realm of possibility.

Mike Williams, John Ross

The Bengals look for very specific attributes in their draftees at almost every position. Defensive ends typically stand tall, interior offensive linemen generally dominate the bench press and boundary receivers seem to come to Cincinnati fitting a similar mold. Core and the departed Marvin Jones, for instance, appear to be virtually be the same player on paper, down to height, speed and leaping ability. If the Bengals wanted a red zone threat, they’d likely go with a tight end over Williams. If the Bengals wanted speed at receiver, they’d likely take Davis or wait until a later round where speed can still be had.

Marlon Humphrey and the idea of a first-round cornerback

The Bengals take first-round cornerbacks every other year. It’s 2017, case closed.

In all seriousness, cornerback isn’t a position of need, even if Cincinnati were to release Adam Jones. If anything, the Bengals would likely add a veteran at the position, seeing as how cornerback has quietly turned into one of the team’s youngest position groups.