With the NFL Scouting Combine here, we decided to take our own stab at a mock draft through the first nine picks, culminating with the Bengals selection at No. 9 overall.
1. Cleveland Browns - Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
It’s no secret the Browns badly want to get a quarterback this offseason, whether it’s with a high draft pick or in the form of an established veteran like Tyrod Taylor. If Cleveland misses on getting a guy like Taylor, quarterback could be in play with the first overall selection in the draft, but Garrett is too good of a prospect to pass on. He’s easily the best player in this draft and will immediately upgrade what was one of the league’s worst defenses last year.
2. San Francisco 49ers - Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
As great as Garrett is, Jonathan Allen isn’t too far behind him. Allen was arguably the best defensive player in college football last year, and he can play both end and tackle, in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense. The problem with Allen is his shoulder issues could cause him to slip in the draft, but if everything checks out, he should be the No. 2 pick in April.
3. Chicago Bears - Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
The first quarterback flies off the board to Chicago, who takes the guy everyone seems to think is the best passer in this draft. Mitch Trubisky certainly looked the part of a franchise quarterback last season at UNC, but it was his first year as a college starter. The Bears can’t afford to come out of this pick without a quarterback, so Trubisky is their guy.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars - Jamal Adams, S, LSU
When Tom Coughlin was with the Giants, they drafted a lineman or a defensive back with their first pick in eight of his 12 drafts. It just so happens safety is something needing to be addressed in Jacksonville, so Jamal Adams is an easy call here. He’s easily the best safety in this class and would make the Jaguars’ secondary very scary with Jalen Ramsey at corner.
5. Tennessee Titans (via Rams) - Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
The Titans need more youth and talent at cornerback, and what better way to do so than taking arguably the best cornerback in this draft. Marshon Lattimore should be a Day 1 starter over Brice McCain to pair with Jason McCourty and make this a very formidable secondary in a division that has Andrew Luck, who is 9-0 against the Titans.
6. New York Jets - Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Disclaimer: I don’t think any of the quarterbacks in this draft are among the 10 best overall prospects, but teams being desperate for quarterbacks always leads to several being over-drafted. Deshaun Watson, while flawed, is a great player who should have a solid NFL career. He would be a big upgrade over what the Jets have consistently had for decades at quarterback.
7. Los Angeles Chargers - Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
The Chargers quietly have a defense with the potential to be elite if the club can find another impact defensive back. Malik Hooker gives the Chargers just that as he’s challenging Jamal Adams to be the best safety in this draft. Hooker is the kind of ball-hawker Los Angeles’ defense needs with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa wreaking havoc up front.
8. Carolina Panthers - Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The Panthers must give Cam Newton more help on offense, but no receiver is worth this spot, and there aren’t any offensive lineman worthy of this pick either. A great running back can help make up for both of those, so Leonard Fournette is an easy call. Jonathan Stewart is clearly on his last legs (turns 30 on March 21) and Fournette is an easy upgrade over him anyhow. Imagine a backfield with Newton and Fournette coming at you...
9. Cincinnati Bengals - Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Stick to your board. If the Bengals do that, Reuben Foster is very likely the best player available at No. 9. I think Stanford’s Solomon Thomas is up near the top, but he’s too much of a tweener to feel good about taking him this high, over a clear-cut stud at linebacker like Foster.
Besides, this draft has enough pass-rushers for a good one to fall to Cincinnati in Round 2, but the depth of linebackers is much thinner, especially in the middle. Foster is a beast in the middle, and he’d be a great linebacker to pair with Vontaze Burfict to make the Cincinnati defense elite.
Even with Rey Maualuga, Nick Vigil, Vincent Rey, P.J. Dawson, and Marquis Flowers under contract, Foster would easily be an upgrade over all of them, not to mention, Cincinnati should cut Maualuga this offseason.
This would be a good move for the Bengals in the short term, but Foster likely wouldn’t reach his full potential until later down the road. Foster is good enough to make an impact in 2017, though his role may be limited with all of the other Bengals backers in the fold.
However, Maualuga will almost certainly be gone by 2018 when he hits free agency, which is also when Burfict becomes a free agent. That’s when Foster could go from role player to being the guy on this defense. Ideally, Burfict is brought back to pair with Foster to form one of the best linebacker units in the league for the long-term.