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Bengals go after pass rushers early in 7-round mock draft

Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Kansas State’s Jordan Willis headline a seven-round mock draft that also sees East Carolina record-breaking wide receiver Zay Jones added by the Bengals.

NFL Combine - Day 5 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

After a 6-9-1 season that left the Bengals out of the playoffs for the first time in six years, the team is resolved to contend again in 2017 loaded with draft picks. Nailing the draft will be essential in order to do make a comeback, given the number of key players leaving via free agency and the poor record from last season.

Not only do the Bengals have up to 11 picks, they’re also picking at the highest spot since the club drafted A.J. Green with the fourth overall pick in 2011. At the ninth spot, the Bengals have the chance to add immediate help.

After signing former Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter and cutting Rey Maualuga, the Bengals’ needs are clear, but only quarterback is out of the picture with their first pick. The Bengals can go many ways, including adding an edge rusher in a draft loaded with defensive talent, or grabbing one of the elite playmakers at running back or wide receiver who are near the top of every big board.

I went to Fanspeak’s On the Clock tool for my seven-round mock draft and came away with, I believe, a nice haul for Cincinnati. With 11 picks and not too many roster spots available, I would have loved to trade away a couple of the late picks to get back into the third round, but that option wasn’t available. I think the Bengals will ultimately part ways with a few of the sixth or seventh-round picks to move up in an earlier round.

Round 1, pick 9: EDGE Solomon Thomas, Stanford

Round 2, pick 41: EDGE Jordan Willis, Kansas State

Round 3, pick 73: WR Zay Jones, East Carolina

Round 4, pick 116: C Ethan Pocic, LSU

Round 4, pick 139: DL Ryan Glasgow, Michigan

Round 5, pick 154: RB Aaron Jones, UTEP

Round 5, pick 177: OT J.J. Dielman, Utah

Round 6, pick 194: CB Jack Tocho, NC State

Round 6, pick 218: LB Kevin Davis, Colorado State

Round 7, pick 228: EDGE Keionta Davis, Chattanooga

Round 7, pick 252: LB Paul Magloire Jr., Arizona State

I used the Inside the Pylon big board, and went heavy on defense getting much-needed help for Carlos Dunlap. At the Combine, Thomas ran a 4.69-second 40-yard dash, recorded 30 reps on the bench press and was top five in the broad jump, 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill. He gives the Bengals speed and athleticism outside and the ability to kick inside on passing downs. I was tempted to go with Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis, but he went to the Titans with the fifth pick.

My second round pick, Willis, is nowhere near Thomas’ talent, but Cincinnati needs more pass rushers and going back-to-back there isn’t out of the question for Cincinnati. The Kansas State product can be a nice rotational piece and allow defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to rest the main guys. He might be raw for some, but his athleticism can help him get snaps right away.

With my third pick I went with the productive East Carolina wide receiver Zay Jones. He doesn’t have the speed the Bengals need on the boundaries, I know, but it’s hard to dismiss his huge numbers in school. Jones set the NCAA single-season receptions record last season with 158 catches. Of those receptions, 91 of them went for first downs. He finished his East Carolina career with 399 receptions to break the NCAA career record previously held by former ECU receiver and current Atlanta Falcon Justin Hardy. With Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core and Jones the Bengals would have a very strong receiving corps despite no true number 2 on the group. Also, Jones is the nephew of former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake.

Russell Bodine is slated to become a free agent in 2018, if the Bengals don’t extend him beforehand. And while it’s hard to envision offensive line coach Paul Alexander and head coach Marvin Lewis moving on from him, it would be for the best. But, with the arguably best center of the draft available in round four, I went with Pocic. If the Bengals do draft a highly talented center like Pocic, maybe the team would be encouraged to part ways with Bodine when his rookie deal plays out. He played three positions in LSU, so there’s a nice versatility bonus for Cincy here. Glasgow is a nice security blanket in case nose tackle Andrew Billings isn’t ready for a big role and Pat Sims’ tank is empty.

Jones is a late-round option at running back as I didn’t feel comfortable picking Joe Mixon and Leonard Fournette was just gone one pick before me in the second round. Jones was very productive in El Paso despite missing an entire season with a torn ligament in his ankle. He can help the Bengals ease Giovani Bernard back into the rotation. The Bengals have also met with Jones, so he’s at least on their radar.

Short arms and quick feet. That describes Dielman of Utah. Sounds familiar, I know, but I wanted to go with a tackle and felt good with him in the fifth round.

I have to admit that the Bengals don’t need a cornerback with the signing of Bene Benwikere, the re-signing of Dre Kirkpatrick and the addition last season of KeiVarae Russell, but, again, with 11 picks, they are going to add one. Tocho has a great name - tocho means nasty big in Spanish. Kevin Davis was a leader for Colorado State and at the sixth round he can stay behind Minter, Vincent Rey, Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil while learning.

Keionta Davis can’t be worse than Margus Hunt and if he can give the Bengals any pass rush help that is great for a seventh-round pick. Ideally, the Bengals would trade away some of these picks -- like Magloire or Davis — to try to pick higher in the mid rounds.

If you didn’t like these picks you can try your luck with Fanspeak’s On the Clock and share your results in the comments section.