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PFF breaks down Bengals’ needs and potential targets

PFF tries to solve the Bengals’ issues with players in the early and latter rounds.

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NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is drawing nearer, and the guys at Pro Football Focus took a stab at addressing the Bengals’ roster holes.

By now, you know the issues surrounding defensive end, which PFF has a couple of solutions for, the first being Tennessee’s Derek Barnett in Round 1. While the Volunteer defensive end isn’t getting much top-10 love in the mock drafts, he’s easily one of the two or three best pass-rushers in this draft.

Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett may be the headliner of this year’s impressive edge group, but Barnett has been every bit as productive the past three seasons. While not at the same level athletically as Garrett, he can still bend the corner effectively, as 45 of his 78 pressures in 2016 came outside the opposing tackle. He is also a highly productive player against the run, as he plays with good pad level, can shoot gaps effectively, and jolt blockers with his initial punch. Barnett posted the second-highest overall grade for a college edge player each of the last two seasons, and would be a strong pick for Cincinnati at No. 9 overall.

If we’re just ranking players based on how well they perform on tape, Barnett is easily a top-10 pick and more than worthy of the No. 9 selection. Problem is, with his smaller frame (6’3” and 259 pounds), it’s hard to see Barnett being a three-down lineman in a 4-3 defense. Anything less than that is not worthy of a top-10 pick, no matter how good he is at pressuring quarterbacks.

If the Bengals address their pass-rushing woes in the latter rounds, PFF thinks that Michigan’s Chris Wormley is an intriguing option.

The Bengals love size and length at defensive end, and at 6-foot-5 and 298 pounds with 34.5-inch arms, Wormley has both. While his lack of top-end athleticism should keep him out of the early rounds and may make him a higher value for 3-4 teams, he ran in a 4.82 40 and 7.08 3-cone at his pro day last month, which makes him more than acceptable in the third round. He uses his length and strength well to defeat blockers at the point of attack, which allowed him to post 39 total pressures and 22 defensive stops in just 567 snaps at Michigan last season.

Taco Charlton will be the Michigan pass-rusher getting all the buzz, but don’t sleep on his running mate. Wormley was the total package in 2016 season, finishing with 40 tackles and six sacks while earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from league coaches.

He was named to Pro Football Focus’ College Big Ten Team of the Week for his performance against UCF, which included seven tackles, two blocked field goals and a sack.

At 6’4” and 298 pounds, Wormley already has the frame of a Bengals defensive end, though he primarily played as a 3-4 end with the Wolverines, so there’s some debate as to how he fits a 4-3 defense, but he’s good enough to be an asset for the Bengals wherever he plays.

Wormley is also someone the Bengals were intrigued with at the Senior Bowl. He may not have a clear-cut position in a 4-3 defense, but he looks like a promising prospect for whoever gets him.

On the other side of the trenches, both guard and tackle could, at the very least, use some more depth after Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler departed. One guy who could give depth at both spots is Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp, who PFF likes as a fit for the Bengals.

Lamp was outstanding in each of the past three seasons at Western Kentucky, as he only gave up a combined three sacks and 10 QB hits between 2014 and 2016 while starting at left tackle for the Hilltoppers. While his length is not ideal to stay at tackle, he possesses the foot quickness, leverage and strength to possible contribute at all five offensive line positions, which would make him a perfect fit for the Bengals, who have a number of shaky spots on the current offensive line. This draft class lacks elite offensive line talent, but Lamp is certainly in play for Cincinnati’s second-round pick, No. 41 overall.

There’s even some thought that Lamp could even be a center in the NFL, which should make him even more attractive to a Bengals team that needs an upgrade there badly. It’s also worth noting that the Bengals were in attendance for WKU’s pro day, where offensive line coach Paul Alexander reportedly worked with the Eagles’ o-line coach to work out Lamp.

I love Lamp, but I think it’s unlikely he falls to the Bengals in Round 2. If that happens, another lineman PFF likes for the Bengals is Fred Zerblis out of Colorado State.

Athletic limitations are likely to push Zerblis to Day 3, but he is able to make up for these deficiencies with excellent awareness and angles. Over the past two seasons for Colorado State he yielded a total of just 10 QB pressures, none of them resulting in sacks. What makes him so consistent in this phase is how quick he is to diagnose and adjust to stunts, as he rarely lets a looper in unblocked through his area. On run blocks, he excels in space by utilizing good footwork to get the angle on his man, allowing him to consistently seal off his gap assignments. The Bengals love to run counter plays, for which he’ll fit right in with his pulling ability, plus they also utilize a mid-zone attack, which Zerblis did plenty of at Colorado State.

Zerblis would be strictly limited to guard, but the Bengals need more depth there since long-time right tackle Andre Smith is expected to start there. Christian Westerman is a big unknown as his backup, so adding a guy like Zerblis to push them would be ideal.

After addressing the offensive line and defensive end, PFF actually thinks cornerback is something needing addressed. They do so with Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley, who’s projected as a Round 2 selection, and Iowa’s Desmond King, who’s projected as a Round 2-3 pick.

While they make a good case for drafting a corner, it’s hard to see that happening early when Cincinnati has a group that includes Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard and Joshua Shaw. That’s not even accounting for William Jackson III, who essentially is an extra first-round pick this year after not playing at all as a rookie. The Bengals should wait and see what he can do before spending another high pick on a corner.

Which of these prospects do you like most for the Bengals?