That’s why nearly every mock draft to this point has had the Bengals taking a defensive end or a running back with the No. 9 pick. As it turns out, ESPN’s Todd McShay has Cincinnati addressing both areas in his new three-round mock.
Defensive end is the first position addressed in the form of Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. McShay then has USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster projected to the Bengals with the No. 41 pick in Round 2. In Round 3, McShay addresses the issue at running back in the form of Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine.
Round 1 (9): Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Round 2 (41): JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
Round 3 (73): Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
Wide receiver is an option for Cincy in Round 1, particularly if they have their choice of Corey Davis and Mike Williams. Under this scenario, Davis came off the board at No. 7 overall, so I opted for Barnett instead. He's terrific at using hands as a pass-rusher, which is part of the reason he posted 52 tackles for loss and 33 sacks in college. Smith Schuster fills the aforementioned WR need, while Perine would give the Bengals some insurance if Giovani Bernard's torn ACL doesn't heal as expected. Jeremy Hill hasn't developed as a No. 1 RB after a promising rookie season.
In 2016, Barnett recorded 13 sacks while breaking Reggie White’s school sack record (totaled 33 while at Tennessee; previous mark was 32). He finished the year with 19 tackles for loss, five pass deflections, one interception, and 56 tackles. That came after he racked up 10 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and 69 tackles in 2015.
In terms of draft rankings, ESPN has Barnett ranked No. 13, JuJu at No. 34 and Perine at No. 78 overall, so each pick is right around where said player is valued.
The 6’3”, 259-pound Barnett will need to bulk up for him to make it in the pros as a 4-3 defensive end, which is why most experts view him as someone that should go in the teens/early 20s of Round 1. He’d be a slight reach at No.9, but he would fill a major hole on the Bengals’ roster.
At wide receiver, Smith-Schuster would fill a need for a big-playmaker at the position. In 2015, he was arguably the best receiver in college football while racking up 89 grabs for 1,454 yards and 10 scores, helping him attain First-Team All-Pac-12 and Second-Team AP All-American honors.
His numbers dipped a bit in 2016 to the tune of 70 catches for 914 yards and 10 more scores, though he was limited at times throughout the season with a back injury. He’d be a great get early in Round 2.
Finally, Perine in Round 3 would be a nice solution to the Bengals’ running back woes. In 36 career college games, Perine ran for 4,122 yards on 685 attempts (6.0 avg.) and 49 touchdowns to go with 40 catches for 321 yards and two scores. He was a bellcow back for his first two years before splitting time with Joe Mixon last season. Mixon is expected to go in the late Round 1/early Round 2 range, which is why Perine hasn’t got nearly as much attention.
Overall, the first pick is a bit of a reach, the second pick is a small steal, and the third pick is fair value that late in the draft, while each selection addresses a need. That’s about the best you can hope for by the time Round 3 has concluded.