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Bengals among best NFL fits for Derek Barnett

Cincinnati needs more pass-rushers, and Derek Barnett is one of the best in this draft at pressuring opposing quarterbacks.

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NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Much of this offseason has been dedicated to discussing ways for the Bengals to upgrade their enigmatic pass rush.

That didn’t happen in free agency, and a trade for career backup Chris Smith doesn’t move the needle for what became a weakness for this team in 2016. However, there’s still plenty of opportunities to upgrade this area through the NFL Draft.

It could come as early as Round 1 when the Bengals are set to be on the clock at pick No. 9. We’ve seen names like Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Alabama’s Jonathan Allen mentioned here, but it’s more likely than not that both guys are off-the-board when Cincinnati is on the clock.

However, one guy widely expected to be available at No. 9 is Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett. He’s easily one of the two or three best pass-rushers in this draft, and he’d be an instant upgrade in this regard for Cincinnati.

It just so happens that Pro Football Focus thinks the Bengals are among the best NFL fits for Barnett, and for good reason:

Michael Johnson is on his last leg as a starter in the NFL. Last season, his 6.9 pass-rushing productivity mark was 38th among 53 qualifying 4-3 defensive ends. That’s not going to get it done much longer for a defense that took a considerable step back in 2016. While the Bengals seem to have a type at defensive end that is much taller and longer than Barnett, there’s likely no edge player with those traits that makes sense at the ninth-overall pick. The Bengals could use help at all three levels of their defense, but at the moment, pass rush is the most pressing.

The other fits PFF mentions are the Panthers and Ravens. It’s actually Carolina who will get a better shot at Barnett since they hold the No. 8 pick, and they certainly need more pass-rushers.

However, most experts are projecting Barnett to be drafted in the 12-20 range, which means pick No. 9 would be a bit of a reach. Then again, selecting Barnett is probably the easiest way to upgrade the pass rush at No. 9, so you can’t blame the Bengals if the club decides to take him there.

Ideally, if the Bengals really want Barnett, they’ll find a way to trade down, accumulate more picks, and then take him in the middle part of Round 1. There’s been a lot of talk that the Browns could move up from No. 12 back into the top 10 to draft a quarterback, so perhaps the Bengals make a deal that gives them more picks and a chance to get Barnett at a spot of better value.

There’s also a chance that Cincinnati takes someone like Michigan’s Taco Charlton or UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley at No. 9 instead. Still, I think Barnett has a much higher chance of being who the Bengals draft first this year.