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Exploring a controversial direction for the Bengals in the draft

The Bengals might have to put character concerns to the side to come away with some of the draft’s most talented prospects this year.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma Pro Day Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

With 11 total picks and the No. 9 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bengals have multiple directions they could theoretically go in 2017. With so many selections, it might be worthwhile for the team to take risks on players with character concerns early on, still having numerous picks in the later stages of the draft to ensure against the worst case scenario.

The Bengals’ interest in players with character concerns in 2017 is no secret. For example, the Bengals have already met with Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, Louisville linebacker Devonte Fields and Baylor wide receiver Ishmael Zamora. All four players have varying degrees of baggage, but also major football talent. When teams take chances on those players, they could be receiving top-end talents who will stick around as superstars in the NFL for a long time. However, there is also a likelihood they burn out because of off-field issues.

ESPN recently suggested the top players the Bengals should target on each day of the draft, and Foster — who was sent home from the NFL Scouting Combine due to a confrontation with a medical check employee — and Mixon are included.

Cincinnati Bengals

Day 1 (pick No. 9): Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama

The Bengals parted ways with Rey Maualuga and signed linebacker Kevin Minter to a one-year deal. In addition, Vontaze Burfict enters a contract year. Take positional value out of the equation, and Foster is one of the top three pure football players in this class. The old saying is draft to win your division. Inserting Foster in the middle of the defense would make sense in trying to dethrone the Steelers, which includes facing Le'Veon Bell twice a season.

Day 2: Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

Rex Burkhead departed for New England, Jeremy Hill is entering a contract year and Giovani Bernard may not be ready for the start of the 2017 season after suffering a torn ACL in Week 11. The Bengals have shown the willingness to bring in players who come with character baggage. On tape, Mixon is the most complete back in the class and would have a chance to make an instant impact, both as a runner and in the passing game where he is extremely polished.

Day 3: Isaac Asiata, G, Utah

Guard Kevin Zeitler is now in Cleveland and with center Russell Bodine entering a contract year, the need to add depth on the Bengals' interior is there. At 6-foot-3 and 320 pounds, Asiata is a massive and physical interior offensive lineman who has the inline power to fit within Cincinnati's heavy man blocking scheme. Asiata could be an option with one of the Bengals' four picks in the first half of Day 3.

The most eye-catching name on that list is Mixon. While he is clearly one of the upcoming draft’s most talented running backs, if not the most talented, some teams are shying away from him due to a violent incident in 2014 that involved him striking a female student at Oklahoma. After a long wait, the incident came to the forefront again toward the end of 2016 when video of the incident was released. He publicly apologized after the video’s release.

Although that is his most significant character concern, it is not the only one, so even the more forgiving teams are wary of making him the first round selection he would have otherwise been. That is why it could make sense for the Bengals to pick him up in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Investing a first-round pick could be far too risky for a player with his background, even though his talent would warrant it. If the Bengals pick him up in the second round and he pans out, they will prove, once again, why they are known for being so good at finding talent in the draft.

Foster does not have the legal baggage that Mixon has, he was just part of a small Combine incident that prohibited him from sticking around long enough to meet with NFL teams. He is considered the top linebacker talent in this year’s draft, but is that reason enough to pick him up at No. 9 overall? Is his inability to cooperate with Combine medical personnel an indicator that he won’t be able to get along with members of the Bengals’ staff or teammates?

The third player suggested, Isaac Asiata, actually makes a lot of sense for the Bengals and would be a solid addition, especially if the decision makers are serious about improving their running game. With Kevin Zeitler now in Cleveland, Andrew Whitworth now in Los Angeles, and a new look for the Bengals’ offensive line on the horizon, the club absolutely needs to shore up its run blocking if it wants a draftee like Mixon to be successful in Cincinnati. For that reason, a big, flexible, aggressive offensive guard like Asiata would be a great fit.