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NFL Mock Draft 2017: How Bengals can win or lose this draft

Is Derek Barnett the key to the Bengals winning this draft?

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

We’re now less than two weeks away from the 2017 NFL Draft.

At the moment, defense seems to be the favorite for which side of the ball Cincinnati address with the No. 9 pick. Ideally, the Bengals will find a way to land an impact pass-rusher in Round 1, and that’s what SB Nation’s latest mock has occurring.

It comes with a familiar name in Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett:

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

The Bengals have taken an SEC player in 19 consecutive drafts, the most of any team in the NFL. They could push the streak to 20 in the first round with Barnett, an ultra-productive pass rusher who had 33 sacks in three years at Tennessee.

While most experts project Barnett to be drafted in the teens or early 20s, he’s one of the few players Cincinnati could take at No. 9 who would easily make a major impact right away. Guys like Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker and Alabama tight end O.J. Howard offer better value here, but their biggest contributions would come in future seasons.

Barnett would immediately upgrade this struggling pass rush and possibly even start as a rookie. Still, taking a guy like Barnett this high doesn’t jive with the Bengals’ draft trends, so I don’t think he’ll be the pick at No. 9.

In a separate article, SB Nation did a breakdown of how all 32 NFL teams and win or lose this draft in terms of their first two picks. For the Bengals, it came with Barnett being the No. 9 pick, as well as Washington wide receiver John Ross being the No. 41 pick.

Cincinnati Bengals A Draft:

1(9): Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

2(41): John Ross, WR, Washington

F Draft:

1(9): John Ross, WR, Washington

2(41): Sidney Jones, CB, Washington

The Bengals pad both sides of the ball with explosive athletes, though hoping Ross falls this far after setting the combine’s 40-yard dash record may be excessive. Picking up him at No. 9 could ultimately work out, but it’s high for a team whose biggest need is defensive end. Jones is an excellent player, but questions surround him after he tore his Achilles during the Huskies’ pro day.

While Barnett would be a slight reach at No. 9, Ross would be a major steal at No. 41, being that almost every expert has him projected as a mid-first-round selection.

Ross, who caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, has been one of the most explosive players in college football...when healthy. Problem is, Ross underwent shoulder surgery on March 14, which could keep him sidelined into training camp with whichever team drafts him. He also missed the 2015 season at Washington after suffering a torn ACL during a spring practice earlier that year, so he’s already pretty banged up coming into the NFL.

That’s why what normally would be a top-10 talent could actually fall into the early part of Round 2. We saw it last year with top-10 talents like Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack fall into Round 2, so it’s no out of the question that Ross could be there for Cincinnati to scoop up at No. 41.

However, taking him at No. 9 would be a massive gamble, which is why SB Nation gave the Bengals an ‘F’ if they take him that high. That projection also includes Washington corner Sidney Jones, who tore his Achilles at his pro day, being the pick at No. 41. Taking two injury-risk prospects with their first two picks would be so like the Bengals a bad play for a Bengals team that needs instant-impact guys now.

Jones is a great cornerback prospect with a bright future ahead of him once he heals, but the Bengals don’t need any more corners, not to mention guys who probably won’t play much, if at all in 2017.

Do you agree with this assessment of what an ‘A’ and ‘F’ draft for the Bengals would look like?