We’re one week away from the start of the 2017 NFL Draft.
That means we’ll only have a limited number of mock drafts to put up with, but for now, the latest from ESPN’s Mel Kiper projected the first three rounds for all 32 NFL teams. When it came to the Bengals, Kiper gave them a new name at No. 9 in Temple pass-rusher Haason Reddick. That was followed by Michigan defensive lineman Chris Wormley in Round 2, then USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in Round 3.
Round 1 (9): Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
Round 2 (41): Chris Wormley, DT, Michigan
Round 3 (73): JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
I could see the Bengals going with a pass-rusher or receiver on Day 1, but I'm going with Reddick, who could play outside or inside in the Bengals' 4-3. A former walk-on, Reddick had a great Senior Bowl week and tremendous combine, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him go in the top 10. Cincinnati brought in Kevin Minter in free agency, so Reddick probably would slot outside. Wormley brings some pass-rushing skills from the interior and had six sacks last season. Smith-Schuster didn't have the senior season I thought he might (70 catches, 10 touchdowns), but he qualifies as a steal here in a deep receiving class.
This past season, Reddick finished third in the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss while leading the Owls with 9.5 sacks to go with 65 total tackles and three forced fumbles. Those are great numbers, but playing for a team in the AAC helped lead to Reddick flying under the radar coming into the Scouting Combine in February, but that’s no longer the case.
There may not have been a bigger winner at the combine than Reddick, who had the fastest 40-yard dash time of every defensive lineman with a 4.52 second time, which was also the second fastest time for all linemen and linebackers. He had the sixth-best vertical jump of all linebackers and defensive linemen at 36.5 inches. He also recorded the top broad jump at 11’1”, a record for defensive linemen at the combine.
That performance has had Reddick consistently in consideration for a first-round pick in nearly every mock draft since, but very few have had him going No. 9 to Cincinnati. There’s some thought he can bulk up and play defensive end in the NFL, though he’ll likely stick to linebacker.
As for 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. 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, and it’s not like the Bengals need more interior defensive linemen if that’s what he ends up playing.
And finally, Smith-Schuster would fill a major need for a playmaker at receiver for Cincinnati outside of A.J. Green. In 2015, Smith-Schuster 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, let alone in Round 3.
All in all, this three-man class would upgrade the Bengals’ defense while giving the offense another explosive playmaker. That’s all ideally what Cincinnati will have done by the time Round 3 concludes.