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Bengals 7-round mock draft: Going against common perceptions

A look at a defense-heavy approach for the Bengals in the 2017 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, mock draft season. I’m self-admittedly not a fan, but I figure it’s time for Mock Draft 1.0. While we’re here, why is it that people think it’s so important to write some form of number after their latest mock draft? People take this stuff seriously.

Anyways, I’m here to reveal 11 picks to you the readers. I’m not perfectly sure there’s a single combination of 11 picks that would satisfy any NFL fan, so rather than focusing on specific players — though I’ve outlined 11 names in this mock draft — I’m more focused on anticipating where in the draft the Bengals will be selecting players at specific positions and what types of players they’ll be looking for at said positions.

But because it’s my own mock draft — Mock Draft 1.0, to be exact — I figure I’d add a little bit of my own personal touch. I hope you enjoy, and just to reiterate, don’t get hung up on the specific players. I’m self-admittedly not too big when it comes to watching college tape and falling in love with certain prospects. There are plenty of people on the internet who do a better job at that than I could.

Round 1: DE Malik McDowell, Michigan State

In this year’s draft, the perception not just among Bengals fans but among people in general, is that because this year’s class is loaded with edge talent and teams with a need on the edge should wait until later rounds to acquire such talent.

To me, this notion has always been troubling. I look back at the loaded 2011 draft class, which featured eight Pro Bowl edge rushers, and think to myself what advantage teams would give themselves by waiting until later rounds to select a player at a position of need. Five of those eight aforementioned Pro Bowlers were selected in the top 16 picks, and some of those picks were surely deemed reaches in real time.

Contrary to popular belief, teams’ objective in the NFL Draft isn’t to gain the most value. Rather, it’s to create a class of prospects who will hopefully come in and contribute for the team, whether for a few years or a decade-plus. If the Bengals “reach” for McDowell here and hit on the pick, no one is going to care about where the end was drafted five years from now.

On that same note, the notion of a player being a “reach” is one of the more problematic concepts in draft talk. If an NFL team believes a player is worth the pick, the player is not a reach. To fans, however, it’s a different story.

Because people see players fall to later rounds in their “Mock Draft 4.0” or whatever, I’m supposed to be frustrated that the team I root for liked a guy and took him where it believed he was of value? I just don’t get it.

To me, McDowell is one of the players with the highest ceilings in this year’s draft class. He has ideal size, freakish athleticism, versatility, strength and potential. He fits what the Bengals look for at defensive end and would give the team flexibility on its defensive line.

Critics in the media have pointed towards a perceived bad work ethic (which seems to be the reason why Bengals fans don’t like him), yet those same people refuse to acknowledge that many prospects, including the revered Solomon Thomas, have that exact same concern. McDowell fits a massive need, offers sky-high potential and could immediately contribute towards the Bengals’ 2017 success. Plug him in.

Round 2: LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

I don’t think people should put a ton of stock into teams’ pre-draft visits, but Cincinnati visiting McMillan just can’t slip my mind. The Bengals obviously attended Ohio State’s pro day, but they also privately met with the former Buckeyes linebacker.

Even though the Bengals signed Kevin Minter and cut Rey Maualuga, I still think the team might like McMillan enough to take him off the board in the second round. McMillan measures similarly to Maualuga, who once upon a time was also a second-rounder, and while having Minter under contract for 2017 is nice, that won’t likely stop the team from selecting a linebacker at some point in this year’s draft. Last year, for instance, the signings of Brandon LaFell and Karlos Dansby didn’t stop Cincinnati from selecting similar players in the second and third rounds of the draft.

Round 3: DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State

Paul Guenther’s remarks on the Bengals’ willingness to look past the team’s prototypical mold at the defensive end position earlier this offseason seem like they aren’t just coach-speak. Cincinnati recently traded for Chris Smith, which just goes to show that the team isn’t just going to roll with the tall, long players at the position like it has done to a certain extent in years past.

While the Smith trade was somewhat insignificant considering the compensation levels on both sides, I still think it’s worth listening to what the Bengals and their inside sources are saying at this time year as opposed to what anonymous scouts and other distant sources are saying.

Guenther’s comments about the defensive end position made Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson certain that Cincinnati would address the position early in the draft, potentially adding two players.

Maybe adding another end this early on in the draft is a bit rich, but Willis was a very productive player at Kansas State and looks like a guy who could potentially compete for snaps early on.

Round 4a: OT Julién Davenport, Bucknell

The 2016 draft class is supposedly very shallow at the offensive tackle position. Even if there wasn’t any uncertainty surrounding Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, Cincinnati still needs a player or two to back up the youngsters. With the loss of Andrew Whitworth, there’s an open position for the taking at offensive tackling, considering Andre Smith is moving inside to guard.

Picking Davenport this early feels too rich, especially for a Bengals team which rarely, if ever, selects players from small schools. But in the draft, teams value offensive tackles much higher than analysts do in their mock drafts. Davenport offers size, elite arm length and a solid physical skill-set, but he needs to develop more from a technical standpoint before he’s offered significant playing time. That being said, the traits are there, and the fourth round isn’t too early for a “project player,” for lack of a better term.

Round 4b: RB D’Onta Foreman, Texas

Foreman might or might not be the guy, but I have a feeling the Bengals’ running back selection will come anywhere between the third and fifth rounds of the draft. If Cincinnati wants said running back to have a prominent role on special teams like the departed Rex Burkhead, Foreman’s likely not going to be the guy. But considering Jeremy Hill’s struggles and the Bengals’ offseason visits, Cincinnati seems like it’s considering a potential complement for, or eventual replacement to, the starter.

While the common consensus among mock drafters has been finding a guy in the mold of a Burkhead or Giovani Bernard rather than another Hill-like power back, I think the Bengals’ MO at the position will remain stagnant. Throughout Andy Dalton’s career, Cincinnati has always seemed to like having two different types of backs in the position group. Bernard was drafted to complement Benjarvus Green-Ellis, and Hill was selected to complement Bernard. Of the two top backs in the system, I think Hill is the player closer to being replaced than Bernard. For that reason, I think the Bengals will take a power back in the middle of this year’s draft.

Round 5a: OG Zach Banner, USC

The Bengals’ strategy in the fifth and sixth rounds has generally been to make sure both offense and defense are being addressed. If Cincinnati goes offense-heavy early, the team generally balances that out with defense, and vice-versa.

To reiterate, I’m really not stuck on specific players in the whole mock drafting process. I’d be lying if I told you I’ve watched more than five minutes of offensive guard tape “in preparation for” this draft. Personally, I don’t see the point in trying to do something (evaluating players on film) others do so well and make publicly available to me and the world.

The Bengals could use another interior offensive lineman with this year’s abundance of picks, and simply due to Banner’s being the best player available (which, again, really doesn’t mean anything at this point in time), I just figured I’d take him.

Round 5b: TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech

People have talked up the edge players, cornerbacks, safeties and running backs in this year’s class, but I think the tight end class is getting slept on. Hodges is an incredibly athletic player and could be a solid addition to Cincinnati’s tight end position group.

Personally, I don’t even think the Bengals need to add another tight end; I just added Hodges to this mock draft because I wanted to be able to talk about how solid this year’s tight end class seems to look.

The team is going to rightfully try to bring Tyler Eifert back on an extension, and it has insurance in C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Kroft should the former first-round pick opt for greener pastures in free agency. I truly believe Uzomah will be a starting-caliber player by the end of the 2017 season, if not earlier, so again, there’s really no need for a tight end here — I just happen to like Hodges and the Bengals have met with him, too.

Round 6a: P Austin Rehkow, Idaho

Many fans want to see the Bengals select a kicker in this year’s draft, but I don’t want that to happen. Recently, there hasn’t seemed to be a discrepancy in ability between kickers selected in the draft versus those signed as undrafted free agents.

At punter, however, things feel different. Last year, three punters (Drew Kaser, Riley Dixon and Lachlan Edwards) were selected in the draft, and from a pure numbers standpoint, all three looked better than Kevin Huber, whose percentages of punts to be downed inside the 20-yard-line and and net average were the lowest they’ve been since 2011. His hang time was also the worst in the NFL.

For a Bengals fanbase that has insisted Adam Jones, who is still a starting-caliber cornerback, should be replaced on the account of his current age and slight decline in play from 2015 to 2016, it’s surprising Huber isn’t on the hot seat among fans.

For what it’s worth, I don’t know everything there is to know about Rehkow or this year’s punting class. I do, however, know that teams who have selected punters in the draft over the past few years have seemed to hit on a more frequent level than those who have selected kickers, and I know that by most accounts, Rehkow is worth a draft selection. In a year where the Bengals have an abundance of picks, why not take a punter to compete with Huber? He could likely be stashed on the practice squad if he doesn’t beat out Huber for the role.

Round 6b: OG Aviante Collins, TCU

Collins was a workout warrior at the Combine, and the Bengals seem to love guys who have strength on the interior. Adding athleticism on the line with a late-round pick couldn’t hurt. In hindsight, maybe a running back would’ve been a better pick here, but Collins seems like a guy who could contribute on special teams, considering his speed and strength, and he’s got that TCU connection with Dalton. That’s enough for me.

Round 7a: S Fish Smithson, Kansas

#WeWantFish.

From a more football-oriented approach, I think the Bengals have a tendency to take special teamers late in the draft, whether it be defensive backs, running backs or wide receivers. And when there’s a guy named Fish Smithson on the board, you take him, plain and simple.

Round 7b: WR Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss

Last year, I had a sneaky feeling the Bengals would take Clayton Fejedelem. I can’t tell you where that feeling came from, or why he was literally the only person I seemed to have this feeling about. This year, Stringfellow is my Fejedelem. I don’t know why it’s Stringfellow, and I don’t know where it is he’ll be drafted (if he even is drafted). What I do know is that I never go against my gut. Maybe I swing and miss here, but if I do, it’s not the end of the world. The Bengals attended his pro day, so, there’s that. And, the Bengals also have a tendency to go after players from the same school in back-to-back years. Cody Core came out of Ole Miss in 2016, so, is Stringfellow next?