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NFL Mock Draft 2017: Bengals upgrade defense in 2-round projection

The Bengals shore up their front seven in the latest mock draft by SB Nation.

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

The NFL Draft can’t get here soon enough. To pass the time, expect to see a lot more mock drafts between now and April 27th, including the latest from SB Nation.

Their new two-round projection has the Bengals going defense with their first two picks.

9. Cincinnati Bengals

1st round (9th overall): Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

2nd round (41st overall): Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

Finally the Bengals have another edge rusher opposite Carlos Dunlap with the addition of Derek Barnett, a polished player who could make his presence felt early. The team also lucks out at the top of the second round by getting the Mike linebacker it needs in the middle of the defense.

Derek Barnett has been one of the most hyped-up players for the Bengals at No. 9, and for good reason. He’s one of the best pass-rushers in this draft, something Cincinnati desperately needs to upgrade within the first two rounds.

Taking Barnett this high is probably a reach since his small frame makes him a questionable fit in a 4-3 defense. If the Bengals really want Barnett, they may be able to trade down in the first round and still get him in the early teens.

In Round 2, the Bengals upgrade their linebacker depth with Florida’s Jarrad Davis. Regarded as one of the top linebackers in this draft, Davis became a full-time starter in 2015 while racking up 94 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one interception.

As a senior in 2016, Davis recorded 60 tackles, six tackles for loss and two sacks while missing five games due to injury. He is projected as a late first-round pick by a lot of mock drafts, so getting him here would be great value for Cincinnati.

Davis would likely be an outside linebacker in Cincinnati’s 4-3 defense, where there could be a major need as early as 2018. That’s when Vontaze Burfict hits free agency, which could leave a major hole on the weakside. There’s also second-year linebacker Nick Vigil projected to start on the strongside this year, though he’s still a big unknown in a full-time role.

But Davis is versatile enough to play in the middle, which could also be useful with projected starter Kevin Minter also hitting free agency in 2018. That’s why having Davis could be very beneficial.

Getting Davis and Barnett would be a great start to the draft for Cincinnati, and it would help make this defense great again sooner rather than later. A big reason why the Bengals made five-straight playoff trips was on the strength of their defense, so getting that unit back to its old self will be key to a rebound season in 2017.