We've finally made it to draft week. Most of you are probably tired of mock drafts that don't make sense and smokescreens that make too much sense. If you're a fan who loves the draft, if you like watching the college tape and formulating your own opinion, or maybe if you just love the Cincinnati Bengals and can't wait to see who they add this weekend, this is an exciting time.
For me, I like to think I’m all three of those things. I eat up everything Bengals related, watch hours of tape and love the draft buzz. As I've grown, I have acquired contacts, resources and experience that allow me to put together the draft puzzle in a clearer way. So, this is everything I've read, heard, watched, gathered and deduced on the Bengals and their 2017 NFL Draft plans.
- The Bengals want to draft a defensive end with the ninth pick. Understanding that most great edge rushers are drafted in the first round and that they haven't added a premium talent to their defensive line in the Marvin Lewis era, this is a great time to do so. Here's the catch -- because this DE class is loaded, there's going to be similar talent at nine as their will be at pick 41. Do they take the top of the second tier at pick No. 9? Or do they wait and see what's left in the second round? I think they take the defensive end at nine and I think that will be Tennessee's Derek Barnett. I'm not the biggest fan of Barnett, but I think he fits what the Bengals typically look for in a high draft pick: production at a big school.
- Rumors and reports say that Stanford's Solomon Thomas isn't the top five pick we all thought and is more likely to go between 8-16. So where does that leave the Bengals at nine? I think Solomon Thomas is an elite prospect in this class and I think he's the best fit for the Bengals. I also think he's very high on their board. They love a defensive end who can kick inside and play defensive tackle in nickel and that's exactly how Thomas will wreck the NFL. He's a good run defender from the defensive end spot and when he slides inside to tackle, he's too quick and explosive for interior offensive lineman. His athletic profile says he could end up being an elite edge rusher, but if not, he should be a dominant inside presence next to Geno Atkins. If the Bengals pick him at nine, I'll do cartwheels.
- Staying at defensive end, rumors and reports say there are multiple teams with top-15 grades on Missouri's Charles Harris. Could the Bengals be one of them? I think so. When you look at what they need at defensive end, it's a speed/finesse edge rusher who has experience on the right side. That cuts down half of the potential prospects and at the top of the list is Harris and Barnett. Neither tested as well as you'd like at the Combine, but Harris improved on those numbers at his pro day; Barnett did not. What is Harris? He's an athletic, finesse rusher who wins with counter-inside moves. Think of an outside jab-step and a swim back inside after the offensive tackle steps wide. Think of Dwight Freeney's inside spin move; Harris killed linemen with that. He's not great against the run, but he would have time to develop as he splits time with Michael Johnson. I think Barnett would have to be gone (Panthers at No. 8) before the Bengals take Harris, but I don't think it's out of the question. If they leave round one without a defensive end, I think they'll have a high grade on Texas A&M's Daeshon Hall.
- One last thing at defensive end, have you seen Justis Mosqueda's Force Players? This is about the most important analytical piece you'll read on edge rushers this draft season. It has a high rate of predicting who the elite pass rushers will be from each draft class and there's seven guys in this year's pool of prospects.
- Now, what would sway them away from taking a defensive end with the ninth pick? I think they love O.J. Howard, the tight end from Alabama. He blew up the combine and is one of the very few elite prospects who could be available for the Bengals at nine. With Eifert's health in continual question, Howard would be an insurance pick, but also help mask the offensive lines woes we all expect in 2017. He's a good blocker and an athlete. He opens up their options with the run game and will allow them to move around Eifert. The combination of the two of them could prolong Eifert's career as he should be able to split out and play from the slot more often. Howard is the better blocker and Eifert would be the better receiver. Things could be fun with that tandem.
- I think the Bengals like both Corey Davis and John Ross at wide receiver. Without clean medicals, they won't pick them in the top 10, but Tony Pauline reports that the Bengals did give Ross a clean bill of health. This is a key step in deciding when to draft him. Recent rumors and reports put Corey Davis in the 16-32 range and John Ross in the 10-40 range. There's a chance these two could be drafted closer to pick 41 than pick nine. Ross' medical history is extensive and scary, but he could be worth the risk, even at nine. The Bengals liked Will Fuller last year and would have picked him, and Ross blows Fuller away as a prospect. He could be the pick at nine. Others that fit what they want at receiver? Josh Reynolds, Taywan Taylor, Carlos Henderson and Chad Hansen. Those guys are likely to be drafted in rounds three and four. That’s also where I think the Bengals ultimately draft a receiver.
- Another offensive player I think the Bengals love is LSU's Leonard Fournette, but I doubt he makes it to them at nine. If he did, the Bengals would be willing to completely change their offensive system to accommodate Fournette's skillset. Currently, he doesn't fit what the Bengals run; they're a shotgun, zone-running team and that is exactly where Fournette struggles. On paper, he doesn't fit at all, but it sounds like they'd be willing to remold their offense to fit Fournette, hide their OL and limit how much they ask of Andy Dalton.
- Speaking of limiting their offense and hiding their line, I think the Bengals target a running back early in the draft and I think the player they want is Oklahoma's Joe Mixon with the 41st pick. They've done their homework and it sounds like they have the approval of decision-makers to select Mixon and deal with the media circus that follows. On tape, Mixon is an elite prospect. He's athletic, fast, elusive, breaks tackles and is a fantastic receiving back. If he was completely clean, I'd want him with the ninth pick. Off-the-field, his history may be a bit murkier and deeper than what most fans have read/watched. If the Bengals don't get Joe Mixon, I think their fallback option is Tennessee's Alvin Kamara. He's similar to Mixon in play-style and tested incredibly well at the combine. Kamara is elusive and effective in the passing game. He'd be a great fit.
- The wildcard here is Florida State's Dalvin Cook. He was once thought of as a top-15 pick, but injuries, character history and a poor combine crushed his draft stock and I now expect him to be drafted between 25 and 45. On tape, he was very good, ran behind a horrific offensive line and had the versatility and speed to break off huge runs. His athletic profile puts history against him and now you have to debate on great tape vs poor measurables.
- What other runners fit exactly what the Bengals do? Toledo's Kareem Hunt and Oklahoma's Samaje Perine. Both are experienced running from the shotgun and in a zone running system. Both can catch, make defenders miss and break tackles. They're each on the short side, but with their bulk, they could handle the load and mix with Gio Bernard very well. They look like options for the third round. Another player I think they'll target is Ohio State's Curtis Samuel. He fits as a RB and speed WR. He's sort of a mix between Tyreek Hill, Percy Harvin and Andrew Hawkins. Adding a weapon and drafting a RB/WR in one shot could be enticing for the Bengals.
- Recent rumors and reports say that Alabama's Reuben Foster will be available in the second round after a diluted drug test at the combine, reports of him loving the party life and some scares of his injury history. He was probably the most often mocked player to the Bengals this draft season, but I don't think he was ever high on their board, even if they loved the way he played. Most of his red flags have come to light recently and killed the option of picking him at nine. On-the-field, he's one of the most fun players to watch and if he's available at pick 41 and the Bengals have missed out on Joe Mixon, I think they'll consider Foster among the other prospects who end up falling from round one.
It's up to us to pick and choose which draft rumors and reports we take as fact and I urge you to do the same with this. Maybe I'm not reading the tea leaves correctly and maybe I've been given bad information, but I wanted to share it with the community and then sit back and enjoy the show this weekend.