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Addition of Derek Barnett would instantly boost Bengals’ defense

The Bengals have a lot of options with the No. 9 overall pick, but none of those options are better than what the former Volunteer could bring to the Cincinnati defense.

Tennessee v Texas A&M Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Bengals are in an interesting position for the 2017 NFL Draft. For only the fourth time in the last 13 years, the team will enjoy the bittersweet luxury of having a top 10 overall pick in the Draft. The Bengals had to suffer through a rough 2016 season to acquire that pick, but now they look ready to patch up their roster and hope for better results in 2017. For that reason, it is crucial that the club takes advantage of its draft positioning and uses the pick on the best possible player.

The Bengals have a particularly pressing need at defensive end. Top defensive end prospects like Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas are virtually guaranteed to be off the board by the time the Bengals pick at No. 9, although they are the only defensive ends expected to be taken that early. That leaves Taco Charlton, Derek Barnett, Takkarist McKinley and Tim Williams for the Bengals to consider, based on most consensus top ranked defensive end rankings. I would personally cast my vote for Barnett as being the best fit for the Bengals with the No. 9 pick.

While it is tough to find two scouts who agree on Barnett, he is a playmaking, athletic defensive end with a vicious punch, elite vision and awareness, and positional fluidity that allows him to thrive in every situation. Unfortunately, some questions about his slow starts and lack of pre-snap discipline show clear weaknesses that will more than likely scare off teams with top five picks.

The Bengals won’t have access to top five prospects, so they will be doing their research on Barnett. That includes attending his pro day last week and sending both defensive line coach Jacob Burney and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to his pro day. With a 32 1/8 inch arm span, Barnett’s length could and has been argued to flag him more as a 3-4 outside linebacker at the NFL level. The Bengals use a 4-3 defense, in which they’d want to use him as a defensive end, but one way or the other, his incredible pass rush ability should translate to great things for the Bengals’ defense.

At this point, it seems that Michael Johnson’s future with the Bengals is limited if he does not improve from his recent form. Furthermore, the Bengals officially ended the Margus Hunt experiment this offseason, allowing him to sign with the Indianapolis Colts. If the Bengals play their cards right, they can bring Barnett in to fill Hunt’s vacant backup role while bringing him along to replace Johnson, who can be easily released as early as 2018.

Selecting Barnett would be a bit of a gamble for a Bengals team that would prefer to have a longer player who can sit farther out on the defensive line. But, with both of the top two defensive end prospects likely out of the Bengals’ reach and a need for an injection of talent at the position, it seems like a risk worth taking. A combination of Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Derek Barnett on the same defensive line could turn out to be one of the most dangerous attacks in the NFL. If Andrew Billings reaches the potential thought possible of him, the Bengals’ defensive line could really be scary and would immediately put every quarterback in the AFC North (outside of Cincinnati) on notice.