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Christian McCaffrey makes sense for the Bengals at No. 9

One of the most talked-about prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft is continuing to gain momentum.

Rice v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

After a rough 2016 season, the Cincinnati Bengals have the good fortune of being in possession of the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The possibilities for the pick are virtually endless, save for the eight players who will be taken ahead of the Bengals, as it is very unlikely the Bengals would trade up, given their history.

However, that leaves the entire rest of the 2017 draft class for the Bengals to consider. That is a lot of pressure to get the pick right, but it is also a great opportunity for the Bengals to find a great player with the pick. One player who might fit that bill is Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been climbing in the eyes of many draft experts and, lately, has been considered a potential top-10 pick.

It is no secret that the Bengals’ running back position needs some work. With 2016 breakout star Rex Burkhead now with the New England Patriots, the Bengals’ current running back corps consists of Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and Cedric Peerman. Bernard is a solid running back, although he has had issues staying healthy over the years.

Hill has flashed potential over the years, but he has had generally poor production over the last two seasons, potentially prompting the Bengals to move on from him at the end of his contract in 2017. Peerman is a 30-year old career third string running back. Although he is the special teams captain and a special teams Pro Bowler, his career should be winding down soon, so there is virtually no chance he will be able to leapfrog Hill on the depth chart.

Clearly, the Bengals need to inject some talent into their running back corps. Even if Bernard is still a viable, talented player, he functions best in a complementary role. That is where a top running back prospect like McCaffrey comes into play. He can play the complementary role, but he can also be a workhorse if need be.

Receiving comparisons to Tiki Barber, there are some questions about McCaffrey’s 5’11, 202-pound frame. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that he regularly displays great footwork, agility, and vision when carrying the ball. Although he can regularly break into open space, he never stops looking for an angle to take, making defenders miss tackles at every point during the play. His small stature might be a black mark for some teams, but it can also allow him to maneuver a defense with ease.

Unfortunately, in addition to questions about his size, there are questions about his exposure in college. Running backs typically have a very clear expiration date in the NFL due to the amount of work they are asked to do, and McCaffrey already logged a huge number of touches in college. He is used to having great blockers in front of him and tends to shy away from contact.

However, in a one-two punch system like the Bengals would surely utilize, most of the negative observations about McCaffrey won’t mean much. With a team like the Bengals, assuming they also make a concerted effort to build the offensive line, McCaffrey could thrive as a 240-260 touch weapon while Bernard takes roughly 200-220.

There are those who have criticized draft analysts for considering McCaffrey a top-10 pick. With Leonard Fournette also considered a top-10 pick, it seems crazy to think there are two running backs who could be taken in the top-10, especially when McCaffrey already has a significant amount of wear on his tires. But, you can’t deny that he could be a very dangerous weapon in the right system.

At the end of the day, the Bengals are at their best when they have multiple high-profile weapons on the field. They could go with a few other top offensive weapons in this year’s draft to put the team back in good standing, but McCaffrey provides so much potential talent. There is virtually no chance he will fall to the Bengals’ second-round pick, so this could simply be a question of ‘best player available.’

If he is the player the Bengals consider the best available at No. 9, they will definitely select him, and it would be very difficult to argue against it.