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ESPN 2018 NFL Mock Draft brings awareness to potential big need for Bengals

This isn’t a position of need in 2017, but it may quickly become one over the next two years.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never too early for a 2018 NFL Mock Draft, which is what ESPN’s Todd McShay just released.

The semi-good news is that McShay has the Bengals drafting at the No. 16 spot, which means he sees a nice win increase for Cincinnati this coming season. The bad news is that’s still in the non-playoff team range, and it’s a selection that addresses a position that doesn’t need any more bodies, at least this season.

16. Cincinnati Bengals

Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

Hurst has started just four games at Michigan, but I love what I've seen on tape so far. He was frequently Michigan's best defensive lineman during the games I studied. And remember: That group just had three D-linemen selected in the 2017 draft.

The irony here is the Bengals just drafted a Michigan defensive tackle in Ryan Glasgow, who looks like a very promising prospect in this defense. He’s also joined by All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, as well as a promising talent in Andrew Billings.

There’s also proven veterans in Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson, though both of them hit free agency in 2018, so there could be a need for depth here next year.

Atkins also becomes a free agent in 2019 when he’ll be 31-years-old, so it may actually be a smart play to draft another defensive tackle high in next year’s draft. There’s a decent chance Thompson and Sims will be elsewhere next year, and Billings has yet to play an NFL snap. That’s why taking Hurst in Round 1 makes a lot more sense than we realize.

Hurst had a promising 2016 season with 34 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries in 12 games. He actually considered declaring for the draft this year, but he ultimately returned for what will be his redshirt senior season in 2017.

The 6’2”, 282-pound Hurst recorded 35 tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss through 13 games in 2015. He’s a bit undersized for a defensive tackle in the pros, but so was Atkins, and he turned out ok.

All said, 2018 mock drafts are just means of filling blank space right now, but this does bring caution as to what the Bengals’ future at defensive tackle may look like.