The 2018 NFL Draft is now three weeks away from kicking off.
Thanks to a very productive offseason, the Bengals will have plenty of flexibility early in the draft, giving them a great opportunity to draft the best player available and not be forced into taking a player at a position of need.
But with the 21st overall pick, the best player available may still end up being at a position the Bengals need to shore up early in this draft. That’s what happens in ESPN’s duel mock draft between Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, as both draft gurus have Cincinnati taking a linebacker:
Kiper: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
The versatile Vander Esch is surging. The Bengals added middle linebacker Preston Brown in free agency, but it’s a one-year deal.
McShay: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Evans is a stud. Vontaze Burfict’s four-game suspension makes linebacker more of a need for Cincy.
Leighton Vander Esch is an athletic freak that was productive in a smaller conference, so there’s concern as to whether that will translate into the NFL. The 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year totaled 141 tackles, 8.5 for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups, and four forced fumbles this past season.
Rashaan Evans is more of a safer pick after being an All-SEC performer at Alabama. This past year, Evans started 12 games and recorded 74 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks. Esch’s insane athleticism help give him a higher ceiling than Evans, but the latter is probably more of a sure thing in the pros.
When the Bengals go on the clock in Round 2 of this mock, Kiper has the Bengals getting a defensive tackle, while McShay thinks they finally upgrade the center position.
46. Cincinnati Bengals
Kiper: Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford
Geno Atkins is under contract for only one more season, and the Bengals need depth at the interior of their defense.
McShay: Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State
Price tore his left biceps at the combine but should be back in time for offseason workouts. He’ll help add depth to a Bengals offensive line in need of some.
Harrison Phillips may be an interior lineman, but he still put up absurd numbers from his spot, racking up 103 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles as a junior in 2017 before declaring for the draft.
You know all about Billy Price, who some consider the top center in this year’s draft, but a torn pectoral muscle could lead to him falling to the Bengals in Round 2.
While Phillips could help prevent defensive tackle from becoming a weakness in 2019 if Geno Atkins leaves in free agency, the Bengals will get a bigger instant upgrade if they take Price, as center is clearly the biggest area of need right now.
Which mock draft do you like more?
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