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9 sleeper picks on defense the Bengals could target in the NFL Draft

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The names being kicked around for Cincinnati’s possibilities in the first round, but who are some other under-the-radar players on defense that can help them in the later ones?

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The Cincinnati Bengals need help on both sides of the ball this year. Health was a major factor to a 2-9 finish on the season, but the uncovering of band-aids showed some major wounds on the roster.

This was particularly the case for the defense, who set record marks in futility. Whether it was against the run or pass, many usually-solid players looked lost or disinterested at times for the team.

Much like it is with the label of “value picks”, “sleeper” is a subjective term. Projected round of drafting, being placed on radars because of visits, and other factors provide differing levels of prospect visibility.

Here are some players who could help the Bengals’ defense in the later rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft

Defensive line

The Bengals have acquired some solid talent along the line the past couple years, particularly in the middle rounds, but the defense needs an influx of talent to make a quantum leap from last year’s deplorable rankings. Depending on the type of player profile they covet, there are some hidden gems in this class.

Cortez Broughton, defensive tackle, Cincinnati: The former Bearcat is a guy more in the Geno Atkins mold, who penetrates the backfield often and impacts the passing game. He had 7.5 sacks last year, and a whopping 18.5 tackles for loss.

He’s a developmental guy, but could become a nice rotational piece on rush downs for a club. With Atkins getting up there in age, grooming another defensive tackle who can get into the backfield would be wise.

Albert Huggins, defensive tackle, Clemson: Lost in the formidable Tigers defensive line group comprised of Clellin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins is Huggins. He isn’t the pass-rush threat that Ferrell or Wilkins are, but could become a solid NFL player.

He’s more of the run-stopping variety, which is okay for the Bengals, who were 29th on defense in that category last year. Cincinnati has traditionally liked to use mid and late-round picks on interior linemen, so Huggins can fit the profile. But, while Huggins shined for Lawrence during his suspension, questions linger about the impact of surrounding help on his numbers.

Justin Hollins, edge, Oregon: Hollins is more of a 3-4 build (248 pounds at the Combine), but could find a niche as a rotational edge player for Cincinnati. Hollins has the build and athleticism NFL teams love from outside rushers, but his college numbers don’t really back up the potential (just 11 sacks combined the past two seasons).

He is a stark contrast from the builds of the ends Marvin Lewis collected over the years, but could be a nice complementary piece to guys like Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson. The futures of both Michael Johnson (free agent) and Jordan Willis (underachievement) with the Bengals are cloudy, so the door might be open for a late pick like Hollins.

Maxx Crosby, edge, Eastern Michigan: This is another player a recent OBI listener turned us on to, and he has the tools to again be a rotational contributor at the next level. Kyle Crabbs over at The Draft Network likes some of his technique and potential, but notes that Crosby is a guy who needs to develop strength for the next level. Whether that’s for finishing plays or shedding blocks, it’s a must that he adds some bulk to his 6’5” frame.

Linebacker

The Bengals seemingly shored up their inside linebacker position with their re-signing of Preston Brown, but a lack of other signings and their release of Vontaze Burfict a couple of weeks ago leaves more questions. They need guys who can play in space and defend the pass, but the group was deplorable against the run as well.

While most mock drafts have the Bengals going with one of “the Devin’s” at No. 11, there are other viable options if they don’t, or decide to double-dip.

Cody Barton, Utah: Despite their improvement in their draft hauls during the Marvin Lewis era from the one that preceded it, the Bengals still often tip their hand on some of their strategies. Cincinnati has shown interest in Barton by keeping close tabs on him at his recent Pro Day, so we decided to place him on this list.

He had some great workout numbers and could be an interesting prospect on day three for a team that needs athletic linebackers. Barton is kind of known as a jack-of-all-trades after a solid statistical senior season.

Cameron Smith, USC: Smith was a guy who was supposed to be the next in a line of great Trojan linebackers, but it never fully came to fruition. He did become a pretty solid college player, but a lack of big plays after his freshman year, and not truly living up to expectations has hurt his draft stock.

He should be a pretty good pro inside linebacker, too. Smith will truly shine with a good defensive line in front of him, which would allow him to use his sound instincts to be omnipresent around the football. He’ll probably be selected in rounds three or four.

Joe Giles-Harris, Duke: This kid fills the checklist of the traditional Bengals linebacker. More of a run-stopping thumper who is limited in pass coverage, Giles-Harris could still give the Bengals depth at their weakest group.

He’s known as having a high football I.Q. though, so what he lacks in overall athleticism is made up by his diagnosing of plays. That only gets you so far in the NFL, though.

Secondary

David Long, cornerback, Michigan: The last time the Bengals grabbed a high-profile corner from the Wolverines, it worked out pretty well in the form of Leon Hall. Long isn’t the talent that Hall was, but does have some similarities in being physical and being a press coverage defensive back.

He ran pretty well at the Combine with a 4.45 40-yard dash time, but his size and length brings worries. He could be a good third or fourth corner for a team early in his career and should be a third or fourth-round pick.

Sheldrick Redwine, safety, Miami: People like what this kid brings from a versatility and skill set standpoint. He had three interceptions last year, showing off his former cornerback abilities as a safety.

Because of the transition, there is more needed development from the standpoint of diagnosing plays and not getting lost in complicated looks from an offense. Still, as a mid-round guy, he has a lot of tools to become a solid NFL starter after he gets some pro experience under his belt.

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