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Mel Kiper Jr. 1st round mock draft has Bengals going defensive tackle

Kiper sees UCONN’s Travis Jones as a fit for Cincinnati.

NFL: Scouting Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A jam-packed week of free agency action is in the books, which has us about a month away from the 2022 NFL Draft.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, three veteran starting offensive linemen added since last Monday has put draft analysts on notice. No longer does Joe Burrow’s protection look so exploitable. That development should change mock drafts going forward.

We’re already seeing that in Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest 1st round mock. Kiper has the Bengals selecting UCONN defensive tackle Travis Jones with the 31st overall pick. Here’s his analysis of the selection:

The Bengals have significantly retooled their offensive line this offseason, adding four new starters in free agency. That takes some of the pressure off Joe Burrow (literally) in Year 3, as he was battered in his first two seasons. The Super Bowl runners-up can now afford to fill a different need with this pick, and I see Jones as a replacement for Larry Ogunjobi, who had a great 2021 season.

Jones is a 325-pound nose tackle with extremely long arms who can controls gaps with his strength. He was impressive at the Senior Bowl in January, boosting his stock into the top 50 picks. He could make sense for a Bengals team that is poised to compete for another AFC North title.

Cincinnati could stand to add another defensive tackle to their roster. Re-signing B.J. Hill gives them a starting 3-technique back in the fold, but they’ve no true backup for him on the roster. D.J. Reader, Josh Tupou, and Tyler Shelvin—all nose tackles—are the only other interior defensive linemen under contract.

Jones might be athletic for his size, but if his NFL projection is that of a nose tackle, he may not make much sense for the current Bengals roster. They could use a pass-rushing threat to go in tandem with Hill, and that seems to be the vision with the team recently hosting free agent Jarran Reed for a visit.

Kiper is on the right track. Defense is the likely route the Bengals go in the first round, with cornerback and defensive tackle being the targeted positions. This won’t be the last mock we see that has the Bengals going in this direction.