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Mel Kiper’s final mock draft has Bengals getting a steal

Could the highly-rated pass-rusher fall to 31?

Draft day is finally here. We’re hours away from the festivities kicking off in Las Vegas, so now’s the time for any final mock drafts to surface.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. unveiled his final predictive first round mock this morning, and the Cincinnati Bengals ended up with one of the best pass-rushers in this year’s class, George Karlaftis.

Kiper originally wanted to give tight end Trey McBride to Cincinnati, but Karlaftis basically ended up as the best player available.

This pick was a late scratch, as I wanted to give the Bengals a top tight end in Trey McBride after they lost C.J. Uzomah in free agency. This is a little high for McBride, though, and the Bengals could get a tight end on Day 2. Cincinnati plays in a conference with great quarterbacks, and the value for Karlaftis is high here. He could be a rotational edge rusher in Year 1 as he grows into a starting spot.

Karlaftis has been a topic of conversation lately as media circles have gotten word that the NFL isn’t as high on him compared to other experts and analysts. He’s the 18th ranked player on Arif Hasan’s consensus big board, which is a conglomeration of 82 boards, but rumors say he could fall out of the first round altogether.

In this scenario, it’s hard to see Karlaftis lasting past the Bengals’ pick at 31st overall. Kaiir Elam and Devonte Wyatt, two of the Bengals’ top targets, were both picked in the 20s, so that would definitely clear the way for Karlaftis to get the call from Cincinnati. Kiper did not have cornerbacks Andrew Booth, Kyler Gordon, and center Tyler Linderbaum picked.

Not only is Karlaftis a young and productive pass-rusher with an all-around solid athletic profile, he played college football at the school where Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo coached from 2004-2011. Odds are Anarumo still has strong connections to the program, so he probably received solid intel on Karlaftis.

Defense is the way the Bengals will likely when they’re on the clock, assuming they won’t trade back into the second round. Karlaftis would be a home run of a selection if they stayed put.