After a disappointing 2016 season the Cincinnati Bengals need to find at least one immediate contributor in the 2017 NFL Draft. With the ninth overall selection, they will have an opportunity to draft one of the best players in the draft. With a total of 11 picks, they will have the ability to address multiple needs as the draft goes on. Despite the fact that they lost their two best offensive linemen in free agency, it is unlikely that they will draft an offensive lineman early. Having signed Kevin Minter in free agency, they will likely not put a priority on the linebacker position either.
Cincinnati Bengals 2017 NFL Draft: Top 3 Needs
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins are among the best in the league at their respective positions. While they have both been productive pass rushers, the Bengals did not have a ten-sack player last season. Across from Dunlap the Bengals have Michael Johnson who had 3.5 sacks all of last season. Adding a skilled pass rusher who is good enough against the run to play all three downs would open up more opportunities for both Dunlap and Atkins. A pass rusher who can put up double digit sacks would have a huge impact on the defense moving forward.
While there is a chance that highly acclaimed prospects like Jonathan Allen and Solomon Thomas could be available, the pair are not true edge rushers. Despite being a bit small, Allen’s natural position in the 4-3 defense is inside at three-technique. Thomas would fit best as a 3-4 defensive end. While Allen is one of the best players in the draft, if he or Thomas were acquired the Bengals would need to compliment him with a pass rush specialist. This would likely mean investing more draft capital. For this reason, the best fit for the Bengals with the ninth overall selection would be Derek Barnett. Barnett is a bit undersized, but an exceptional pass rusher who plays well against the run. He has quick hands and outstanding inside and outside pass rush moves. He is good against the run, and has potential to be an elite pass rusher.
As the draft goes on defensive ends have more flaws. Charles Harris could be an excellent addition in the second round. He is extremely quick and has well developed pass rush moves, however he struggles against the run. Ohio’s Tarell Basham and Trey Hendrickson form Florida Atlantic would be good additions who the team may be able to acquire in the third or fourth round.
The Bengals have an issue at running back. Jeremy Hill carried much of the load for the team over the past few seasons while Giovani Bernard has been more involved on passing downs. This set up once worked well, but both backs struggled and ended the season with injuries in 2016.
Cincy will have a chance at drafting one of the top running backs in the first round. Drafting Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, or Joe Mixon would be a large investment and one would expect that making that move would mean they will no longer be a two-man backfield.
Unless one of those four falls into the second round, it is more likely that they wait and take a bruiser in round three or four and a passing down back in round four or beyond. Samaje Perine is an example of a downhill runner who could be acquired in the third or fourth round. Perine is the type who prefers to run over a defender rather than make a move. The team could look back to Bernard’s alma mater to add T.J. Logan as an athletic dual threat back in round five. He also returns kicks, so even if Bernard recovers from ACL surgery he still would provide value.
The Bengals lost two receivers in free agency a year ago and although their production was replaced by Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd, their playmaking ability was not. While the two big physical receivers are both fitting replacements for Mohamed Sanu, the team never really replaced speedster Marvin Jones.
At the top of the draft the Bengals may have an opportunity to select Corey Davis or Mike Williams, but given their need for speed, John Ross may be the better fit. While it is well known that Ross set the NFL Combine 40-yard dash record running a 4.22, most people don’t realize he is a superior route runner with very good hands.
This draft is extremely deep at the wide receiver position. If the Bengals choose to wait until the second round they could acquire East Carolina’s Zay Jones. Jones is a super productive receiver who set the record for most career receptions in FBS history. He is fast and runs a full route tree. In mid rounds they could look to acquire other speedy receivers like Baylor’s KD Cannon, Western Kentucky’s Taywan Taylor, or Grambling’s Chad Williams. If they are looking to acquire a taller deep threat in the mold of Corey Davis, Kenny Golladay from Northern Illinois would be a good option deep in the draft. Like Davis, Golladay has speed and can go up and get the ball but is not as polished a route runner as Davis.
The Bengals will need to make vast improvements in order to get back into the playoffs in 2017. The Bengals generally approach free agency and the draft by making minor adjustments that they expect to have a large impact overtime. This strategy will likely continue. But with the ninth overall selection, the team should be looking to add an impact player. After all, the last top ten pick they had was A.J. Green.