Now that the combine has come and gone, who should be the top targets for the Bengals with the ninth overall selection? Top draft prospect Myles Garrett from Texas A&M will be gone within ten minutes of the draft, but the remaining seven picks before the Bengals are on the clock with the ninth selection are up for speculation. In the course of those picks, there are bound to be a couple of players taken who are not a good positional fit for the Bengals (such as a quarterback). It is likely that at least two or three of these four potential targets will be available options for the Bengals at nine.
Although he doesn’t have the physical attributes of Garrett, Tennessee’s Derek Barnett may be the best pass rusher in the draft. He is excellent at getting off the ball and has extremely fast hands which allow him to effectively use his pass rush moves. Not merely a pass rush specialist, Barnett played effectively against the run as well, but he will need to continue to improve in this area. At 6’3” 259, Barnett does not look like most of the Bengals’ defensive ends, but to improve their pass rush, they may need to add a different body type across from Carlos Dunlap.
Some would look to the signing of Kevin Minter and say that they Bengals likely won’t take a linebacker in the first round, but Minter only signed a one-year contract. Rueben Foster for from Alabama looks like he could be the best linebacker the Bengals have had since Takeo Spikes and the best backer Marvin Lewis has coached since Ray Lewis. Foster fits the size and attitude profile the Bengals look for in a linebacker and would be a significant speed increase for their defense. He is a heavy hitter who makes plays all over the field.
Clemson’s Mike Williams is an excellent red zone target, but the Bengals already have similar receivers. Western Michigan’s Corey Davis has been compared to A.J. Green, but the Bengals have the original A.J. Green. Ross would give the Bengals something they don’t have, a replacement for the speed they lost when Marvin Jones left for Detroit a year ago. Ross is not as well developed as Davis and Williams and will need to work hard to be highly successful in the NFL, but his excellent hands and lightning speed will allow him to make an impact as a rookie.
LSU’s Leonard Fournette will likely be off the board before the Bengals are on the clock, but even if he was there Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is a better pick. Although Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook are both incredibly talented, McCaffrey is a much faster, more dynamic, and more versatile playmaker. McCaffrey can line up anywhere and has the skill set to do whatever he is asked to do. He can create mismatches in the passing game solving the Bengals’ speed receiver problem as well as their need for a running back.
Alabama’s Jonathan Allen is one of the best players in this draft, but his real position is three-technique, not a defensive end. The same can be said for Michigan State’s Malik McDowell. Arguably the best player on the Bengals’ defense is their three-technique Gino Atkins, so drafting another does not help the team to improve. Similarly O.J. Howard is not on this list because the Bengals already have Tyler Eifert at tight end.
Solomon Thomas, the defensive end from Stanford, will likely not make it to this pick. Even if he did, as a steady player he may not give the Bengals quite the pass rush boost they are looking for. Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton would be a bit of a stretch this early in the draft. As would Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp, Alabama’s Cam Robinson, or Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk or any other offensive linemen.
LSU’s Jamal Adams and Ohio State’s Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore will likely be off the board by this time. There are many other talented defensive backs who will be available, but the Bengals have no business drafting a defensive back in the first round this year. They currently have three first-round corners on the roster, and their safety play improved as the year went on. At 6-9-1 a team does not have the luxury or drafting the best available player.
With their first round pick, the Bengals need to acquire an immediate impact player who can help them break out of last year’s slump. The four players mentioned above all have the ability to be difference makers for Cincinnati next season and for years to come. Barnett could be an elite pass rusher. Foster is a heavy-hitting linebacker who makes plays all over the field. Davis has the elite speed the likes of which the Bengals’ offense has never seen. McCaffrey is a new-age versatile running back who makes plays in many different ways. All four could play a huge part in getting the Bengals back to the playoffs.