My final mock draft will come out later this week. I'll try to predict what the Bengals will do. This article is what I would do on the first two days of the draft. Check out who I want the Bengals to select in the first three rounds below.
First round, ninth pick: John Ross, Wide Receiver, Washington – This pick makes too much sense for the Bengals. Yes, they need a pass rusher. They also have 10 more picks to address that need. There isn’t another player in this draft that can do what Ross does. He’s not only the fastest player in NFL Combine history, he’s a polished route runner. Adding a player like Ross would help Andy Dalton and the young offensive line. He has the ability to get open quickly, which will allow Dalton to get rid of the ball sooner than he did in 2016. One report says the Bengals feel like their offense would be “unstoppable” with Ross If that’s the case, then they should take him. Last year they would’ve drafted Will Fuller in round one. Houston selected him before the Bengals could. Ross is a much better player than Fuller. Some are concerned by his injury history, but he reportedly received a clean bill of health from the Bengals.
Instead of drafting Leonard Fournette, Derek Barnett or O.J. Howard, the Bengals should take Ross. There’s a clear drop off at wide receiver after Corey Davis, Mike Williams and Ross. They like Ross the most out of the three. This class is deep at running back, tight end and pass rusher. They’ll be able to find a comparable running back later in the draft. They can find a pass rusher that projects to have a similar career to Barnett in rounds 2-3. Howard could be great, but so could a bunch of other tight ends that the Bengals could pick in later rounds. There isn’t another player like Ross in this class. The Bengals should realize that and draft him on Thursday.
Second round, 41st pick: Joe Mixon, Running Back, Oklahoma – I’m not sure he will be there when the Bengals pick in round two. If he is, I think they’ll run up to the podium and draft him. They love what Mixon can do on the field. This offense is in need of a talent injection. Adding Ross and Mixon to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert would make their offense one of the best in the NFL. Mixon would likely start right away. His ability to make would-be tacklers miss is important behind a below average offensive line. The Bengals’ public relations team may have to work a bit harder for a a few days. If Mixon has success on the field and stays out of trouble off of it, the majority of fans will buy in.
Mixon is a better fit than Fournette. He is healthier, he can make defenders miss and is a better receiver out of the backfield. It wouldn’t be shocking if he ended up being the best running back in this draft class. This would be the third time the Bengals decided to take a running back in the second round since 2013. Mixon is better than Jeremy Hill or Giovani Bernard were when they were drafted. Fans have wanted the Bengals to draft players who could have an instant impact. Ross and Mixon would fit that description.
Third round, 73rd pick: Derek Rivers, Defensive End, Youngstown State – The Bengals may have to trade up to make this happen. Draft analysts I’ve talked to think Rivers could end up being better than first round defensive ends like Barnett. The Bengals will probably give Michael Johnson the majority of the snaps at right defensive end next season. I don’t think that changes if they take Rivers, Barnett or another pass rusher. Rivers comes from a small school, but he can play a role as a rookie and develop into a starter next season.
Fans who love Barnett should love Rivers. The biggest positive in Barnett’s favor is on-field production. He had 52 tackles-for-loss and 33 sacks in 36 starts. Rivers finished with 56.5 tackles-for-loss and 41 sacks in 37 starts. Barnett played against better competition, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Rivers had the better career. Rivers is a better athlete than Barnett and the Bengals may be able to get him 64 picks later.
Some are going to think I’m crazy for thinking the Bengals should wait on a pass rusher. Others will question Ross’ injury history or Mixon’s character. Ultimately, the Bengals need to acquire top talent in this draft. If they land Ross, Mixon and Rivers, they would be doing that and addressing their biggest needs. They would also have eight picks remaining to add a linebacker, an offensive lineman or two and maybe even a kicker. Drafting Barnett with the ninth pick would address a need, but it wouldn’t offer the Bengals’ great value. Ross is a better prospect than Corey Coleman was last year. That’s high praise considering I thought Coleman was the best wide receiver in the 2016 draft class. Mixon is a special talent that could end up being one of the best running backs in the NFL. By drafting Ross and Mixon, the Bengals’ offense would give opposing defensive coordinators headaches for years to come.
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Email me: JamesRapien@espn1530.com