Even with the Cincinnati Bengals trading for Jacksonville defensive end Chris Smithon Tuesday, the team is still expected to target the position early in this month’s draft, possibly with the No. 9 overall pick.
Michael Johnson’s production has slowed on the right side of the line as his age has increased, and the Bengals need another edge threat to bookend with two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
This year’s class isn’t especially deep, but it is top heavy with the chance of four or five defensive ends going in the first round.
Here’s a look at the five of the top defensive ends available as part of our continuing series looking at the Cincinnati Bengals draft prospects at each position:
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
The only way Garrett is an option for the Bengals is if they trade up. All the way up. It’s hard to imagine any scenario where Garrett doesn’t go No. 1 overall.
“Freakish athleticism” is the term most often used by scouts when describing the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Garrett, who finished his career ranked seventh all-time in SEC sacks with 31. Hall of Famer Reggie White was eighth.
As jaw-dropping as he is it at times, what’s maybe more impressive is his consistency, which is something the Bengals likely will have to deal with for several years if the Browns hold on to the No. 1 pick and do what everyone expects.
Solomon Thomas, Stanford
Another player the Bengals are unlikely to have any shot at, Thomas has played just two seasons in college but is regarded to be far more advanced than many of the other edge rushers in this class.
He has shown the ability to take over games, as he did in Stanford’s bowl win against North Carolina this season. His father, mother and uncle were college athletes, and Thomas is the best of the bunch.
He doesn’t have ideal height for a defensive end, but he makes up for it with strength and quickness. It would be surprising to see him fall past the third pick.
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Derek Barnett, Tennessee
The 6-3, 259 Barnett won’t be drafted before Garrett, but he will forever be ranked ahead of him on another list – career SEC sacks.
Barnett’s 32 career sacks are one more than Garrett’s 31, ranking the Nashville native sixth on the conference’s all-time list. Barnett recorded 13 this past season while earning first team all-league honors.
He was the first freshman to ever start on the defensive line at Tennessee and was an All-SEC pick all three years. Scouts list his hands and strength as his biggest attributes, which will make him a force against the run as well as the pass.
PREVIOUS POSITION PREVIEWS:
Taco Charlton, Michigan
Growing up in the shadow of Ohio Stadium in suburban Columbus, Charlton’s beloved Buckeyes never offered him a scholarship so he went to their biggest rival.
His career got off to a slow start as he was not a good fit on a three-man front, but when the Wolverines switched to a 4-3 in 2016, Charlton had a breakout senior year with a team-high 9.5 sacks and first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Some scouts deem Charlton – whose real first name is Vidauntae – to be a work in progress, but he showed enough flashes last year to hear his name called at some point in the first round, possibly at No. 9. His 6-6, 277-pound frame is right in the Bengals wheelhouse.
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Charles Harris, Missouri
Considered a top-five defensive end by most, Harris was only a second team all-league selection in the talent-rich SEC.
The 6-3, 253-pound Harris had steep competition in his own meeting room, resulting in him being redshirted behind eventual pros Shane Ray (Broncos) and Markus Golden (Cardinals) as a freshman.
But in his first year as a starter Harris led the SEC with 18.5 tackles for loss, and last year he recorded a career-high nine sacks. His size will be of some concern against NFL tackles, but some team is going to write his name down either late in the first round or early in the second.
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