When it comes to defensive tackle, the Cincinnati Bengals have one sure thing and a whole bunch of questions.
Geno Atkins is a five-time Pro Bowler whose presence alone will make anyone lining up next to him that much better. But the question is, with Domata Peko ending his run of 11 seasons in Cincinnati by signing with Denver, who will be lining up next to Atkins? The list of possible replacements features a lot of potential but little production.
Neither 2012 third-round pick Brandon Thompson nor 2016 fourth-rounder Andrew Billings played a snap last year due to knee injuries. The coaches are high on Marcus Hardison (fifth round, 2015) and DeShawn Williams (undrafted, 2015) even though neither has been asked to play more than a handful of snaps per game. And then there’s Pat Sims, who is a quality run stuffer but is entering his 10th season.
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The Bengals are likely to add at least one defensive tackle in the draft, but there are other positions that warrant more attention. Still, the best-player-available philosophy could lead the Bengals to grab a guy early.
Here are the top five prospects available as part of our continuing series looking at each position:
Jonathan Allen, Alabama
There are a handful of elite prospects the Bengals know have no chance of falling to them at No. 9, but Allen might be the exception. There are a few mocks that have him going in the 8-10 range, and if he’s still on the board at No. 7 there would have to be some temptation to trade up.
The 6-foot-3, 286-pound Allen was the best defensive player on the best defense in college football last year, winning the Chuck Bednarik and Bronco Nagurski awards. While he’s listed as a tackle, he has the ability to rush from the outside which would make him an idea fit in the defensive line rotation.
One of the knocks on Allen is he’s not built to take on double-team blocks, but that issue disappears if you line him up next to Geno Atkins.
Malik McDowell, Michigan State
The Bengals lost a former Michigan State defensive tackle in free agency, a bedrock of the franchise in Domata Peko, but the “Circle of Life” storylines probably will need to stay on the back burner. McDowell is a first-round talent, but it’s doubtful he’ll be in play at No. 9 and unlikely he’ll still be around when the Bengals pick again at 41.
A two-year starter in East Lansing, the 6-6, 295-pound McDowell is an unusually large defensive tackle. In fact, CBS.com’s Dane Brugler list’s McDowell’s NFL comparison player as Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
But some question whether McDowell is quick enough to play outside, and his height will make it easy for NFL offensive lineman to get under his pads to clear running lanes. Still, many scouts think he can develop into a dominant player.
PREVIOUS POSITION PREVIEWS:
Caleb Brantley, Florida
Prior to his junior season in college, Brantley declared for all to hear that he was the best defensive tackle in the country, followed by the fact that he didn’t think it was close. But he wasn’t even the best in the SEC, earning second team all-league honors.
The 6-3, 307-pound Brantley led the Gators with 8.5 tackles for loss while showing an ability to beat double teams. He’s an ideal fit as a three-technique in a 4-3 defense and could still be available when the Bengals pick at 41.
Scouts love the power in his hands but question whether his shorter arms will be a detriment going against bigger, stronger guards in the NFL, noting that he struggled to disengage once blockers locked on to him.
Larry Ogunjobi, North Carolina Charlotte
His impressive resume goes beyond the football field. His parents were Nigerian immigrants and he didn’t start playing the game until his sophomore year of high school. He double majored at Charlotte in computer science and biology, spending all four years on the honor roll, and was a member of the school’s first-ever football team and owns the distinction of appearing in every game in school history.
The 6-3, 305-pound Ogunjobi (Oh-ghun-JOE-bee) displays great power but also is fast enough to chase down ball carriers. Some scouts question whether he has enough size to excel at the next level after playing in Conference USA.
Chris Wormley, Michigan
The 6-5, 298-pound Wormley primarily played end at Michigan, but he projects as a tackle in the NFL.
Scouts love the lateral agility he displays despite his size and his discipline to not bite on misdirection. One of the questions they have is whether he can be an every-down player after benefiting from a deep defensive line in Ann Arbor that gave him plenty of breaks.
Wormley was lauded for his character and leadership at UM by coach Jim Harbaugh. If the Bengals target other positions in the first two rounds and Wormley is still there in the third, he could be an attractive piece to add to the d-line rotation.
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