Other than quarterback, all options will be open for the Cincinnati Bengals when they pick ninth in next month’s NFL Draft.
There are some positions that warrant more attention than others, but the Bengals have always employed the “best player available” mindset and they aren’t expected to stray from that even as they head into the first draft in a while with some obvious needs.
Here’s a look at seven players the Bengals could target with the No. 9 pick:
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Why he makes sense: Even with the addition of 26-year-old Kevin Minter and release of 30-year-old Rey Maualuga, the Bengals need to get younger at linebacker, and Foster is the best prospect available this year. He can play inside or outside, which is more of a prerequisite than a luxury in the mind of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who wants all of his linebackers to be able to play each of the three spots.
Why there’s a chance: Three of the eight teams picking ahead of the Bengals are in the market for a linebacker, but the 49ers, Jets and Titans each have more pressing needs. And Foster’s behavior that got him sent home from the Combine reduces the chance of him coming off the board before the Bengals go on the clock.
Why it won’t happen: The signing of Minter and the belief that Nick Vigil, last year’s third-round pick, can be an every-down back leads the Bengals to look elsewhere for their first pick, possibly to running back or wide receiver, especially if most or all of the top eight picks are defensive players.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Why he makes sense: The Bengals need to put a big-time playmaker opposite A.J. Green, and while Williams may lack the top-end speed that would make him an ideal fit, he’s a big target who was nearly unstoppable in the red zone. The idea of trying to defend Green, Williams and Tyler Eifert inside the 20 will give defensive coordinators night sweats.
Why there’s a chance: Even if there were a lot of teams ahead of the Bengals in need of a receiver, which there aren’t, the position has been a crap shoot of late. In the last five drafts there have been six receivers taken in the top 10, and for each Amari Cooper and Mike Evans there’s a Kevin White and Justin Blackmon. As good as Williams is, he doesn’t quite have the can’t-miss label that guys like Green and Julio Jones had when they went fourth and sixth, respectively, in 2011.
Why it won’t happen: The Chargers pick seventh and have a glaring need at wide receiver. They have plenty of other holes as well, but there’s a definitive drop-off in talent after the first few wide receivers, where other positions are much deeper.
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Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Why he makes sense: Like Williams, Davis fits the play-maker bill after setting the collegiate career record for receiving yards in a career with 5,285. While it’s true he didn’t face elite defensive players, his speed and ball skills will play in the NFL. And it’s not as though the Bengals would be need him to come in and be a No. 1 target.
Why there’s a chance: The fact that Davis played in the Mid-American Conference will cast enough doubt on his ability to transfer his skills to the next level that no one in the top eight will be willing to pull the trigger.
Why it won’t happen: Only three times in the last 12 drafts have the Bengals grabbed an offensive skill-position player with their first pick (Jermaine Gresham, 2010; A.J. Green, 2011; Tyler Eifert, 2013) and, unlike Davis, all three of them came from elite collegiate programs.
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Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Why he makes sense: Jeremy Hill has struggled the last two seasons to match the success of his rookie campaign, and he’s heading into the final year of his contract. While offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said the team doesn’t put a premium on having contrasting styles, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Fournette would be an ideal complement to the smaller, quicker Giovani Bernard when the Bengals likely move on from Hill after this season.
Why there’s a chance: Teams know they can find a quality back later in the draft, and sometimes even after it. Fewer and fewer teams are willing to use a first-round pick on a running back, especially a top-eight pick.
Why it won’t happen: Ezekiel Elliott, who went fourth to the Dallas Cowboys last year, ran for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns, which might be enough to lead teams like the Jaguars or Jets to spend an early pick on a guy like with the rare size/speed combo that Fournette possesses.
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Why he makes sense: While it would make sense for the Bengals to go after a number of different positions, their biggest need is another pass rusher. And they love guys who have produced big numbers against big-time competition, and it doesn’t get any better than the SEC, where Barnett had double-digit sacks was voted all-league all three years.
Why there’s a chance: Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Stanford’s Solomon Thomas are expected to go ahead of Barnett, and only twice in the last 18 drafts have three defensive ends gone in the top eight picks.
Why it won’t happen: The Panthers, who pick one spot ahead of the Bengals at 8, addressed their biggest need with the addition of free-agent tackle Matt Kalil. Getting a top-tier pass rusher is next on their to-do list, and with Garrett and Thomas expected to be gone, their sights will be set squarely on Barnett.
Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Why he makes sense: Like Barnett, Charlton would fill the Bengals biggest need and he’s another guy who put up consistent numbers in a power-five conference.
Why there’s a chance: At 6-6, he fits the long, rangy prototype of a Bengals defensive end.
Why it won’t happen: Taking Charlton likely means Garrett, Thomas and Barnett are gone, and it would be hard for the Bengals to justify taking the fourth best player at his position with the No. 9 pick.
Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
Why he makes sense: There are still questions about whether 2015 first-round pick Cedric Ogbuehi is the long-term answer at left tackle.
Why there’s a chance: A number of scouts see Robinson as a better fit at guard, where the Bengals also have a need following the departure of five-year starter Kevin Zeitler to Cleveland.
Why it won’t happen: As beneficial as it is to be versatile, Robinson is not seen as the top tackle or guard in the draft, and the Bengals might view grabbing him at No. 9 as too much of a reach.
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