Over the past few seasons, the Bengals selection have been blanketed by hiding deep in the depths of the late first round, where All-Pros can lurk or the busts can be excused.
For example, the team drafted Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert with the 21st selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, but drafted perpetually injured/expensive member of special teams Darqueze Dennard at #24 in 2014. Their 2015 selection Cedric Ogbuehi has proven that he’s very good at getting Andy Dalton sacked, where as 2016 selection William Jackson III spent his rookie year on injured reserve.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, they picked a weird year to hit a stink patch, as the top of this year’s draft lacks clear answers with number nine, as the best players in the draft come from a so-called defensive big-six made up of Myles Garrett (DE, Texas A&M), Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State), Jamal Adams (S, LSU), Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford), Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama), and Malik Hooker (CB, Ohio State).
After this group, there is a noticeable mix of injury risk or talent decline from the rest of the options.
There are two schools of thinking for the Bengals selection:
A) Get another deep ball threat to match A.J. Green with the hopes that he can be option 1B to Green’s 1A. It also wouldn’t hurt to draft a tight end with elite speed to match Eifert, creating a lights-out tandem with big guys. This group includes John Ross (WR, Washington), Mike Williams (WR, Clemson), Corey Davis (WR, Western Michigan), and O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama).
Now, the more likely scenario:
B) The defense lacked a certain edge to it last season. Whether the need can be filled by an edge rusher or quick, hard-hitting linebacker is up to the Cincinnati Bengals staff to decide. This group includes Taco Charlton (DE, Michigan), Rueben Foster (LB, Alabama), Takkarist McKinley (DE, UCLA), Haason Riddick (LB, Temple), or my personal favorite option, Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee).
I’m not going to spend time debunking the other options, because there’s a million articles online that will debunk each and every guy in this draft. Instead, I’m going to sell you on Derek Barnett.
The build on Barnett is of the prototype for a defensive edge rusher; he’s 6’3″, 258 LBS, with long arms, and good closing speed. However, an unimpressive combine, where he ran a 4.88″ 40-yard-dash left many scouts unimpressed.
In recent years, the combine has been given a little too much weight, as Barnett’s on-field performance made him as good as any defensive end in the country (when healthy, but we’ll get there).
Statistically, Barnett ended the 2017 atop the Southeastern Conference as the top edge rusher, recording a conference-high 13 sacks in addition to a team-high 19 tackles for loss. When analyzing those numbers, it’s telling that Barnett’s junior year dominance came in the SEC, where he beat the same linemen who will be trying to stop him on Sunday afternoons.
The Bengals are not going to get Myles Garrett, even if the Browns select Mitchell Trubinsky at number one (I’m begging them to make that pick for entertainment purposes alone); if Garrett slips passed one, he’s going to go to the Bears at number two. Barnett may very well be the best edge rusher of the next tier below Garrett.
In games at Tennessee last season, Barnett had moments of wreckage off of the edge (for some reason, I found Tennessee incredibly fun to watch last year), where his hands and speed simply could not be matched by elite SEC tackles and tight ends.
Matching Carlos Dunlap’s production, at least in some capacity, with the motor of Geno Atkins in the middle will make the Bengals defensive line among the best in all of football.
Simply put, where an offensive weapon may allow the Bengals to score more points, which is fun, Barnett will add a factor to the defense that will keep opposing quarterbacks on the turf and out of the end zone.
Michael Johnson is getting older and is still a good run stopper, but lacks the edge he had early in his career, but maybe we should just let the tape do the talking, because Barnett’s play speaks volumes for his potential NFL production.
The rusher was a clear leader for the Volunteers defense, and not that I’m insinuating we need someone to baby Vontaze Burfict, but having someone who can act as a young wrecking ball in tandem with the league-burning #55, it could help as a way to carry the load.
Last season, it seemed the Burfict had to do it all when he returned from his early-season suspension, but perhaps Barnett will be able to add some of that it/hit factor that Burfict packs on seemingly every play.
Additionally, I found Barnett’s combine performance as forgettable as any player in the draft, but he was sick. He fought through and finished the day, you know what? I’ll leave you with this: