CINCINNATI -- It has seemed like a foregone conclusion all offseason that the Cincinnati Bengals will be using their 24th overall pick on a receiver when the first round of the NFL draft arrives.
But what happens when some of the top receiver talent, namely three players the Bengals have had their eyes on this spring (Josh Doctson, Laquon Treadwell and Corey Coleman), are already taken before Cincinnati goes on the clock? Do they still try to land another, perhaps less-touted wideout? Or do they switch gears and take one of the best interior defensive linemen in this class?
In the case of Thursday night's Mel Kiper vs. Todd McShay mock draft on ESPN, the latter happened. At 24th overall, Kiper and McShay had Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings coming to Cincinnati.
It might happen in real life, too.
First, it must be pointed out that the televised mock draft the ESPN analysts were conducting was based on players they felt made sense at the given slot where they were picking. They also alternated picks, meaning, for example, that McShay's selection of Billings might not have been the same one Kiper would have made, had he been picking at No. 24 instead.
That said, what isn't there to like about Billings? He's a stout 6-foot-1, 311-pound tackle who projects well at both interior line spots in a 4-3 scheme. And the Bengals do, after all, have veteran Domata Peko entering the final year of his latest deal. The 31-year-old Peko has been a cornerstone of the defensive line for much of his career, and he has been credited as one of the leaders who helped reshape the Bengals' locker room culture after a few rocky years near the start of his time in Cincinnati.
So if the Bengals are to part with Peko or if he decides to move on after 2016, the team needs to identify a talented replacement who can compete with young tackles Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams. As a run-stopper who got better as a pass-rusher his senior season, Billings could be that player.
While Kiper and McShay's televised mock only covered the first round, the analysts went on to execute a full three-round draft for ESPN Insider. Across Rounds 2 and 3, the Bengals got the receiver help they're looking for when Kiper picked Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh) at No. 55 overall. At No. 87, Kiper also sent outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins (Georgia) to the Bengals for their third-round pick.
If the draft shakes out that way, the Bengals might be pleased. But of course that all depends upon how they have all three of those players rated on their draft board.
One intriguing scenario that came out of this mock pertains to a receiver many have pegged a second-round possibility for the Bengals, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard. In Kiper and McShay's mock, Shepard went fairly early in the second round at 37th overall to San Francisco. Might the Bengals feel compelled to draft him at 24 instead to diminish the risk he isn't there at 55? It's a topic Pro Football Focus' Jeff Dooley brought up earlier this month in an evaluation of possible Day 2 projections who could address Day 1 needs.
Again, it all depends upon how the Bengals' draft board is structured. But scenarios like these are worth mulling over before Thursday.