CINCINNATI -- The NFL draft may still be some five months away, but ESPN draft guru Todd McShay is already knocking out mocks.
McShay published the first installment of his 2014 mock draft on Wednesday, outlining the top 32 picks as he sees them right now. (You'll need ESPN Insider access to see the complete list.) Although the final draft order is not yet known, he used ESPN Stats & Information's draft order that takes into account team winning percentages through Week 15 of the season. The mock also includes draft-eligible underclassmen who McShay believes will make the jump once the college football bowl season ends.
One of those underclassmen is Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound lineman would be a possibility for the Bengals at No. 24 depending upon what they do with current defensive end Michael Johnson. There is a good chance the Bengals let go of the franchise-tagged fifth-year player after this season since he likely will end up commanding too much money in a re-signing. Johnson has played well for much of his career, but particularly so in the last two seasons. He had a career-high 11.5 sacks last year, and is on pace to set a new career mark in tackles this year.
By signing defensive tackle Geno Atkins to a five-year, $55 million deal in September and inking fellow end Carlos Dunlap to a six-year, $40 million deal back in July, the Bengals made it difficult to spread the cash when Johnson will be ready to renegotiate again this offseason. The Bengals also might be looking into renegotiating the deals of receiver A.J. Green and quarterback Andy Dalton. Both of their contracts expire after the 2014 season.
So, if Cincinnati is unable to retain Johnson, a defensive end would be a worthy selection in the first round. Also of immediate concern to the Bengals: linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties and offensive tackles.
Here's what McShay had to say about Crichton:
"This pick is dependent upon whether the Bengals decide they want to pay Michael Johnson this offseason. If they let him go, then Crichton fits the bill as a replacement. We'll have to see whether he comes out early or not, but he has been unbelievably productive at Oregon State and one of the best d-linemen in college football the past couple of years. He isn't an elite athlete but he has a quick first step, is a relentless pass-rusher and recorded 16 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks this season even while facing a ton of double-team attention. If the Bengals choose to go in another direction, LB and CB are two other need areas."
Crichton's Insider player card calls him a productive, vocal and durable player.