Mel Kiper Jr. has new name for Bengals in latest mock draft


CINCINNATI -- ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have been consistent all offseason when it comes to their thoughts about what the Cincinnati Bengals will do with the 21st pick in the draft.

Both have believed that the Bengals will use their first-round pick on a pass rusher who can help a unit that desperately needed it this past season.

Often, Kiper and McShay have been in lockstep with their selections, either sending Clemson's Vic Beasley or Kentucky's Bud Dupree to Cincinnati in their mock drafts. In his most recent mock that was published last week, for example, McShay had the Bengals picking Dupree.

This week, though, Kiper veered slightly. Kiper on Thursday sent Virginia's Eli Harold to the Bengals at No. 21.

It's kind of odd that Kiper went for Harold over Dupree, particularly considering he didn't have Dupree going to any other team in this first-round mock. Of the two, Dupree showcased more athleticism at last month's combine, and his size (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) seems to better suit the Bengals' draft philosophy over Harold (6-foot-3, 247 pounds).

Like Beasley and Dupree, Harold is a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker. He primarily rushed from the second level in college, but can be moved to the line in certain NFL systems. The Bengals like edge players who can be versatile that way, but they also have a true need for bolstering the line with true backups who eventually can be groomed into having larger roles.

As the start of free agency (4 p.m. ET Tuesday) inches closer, it's becoming more apparent that the Bengals will use it to address the most pressing parts of their pass-rush need. Specifically, they need a No. 2 rush end and should find one in free agency. They got into this dilemma because last season they failed to identify an adequate replacement for Michael Johnson after he was lost in free agency to Tampa Bay.

Wallace Gilberry, a lineman better suited as an off-the-bench third-down specialist, spent more time on the field in 2014 than he had in any other year of his seven-year career. After making 6.5 and 7.5 sacks as a backup in his first two seasons as a Bengal, Gilberry only had 1.5 this past year, even as his playing time grew.

If the Bengals end up signing a veteran end, as expected, that likely would alleviate the need to go after an edge rusher in the first round of the draft. Instead, perhaps they'll go with an offensive tackle. If that happens, the most logical pick, if he's available, would be LSU's La'el Collins.

As for Harold, whichever team selects him will be getting a rusher who had 15.5 sacks his last two college seasons. Harold also had a knack for creating turnovers, forcing and recovering four fumbles and intercepting two passes in his career. The Bengals certainly could use defenders who know how to create turnovers.

One knock on Harold is his tackling. According to his ESPN rankings profile, he leaves his feet too often when attempting to tackle, making him vulnerable to missing open-field take-downs.