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Bengals take Noah Spence at No. 24 in Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft

CINCINNATI -- Noah Spence had one objective during his pro day at Eastern Kentucky last Friday: get his 40-yard time down.

He did just that with a 4.75-second time at his pro day, shaving hundreths of a second off his 4.8 time from the NFL combine. By getting his time down, the outside linebacker might have salvaged his first-round draft hopes.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. certainly believes he did, sending Spence to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 24 overall in his latest mock draftInsider. Kiper's mock attempted to take into account the impact free agency would have on each of the teams that have first-round draft picks. Free agency begins at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday.

By the end of the first week of free agency, it's possible the Bengals lose a pair of receivers and multiple key pieces within their secondary. Perhaps those departures will lead to a change in philosophy for a franchise that has long been predicated upon winning in the present. Depending upon how many of their free agents leave, maybe the push will change, with the Bengals focusing instead on building the organization's long-term future through the draft.

That's part of Kiper's impetus behind selecting Spence for the Bengals.

With their depth potentially taking a hit in free agency and with linebacker Vontaze Burfict suspended for three games this coming season, the Bengals do need an outside linebacker.

But would Spence be the fit? It's hard seeing it right now, primarily because most believe he's best suited as an outside rusher in a 3-4 scheme. He's a little leaner than the Bengals typically draft at linebacker, and his coverage skills have been questioned. If Cincinnati was to draft an outside linebacker of Spence's stature, it would want him to be able to play in nickel coverage.

A pair of Bengals scouts were present at Spence's pro day, so there is some interest in him. But the surface-level read on the Bengals' thoughts about the linebacker is that it might be tough to find a spot for him within their base 4-3 defense.

Though it was refreshing to see a mock draft that included a player at a position other than receiver (each of the previous five mock drafts Kiper and ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay have published have had the Bengals drafting a receiver), this particular selection is hard to see at the moment. It's worth mentioning that other potential linebacker possibilities like Leonard Floyd (Georgia) and Darron Lee (Ohio State) were already off the board in Kiper's mock.

Highly touted Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame) wasn't picked in Kiper's first round. Perhaps a better schematic fit for Cincinnati, the team that drafts Smith will need to be patient with him this season as he continues to rehab from multiple ligament tears. Still, based on his potential and the way he played in college, many view him as a possible first-rounder and a potential steal for a team in no rush to get him onto the field.