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Bengals Panning For Gold At NFL Combine

Caveat emptor: When the Bengals have struck draft gold, as in 2010, they also found Fool's Gold.

The Bengals were one of two NFL teams with two players recording 10 or more sacks in 2015. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap ranked fourth in the league with 13.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins had 11, which tied for the league high among interior linemen and ranked tied for eighth overall.

Both players were named to this year's Pro Bowl. Something else the two standouts have in common: Both were selected by the Bengals in the 2010 NFL draft. Dunlap was taken in the second round with the 54th overall pick, Atkins in the fourth with the 120th pick.

Can it happen again six years later? Can the Bengals strike gold once more at end and tackle, two defensive positions on the depth chart that could use a draft jolt? It's a possibility worth weighing, with opportunity and talent intersecting Tuesday through Monday at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Bengals have the opportunity to interview defensive linemen on Friday. On-field workouts for defensive linemen are Sunday.

Some of the top players in this year's defensive line draft class who are projected to be first-round material include edge rushers Joey Bosa of Ohio State, Leonard Floyd from Georgia, Noah Spence from Eastern Kentucky, and Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd from Clemson. The Bengals have selected just one defensive end in the first round under Marvin Lewis, and they drafted David Pollack that year to play linebacker.

Top interior defensive linemen who could go in the first round include Oregon's DeForest Buckner, Mississippi's Robert Nkemdiche, Sheldon Rankins of Louisville, and Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson from Alabama. Probably not a future Bengal in there, either. The Bengals haven't taken a defensive tackle with their first pick in the draft in 22 years. Since then, they've demonstrated that they can find quality DTs in the middle rounds, including Glen Steele in the fourth in 1998, Domata Peko in the fourth in 2006, Atkins in the fourth in 2010, and they tried it again last year with Marcus Hardison in the fourth.

It's when the Bengals have tried to outsmart themselves by taking a defensive tackle earlier that's resulted in disappointments: Pat Sims third round 2008, Devon Still second round 2012, Brandon Thompson third round in 2012. So, the Bengals most certainly have a chance to equal the production found at the 2010 draft that proved such a boon to the defensive line. They've been taking a shot at bolstering each position just about every year since drafting Dunlap and Atkins, largely to no avail.

Since plucking Dunlap and Atkins six year ago, the Bengals have drafted defensive tackles Still and Thompson, end Margus Hunt in the second round of 2013, end Will Clarke in the third round of 2014 and Hardison last year. There's a chance that only Hardison will remain after September cuts. Still already is gone. Thompson is an impending free agent. Hunt and Clarke have underperformed and could be on the outside looking in if the Bengals' patience runs out.

What's a helpful reminder for Cincinnati draft followers as the combine gets underway is that the Bengals' immediate needs don't always match up with their first pick of the draft. Look no further than last year for proof. The Bengals selected a pair of offensive tackles, one of them who was hurt and didn't even attend the combine, with their first two picks, even though two quality tackles were on the roster.

Back on the defensive side, Peko and defensive end Michael Johnson combined for 10 sacks in 2015, with five each. But they are due to be phased out over the next few years. Hybrid end/tackle Wallace Gilberry is due to become a free agent in March, so it would certainly be a good year to bolster D-line depth. To the Bengals, however, it's always a good year to bolster D-Line depth. What doesn't always happen is getting it right.

The Bengals can attempt to match the Dunlap-Atkins haul of 2010, but buyer beware. The other players Cincinnati selected in that year's draft were receiver Jordan Shipley, cornerback Brandon Ghee, linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, guards Otis Hudson and Reggie Stephens, and receiver Dezmon Briscoe. None of them are still with the team.

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