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Bengals Draft Preview
Last year, the Bengals had their choice of whoever they wanted with the first overall selection, opting to take Joe Burrow to be their next franchise signal-caller. Burrow ended up showing tons of promise, but a Week 11 injury to his ACL, MCL, PCL, and meniscus led to his rookie season being cut short.
So following a 4-11-1 season, Cincinnati now holds the fifth overall pick in this month’s draft. With their QB already in place, the Bengals should have a number of solid options in front of them when they officially go on the clock.
Here is a look at Cincinnati’s draft capital, some positions of need, and who makes the most sense to wear the stripes this fall.
2021 Draft Picks
Round 1: No. 5 overall
Round 2: No. 38
Round 3: No. 69
Round 4: No. 111
Round 5: No. 149
Round 6: No. 190
Round 7: No. 202 (from Dolphins through Texans), No. 235 (from Lions through Seahawks)
Offensive line: It’s not a crazy idea whatsoever for the Bengals to take the best offensive lineman available, followed by a few more offensive linemen over the course of their eight total picks. But based on last year’s o-line and Burrow’s subsequent injury, protecting him is priority number one.
Cincinnati did manage to upgrade this offseason at right tackle, replacing the departed Bobby Hart with former Viking tackle Riley Reiff. But the bottom line is that they will need more, as the returning starters played a role in the team, allowing the third-most sacks in the league.
Fortunately, owning the fifth pick should very likely allow them to take the best offensive lineman on the board, should they opt to go that route. Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater are the consensus 1-2 linemen in the draft, so the Bengals could have their pick of either of them.
Pass-catcher: Maybe just as important as protecting Burrow will be surrounding him with weapons who can actually help the offense move down the field. In a loaded draft for receivers, which includes several high first-round options, the Bengals have to explore this possibility as well.
After a couple of recent disappointing seasons, longtime wideout A.J. Green signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals last month, followed by former top-10 pick John Ross bolting for the Giants. So while there are still some receivers left, headlined by former second-round picks Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, the Bengals will need more for the sake of Burrow’s development.
Again, thanks to the bevy of quarterbacks slated to go before pick number five, Cincinnati might have their pick of pass-catchers. The Alabama wideouts are intriguing, but two names really make sense for the Bengals. LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase was a college teammate of Burrow’s during his Heisman campaign, while Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is one of the best tight end prospects in recent history.
Edge-rusher: Admittedly, it would be an incredible shock if the Bengals used their first-round pick on a defensive lineman or even a defensive player in general. But that doesn’t change the fact that at some point, finding a guy to attack the opposing quarterbacks will need to be addressed.
While Cincinnati couldn’t prevent sacks on offense, they also couldn’t get sacks on defense. Their 17 sacks as a team ranked dead last in the NFL, and as a result, led to quarterbacks having time to gash them through the air. They gave their largest free-agent contract to former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who is coming off of a career-high 13.5 sacks in 2020, but more work is still to be done.
The best edge rushers in the draft are Michigan’s Kwity Paye and Georgia’s Azeez Ojulari, with Miami (FL)’s Jaelan Phillips and Gregory Rousseau getting some recognition as well. But none of those prospects are realistic options for the Bengals to take at number five. However, should any one of them fall to the second round, Cincy should think long and hard about going in that direction.
Who Should They Pick?
The Bengals are in a very enviable position, as their biggest areas of need also happen to align with who the best players on the board will be by the time their pick rolls around. But there are three players who Cincy should consider more than anyone else.
The first is Sewell, the left tackle from Oregon. Despite opting out of the 2020 season, Sewell has long been considered one of the best o-line prospects of the last several years. He is the type of player who can protect Burrow’s blindside for the next decade.
Chase is likely the top receiver Cincinnati would target above Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Despite being just six feet tall, Chase has elite big-play ability after the catch and can gain separation from defenders with ease. Not to mention, his pre-existing chemistry with Burrow is an added bonus.
However, if I’m GM Mike Brown, I know I can grab a wideout in the second round if need be, like Mississippi’s Elijah Moore or Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman. I also know there will be linemen available later on, such as Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield or Texas’ Samuel Cosmi. But there is one guy who I know would be incredibly tough to miss out on.
Pitts is the unquestioned, without-a-doubt top tight end in this year’s class. Standing at 6-foot-6, Pitts is the best pass-catcher available period, and a guy who can likely become Burrow’s Travis Kelce or George Kittle. In addition, his size and position can at the least help the line in the running game, where they also struggled greatly last season.
Getting Pitts in the first round and then going either o-line or wide receiver in round two would be an excellent foundation for the Bengals in this year’s draft.
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