The Bengals are building something special on offense, I‘m not sure there is a better core of young players elsewhere in the NFL. The problem is, like Pittsburgh, their offensive line is so horrendous that they’re counter-productive to what this unit can be. In fact, they nearly killed Joe Burrows numerous times in his rookie season, one which was actually quite impressive. So, the off-season needed to be about one thing and one thing only, finding suitable protection to make sure that a franchise-caliber QB isn’t broken in half, again.
The Bengals were actually pretty aggressive too, which is a bit out of the norm for them. They addressed the line by grabbing vets Riley Reiff and Quinton Spain. They pilfered interior defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi from the Browns and edge rusher Trey Hendrickson from the Saints. They also took a gamble that Chidobe Awuzie could figure it all outside of Dallas in order to help fill the gap left by William Jackson III. Overall, they actually built a pretty solid roster. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, they are still a year or two away from actually being contenders for the division and playoffs.
They are still without a tight end, which is weird because teams typically like to provide their young QB with the world’s best binky. The secondary, outside of Jessie Bates III, is underwhelming and is need of an injection of talent. The linebackers are a collection of no bodies who can’t stop a nosebleed, never-mind a rushing attack. Basically, for as much as there is to like about this Bengals team, there are still a lot of spots where they need to improve to take the next step.
The good news is that Cincinnati had the top-tier picks that you look for when trying to take a talented group from point A to point B. The bad news is that it usually means you suck, and in Cincy’s case, they did. Let’s start our Bengals draft grade analysis.
LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase (Round 1, Pick 5)Embed from Getty Images
This seemed like a no-brainer to most, including us. However, it couldn’t nor should have been so black and white for the Bengals, for a multitude of reasons. The first being that they had their selection of any player they wanted not named Kyle Pitts, so, with a major hole on the offensive line, perhaps Penei Sewell would have fit? It’s not like the Bengals don’t have any offensive talent for Burrows to throw to, Higgins, Boyd, and Mixon are all really good playmakers. The problem was that they couldn’t open up holes for Mixon and couldn’t provide enough time for Burrows consistently. So, adding the top offensive tackle in a class that was considered the deepest in years, well that could go a long way.
What about the secondary? Sure, taking Jaycee Horn and Patrick Surtain II would look like reaches in the immediate aftermath of the draft, but would it in a year? Especially if both live up to the shutdown-corner potential they have? Awuzie and Waynes are talented, but neither are considered No. 1 corners. Then you have to think about linebacker, where Cincinnati has as many quality ones as they did playoff wins under Marvin Lewis, zero. Do you reach a bit to take a guy like Micah Parsons who has all the measurables and physical tools to be a superstar in this league? A guy that could make a huge impact rushing the passer, playing the run, and in coverage.
These were real questions that Cincinnati had to ask themselves, because sure, we all knew that they were likely to pair their face of the franchise with his favorite collegiate weapon. It was just too logical to not happen, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right pick at this moment. Personally, I would have gone with Sewell and targeted a receiver later in the draft, because there is no better ally for a QB than time. I will say this though, it’s not like Bengals fans don’t have reason to be excited, they did connect for 20 scores, nearly 2000 yards, and a 20 YPC in Chase’s lone season as a starter. Those are numbers that are hard to argue with. A solid start to our Bengals draft grade.
Clemson IOL Jackson Carman (Round 2, Pick 46)
Okay, at least they weren’t Pittsburgh, who just straight-up flipped their noses as the o-line. They traded back with New England and took a prospect that probably would have been gone at the bottom of the 1st round any other season. This was a solid selection and Carman should start immediately over Michael Jordan. He is big (6’5, 320), strong, and agile enough to be impactful in both the running game and passing game. Zac Taylor is from the Sean McVay tree, which is all about running the football and bootlegging off of it. The hope is that adding a couple of quality vets (Spain & Reiff), along with further developing 2019 1st round pick Jonah Williams, and adding Carman, all of this should help address the offensive line issues.
If that happens, this offense is bound to take a major leap forward in it’s development and will allow Zac Taylor to finally showcase the offense he was known for as the OC in LA. Finally, fantasy owners could be rewarded with a season from Joe Mixon that we all know he is capable of. Carman will be able to help create holes in the zone-block scheme and get to the second level to let Mixon explode for big gains, the kind we saw Gurley rip off in 2018. He also has the ability to kick outside in the event of injury, so he acts as a bit of insurance for both Williams and Reiff. That type of versatility is priceless because it ensures that you are not one injury away from having the scrap around for a replacement.
The fact that the Bengals could still get someone of his caliber while trading down to get more selections is just gravy. Another pick that was a positive for our Bengals draft grade.
Texas ED Joseph Ossai (Round 3, Pick 69)
This was a solid selection, Ossai was straight-up disruptive as a starter at Texas. In his sophomore and junior year, he notched 145 tackles, 29 for a loss, 10.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. That’s production people, specifically for one that stands 6’4, 260. The part that intrigues me the most is the fact that he racked up that many tackles on the edge, you have to really be active and physical to be able to do that. Typically a solid edge guy walks away with 50-60 in a season, Ossai had 90 in 2019. He has the potential to steal playing time from Sam Hubbard and make an impact immediately, which isn’t always the case for 3rd rounders, even early ones.
Was there other spots that I liked too? Sure, UCF’s Aaron Robinson would have been a solid selection as well to provide some quality depth to a secondary that looks pretty rough. Or what about Benjamin St. Juste from Minnesota? His length and speed would have been a solid gamble for this corner group. I would have even been on-board with a guy like North Carolina’s Chazz Surratt who went about 10 picks later. Ossai is a disruptive player, but he can’t play off the ball like Surratt can, his size is prohibitive of that, so Surratt could have plugged a different hole on this defense. With all of this said, they took a guy who has a history of making plays all over the field, regardless of position that is always a good decision.
I thought Cincinnati played the board well, they didn’t reach for anyone and didn’t make any “what in the hell were you thinking selections” either. Would it have been nice to address the offensive line earlier than 46? Yes, but it’s not like they ignored it altogether and they ended walking away with a talented player in Carman. All while giving Joe Burrows an elite weapon to throw to down the field. The defense still needs a lot of talent, but that wasn’t going to be accomplished this year regardless. Plus, Zac Taylor was an offensive coordinator, so you know where he priorities are. A nice draft by the Bengals and an above average Bengals draft grade.