With a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals had a big decision to make. Would they go with Ja’Marr Chase to create more familiarity with young quarterback Joe Burrow, or would they help out the offensive line which was in dire need of more help by selecting Penei Sewell?
The Bengals went with Chase, cementing their investment to give familiarity to Burrow in the passing game. Chase’s ability at the catch point will give Burrow more confidence in the deep ball, a place where he struggled in his rookie campaign. Chase, combine with Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, makes the Cincinnati Bengals extremely formidable when in “11” personnel.
Of course, that familiarity comes at a cost. While it’s nice to have, familiarity cost them a shot at drafting the top offensive lineman, Sewell, to strengthen an otherwise porous group. After Burrow suffered a major injury, it was clear where priorities should’ve been, but they went Chase anyway.
Yes, the selection of Ja’Marr Chase wasn’t popular, but it wasn’t what doomed this Cincinnati Bengals draft.
The NFL Draft is longer than just the first round, and it’s possible to find starters elsewhere, especially on day two. The 2021 NFL Draft was full of depth along the offensive line, and a lot of good talent fell to day two of the draft.
It started with Teven Jenkins, a mauler with the mean streak to finish defenders. He was a popular selection in first-round mock drafts and had the top-end athleticism and tools to become polished in pass protection. Liam Eichenberg, who lacked the toolsy, athletic profile, was still as rock-solid as any in the class as a prospect. He isn’t flashy but does everything very well. Samuel Cosmi has an incredible athletic profile and had the finisher mentality in pass protection.
All three prospects were on the board when the Cincinnati Bengals were slated to pick 38th overall, and all would’ve helped immediately along the offensive line.
Instead, the Bengals moved back in a trade and watched two of the three come off the board before the 46th selection. Then, at the 46th pick, the Bengals opted to select Clemson lineman Jackson Carman with Cosmi still available. Carman was a massive reach by the consensus, and the jury is out on whether he will end up as a tackle or a guard. That pick doesn’t exude confidence, especially early in the second round.
Carman wasn’t the only selection for the Bengals made at the position. In the fourth, they selected East Carolina tackle D’Ante Smith. Smith is a developmental-type prospect who can eventually become a starter but needs work with anchoring and handling speed-to-power rushers. Cincinnati added center Trey Hill as depth as well.
While the Bengals did put significant draft capital to helping out the guys up front, it’s hard to imagine any provide a significant contribution outside of Carman in year one. As of this moment, the line looks as follows: Jonah Williams, Xavier Sua-Filo, Trey Hopkins, Carman, and Riley Reiff.
Two things stand out about that group. One is the Bengals still feel comfortable with Williams at left tackle. The second is that they might be banking on the development of 2020 draft selection Hakeem Adeniji.
While the unit as a whole might be improved heading into 2021, the Cincinnati Bengals’ draft this year will ultimately be defined by the Carman, Smith, and Hill selections. With guys like Jenkins and Cosmi available, along with depth at guard later in the draft, it felt like the Bengals whiffed a bit with their selections outside of Smith.
Yes, going Chase over Sewell isn’t the greatest look, but that wasn’t the issue with this draft. Time will tell, but everything will be under a microscope in the 2021 season with the five protecting Burrow.