After last season’s virtual draft, Cleveland is playing host to festivities this year with a handful of potential draft picks present and socially distanced because of COVID-19.
Here’s a pick-by-pick look at how each player Cincinnati has selected will fit.
Round 1, No. 5 overall: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
My take: Chase has been trending for the Bengals in recent weeks. He was dominant at LSU and won the Biletnikoff Award in 2019, which goes to the best wide receiver in college football. Any performance concerns surrounding Chase after he opted out of the 2020 season were quickly squashed when he put on a show at LSU’s pro day. Chase’s selection shows Cincinnati is committed to a dynamic passing attack. Last year, Cincinnati drafted Clemson’s Tee Higgins in the second round. As a rookie, Higgins was the team’s leading receiver in 2020. The Bengals give Cincinnati second-year quarterback Joe Burrow another big playmaker. Speaking of Burrow …
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Rekindling Bayou Magic?: Chase’s pick reunites a potent combination. In 2019, Burrow and Chase went on an absolute tear to lead LSU to an undefeated season and national championship. Chase led the Power Five in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. During the pre-draft build-up, both players indicated they wouldn’t mind playing with each other again. Drafting Chase also shows the team is heavily invested in Burrow, who appears to be recovering well from a knee injury that ended a promising rookie season. Drafting another key player off that title-winning LSU team could also help install a winning culture to a franchise that hasn’t had much of that lately. The Bengals have six wins in the last two years and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.
Big-play threat: It’s no secret the Bengals struggled with big passing plays in 2020. Last season, Cincinnati had 15 completions of 20 or more air yards, according to NFL Next Gen, which ranked 26th in the NFL. At LSU, Chase showed the ability to make big plays on the outside and make contested catches. Chase averaged 21.19 yards per reception, good for third among all Power Five receivers in 2019. That season, Chase also had 721 yards after the catch, the sixth-highest in the Power Five. The built-in chemistry between Chase and Burrow could help fix the Bengals’ deep-ball woes. But it also gives them another dynamic outside receiver that could turn the Bengals’ offense into one of the most potent in the NFL.
Round 2, No. 46 overall: Jackson Carman, OT, Clemson
Check out the highlights from Clemson’s dominant offensive tackle Jackson Carman.
My take: The Bengals traded down to draft Carman and get some much-needed help on the offensive line. Carman played left tackle for the Tigers and will come in and immediately compete for a starting guard spot, according to Bengals coach Zac Taylor. That being said, Carman also gives Cincinnati some position flexibility and could potentially kick out to tackle at some point in his career. Carman is from Fairfield, Ohio, which is less than 30 miles from downtown Cincinnati.
Round 3, No. 69 overall: Joseph Ossai, DE, Texas
Check out the best highlights from Texas LB Joseph Ossai’s college career.
My take: The Bengals continue the trend of addressing needs through the first two days of the draft. Ossai gives Cincinnati a young edge rusher, a much-needed position given the current state of the roster. The former Longhorn had his most productive season in 2020 with 5.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. Ossai will give the Bengals some immediate depth and will be able to compete for playing time as a rookie. Cincinnati finished with a league-low 17 sacks in 2021. Ossai has the ability to develop into an effective edge rusher.
Round 4, No. 111 overall: Cameron Sample, DE, Tulane
My take: The Bengals take an edge rusher with back-to-back picks. After taking Joseph Ossai, the Bengals selected Sample with their first pick in the fourth round. Cincinnati has lacked good, effective edge rushers in recent years. That problem was compounded this offseason when the Bengals could not re-sign 2017 draft pick Carl Lawson in free agency. Last year, Cincinnati drafted linebackers Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither in the third round. This year, the Bengals do the same thing at defensive end and add some much-needed youth to the defense.
Round 4, No. 122 overall: Tyler Shelvin, DT, LSU
Check out the best highlights from Louisiana State DT Tyler Shelvin’s college career.
My take: The Bengals continue their run of defensive line selections. This time, after picking two defensive ends, the Bengals select another LSU product in Shelvin, who opted out of the 2020 season. In two years with the Tigers, Shelvin totaled only 1.5 sacks, which indicates he’s not going to be a high-pressure player but will clog up gaps in the interior. Shelvin will be a rotational player behind D.J. Reader and Larry Ogunjobi.
Round 4, No. 139 overall: D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina
My take: Cincinnati used its three fourth-round picks to solidify their lines. After getting two defensive linemen, the Bengals get an offensive tackle at the end of the round. The Bengals can use depth at that position as they look to solidfy their long-term future. Smith was a three-year starter for the Pirates but suffered an undisclosed season-ending injury in 2020.
Round 5, No. 149 overall: Evan McPherson, K, Florida
New Bengals draft pick, kicker Evan McPherson, showed off his skills with a perfect kick that twisted off the cap of a water bottle.
My take: The Bengals opt for a kicker fairly early on Day 3. Cincinnati’s kicking situation was in limbo last season after Randy Bullock lost his duties and was replaced by Austin Seibert, who was cut by the Cleveland Browns earlier in the season. In 2020, McPherson was 17-of-22 on field goals and set a school record with four makes greater than 50 yards. After making a few depth selections, the Bengals use their fifth-round pick on a certified starter.
Round 6, No. 190 overall: Trey Hill, C, Georgia
My take: Cincinnati gets an interior offensive lineman in the rounds when teams are looking for depth. Hill started eight games for Georgia last season before he needed surgery to repair both knees, according to a report. Trey Hopkins and Billy Price are currently the team’s top centers. Hill seems like an unlikely candidate to be a starter the next couple of seasons, but will be expected to provide some depth behind the veterans.