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NFL Draft

Cincinnati Bengals 2021 NFL Draft Class Breakdown

  • The Draft Network
  • May 9, 2021
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Cincinnati is a team that understands where they are in terms of their life cycle. They clearly understand that they are probably a few years away from competing and are being diligent and thoughtful on how they construct their roster. The Bengals' front office isn’t making moves to compete for a playoff spot in 2021 and while winning next season is obviously the goal, Bengals leadership is building this team to be a long-term contender over the next five or so years. I really appreciate this approach and feel many other teams would be well suited to self-reflect and understand that in order to have sustained success, one must be patient and understand its multi-offseason process to build a strong team. 

The narrative entering the offseason for the Bengals was that the team must #ProtectJoeBurrow at all costs. Burrow flashed moments of brilliance during his rookie campaign before suffering a season-ending knee injury halfway through the season. Now that the Bengals clearly have a superstar quarterback, it is the responsibility of head coach Zac Taylor and the rest of the front office to build around Burrow. The Bengals had a productive free agency with the additions of defensive end Trey Hendrickson, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, and corner Mike Hilton, but there was still work to be done through the draft.

Let’s take a look at the Bengals' 2021 NFL Draft class:

Round 1: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

One of the more highly debated topics entering the draft was this: If both offensive tackle Penei Sewell and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase were on the board for the Bengals at five, who would they take? Offensive tackle is the more pressing need and the opportunity to potentially get a franchise left tackle to insert in front of Burrow made a ton of sense—especially after how much Burrow was hit last season. On the other hand, Chase, who is the best receiver to come out in quite a few years, would give the team a true No. 1 option outside—and the fact that Chase and Burrow are former teammates was just the cherry on top.

In the end, the Bengals went with Chase. Even though this pick was criticized by some, I actually like the move. In Chase, the Bengals are getting an alpha outside receiver who can win at all three areas of the field. He possesses outstanding athleticism, hands, and ball skills and is the ultimate competitor with the ball in his hands. Chase slides in as the team’s starting X receiver and will play alongside Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins in 11-personnel. Chase is a nice bet to win Offensive Rookie of the Year and projects a Pro Bowl receiver for years to come. 

Round 2: Jackson Carman, OL, Clemson

So in the end, the Bengals did go wide receiver and offensive tackle in the first and second rounds. While I like addressing the offensive line, I’m not totally fired up about who they ended up drafting and who they passed on. The Bengals' original pick in the second round was No. 38, and at No. 38, Teven Jenkins was available. Jenkins was a top-20 player in my personal big board and it would have been a huge win for the Bengals to walk away with Chase and Jenkins. For whatever reason Cincinnati elected to trade down with New England going from 38 to 46 and passed on Jenkins, who of course went 39th—directly after the Bengals' original pick. The team went on to draft Carman with pick No. 46, which came as a surprise.

Carman is a solid player who has good size and strength. He is best using his power both in the run and pass game but does show some limitations in terms of his lateral mobility. Because of this, most teams had Carman evaluated as a guard rather than at tackle, the position he played in college. The drafting of Carman tells me that the Bengals feel good about Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff at tackle because they passed on players who project better to tackle to take Carman. Carman has a chance to start at either guard spot as a rookie and looks to be a fixture on the Bengals' offensive line for years to come. 

Round 3: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas

I really like this pick from both a value and a scheme fit. Ossai had an extremely productive year at Texas after he finally found a home as an edge defender. Early in Ossai’s career, he played as a stand-up linebacker and while he showed some ability there, it was clear he is at his best as a pass rusher where he can cut it loose and get after the quarterback. Ossai has good size and outstanding athleticism. He is ultra-explosive and has the first step to win the edge against slower-footed offensive tackles. There are definitely some technique issues he needs to address, but his combination of raw tools and a non-stop motor will allow him to succeed. Ossai projects as a subpackage defender early on in his career, rushing off the edge on obvious passing downs before eventually developing into a full-time player. 

Round 4: Cameron Sample, EDGE, Tulane

You can never have enough pass rushers and I love the fact the Bengals are taking their swings. Sample is a bit undersized, but he offers really good first-step quickness and plays with tremendous power as a pass rusher. He was outstanding at the Senior Bowl and is a player whose best football is still ahead of him. Adding Sample to a defensive line room with Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, and Ossai makes for a nice stable of young and athletic pass rushers. Look for Sample to earn a spot in the defensive line rotation this year and become a key contributor later in his career.

Round 4: Tyler Shelvin, NT, LSU

Again, I love the idea of building a strong defensive line and I absolutely love this pick. Shelvin opted out of the year last season but his sophomore year showed flashes of a potential impact nose tackle at the next level. Shelvin has rare size and strength up front and is a brick wall holding the point of attack. A true two-gap player, Shelvin is able to anchor at the point and keep the guards from flowing up to the second level. Shelvin offers some short-area explosiveness as well, and even though he’s most effective in the run game, he does have some upside as a bull rusher. Shelvin slots in as depth along the inside of this defensive line but has upside to be a future starter in a year or so. 

Round 4: D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina

Kudos to Cincinnati. Four straight picks all invested in the trenches. Smith is an extremely toolsy prospect with rare length for the position. He offers plus mobility and lateral range on pass sets and is competitive in the run game. Smith tested poorly at his pro day, which was a bit surprising considering how smooth and fluid he looked on tape, but there is a lot to like here as a developmental tackle prospect. Smith will likely compete to be the team’s swing tackle and provide depth behind Williams and Reiff this year while having a chance to compete for the starting right tackle job in 2022. 

Round 5: Evan McPherson, K, Florida

The Bengals had a need for a kicker after Randy Bullock wasn’t re-signed in free agency. McPherson was the best overall kicker in this class and will be asked to start and produce right away. 

Round 6: Trey Hill, OC, Georgia

Another trench player for the Bengals. This is an outstanding pick as the Bengals needed more depth at center behind Trey Hopkins, who is coming off a torn ACL injury. Hill offers excellent size and power and is a true mauler at the position. Hill is extremely smart and is a technician who's able to work his hands into the frame of opposing defensive lineman and has the grip strength to control and steer. Hill will provide depth along the interior of the offensive line as he can also play guard. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hill start for this team sooner rather than later. 

Round 6: Chris Evans, RB, Michigan

This is a little bit of a flier here, but in the sixth round why not? Evans is a toolsy running back with very good physical traits but has an extremely small sample size to truly get a feel for his pro outlook. Evans is a big and physical running back who has good speed and explosiveness. He offers passing game versatility and can contribute on all three downs. With the loss of Giovani Bernard, there is room for Evans to contribute as a rookie but his most likely playing time will come on special teams. Evans is a name to keep an eye on if Joe Mixon were to go down as I do think Evans will be a better pro than he was in college. 

Round 7: Wyatt Hubert, EDGE, Kansas State

Some more depth along the defensive line here. Hubert is an undersized but quick and disruptive edge rusher. He wins with a very good first step and ability to shoot gaps and a relentless motor. Hubert faces an uphill battle to make the roster as a rookie but is a strong candidate to land on the Bengals’ practice squad where he can continue to add strength and round out his game.

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