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NFL Draft

Should Bengals Still Draft Penei Sewell?

  • The Draft Network
  • March 23, 2021
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The first week of free agency is behind us and we now have a much clearer picture of team needs heading into April’s NFL draft. Teams spent last week identifying and signing free agents who they feel can come in and make an immediate impact and help their team win games come the fall. One team in particular that was very active in free agency and did an outstanding job last week was the Cincinnati Bengals.

Cincinnati entered the offseason knowing that they were a long way from fielding a roster that can make a run at a postseason berth. The team finished last season with a 4-11-1 record and in last place in the AFC North. While the Bengals have some nice young talented players on their team, headlined of course by last year’s No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, the team still had many holes that needed to be addressed. So far through the first week of free agency, the team has done well in identifying their weak positions and adding quality talent.

Early on at the start of free agency, it became clear that the Bengals' decision-makers were hell-bent on improving a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in every statistical category. They started the week by signing former New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson to a four-year deal worth $60 million, making Hendrickson one of the highest-paid players on the team. Hendrickson is expected to come in and give life to a pass rush that ranked last in the league in sacks with just 17. The addition of Hendrickson showed that the Bengals' front office wasn’t going to be as conservative as they have been known to be over the years but will be aggressive in building up this team while they have Burrow on a rookie contract.

The aggressiveness continued as the Bengals then went on to sign a pair of talented corners in former Dallas Cowboy Chidobe Awuzie and former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Hilton. Awuzie should start outside and replace William Jackson III, who signed with the Washington Football Team. Hilton is one of the most underrated players in the league and gives the Bengals an excellent nickel defender who can lock down the slot.

While these defensive signings were nice to see and these players will certainly make a big impact for the team next season, the lack of an offensive lineman addition was quite glaring. Last year’s Bengals season can be summed up by this hashtag “#ProtectJoeBurrow” because, unfortunately, that’s something the Bengals didn’t do. Prior to going down with a season-ending injury, Burrow was hit more than any other quarterback in the NFL. The team’s inability to keep their franchise quarterback upright not only cost the team games last season, but also could jeopardize Burrow’s development as a player. Understanding this, the fact the Bengals sat back and watched Trent Williams re-sign with the San Francisco 49ers, Corey Linsley sign with the Los Angeles Chargers, and Joe Thuney sign with the Kansas City Chiefs was definitely a cause for concern. Thankfully the team was indeed able to find an offensive lineman in this year’s free agent class as the team signed Riley Reiff from the Minnesota Vikings. 

Reiff a 10-year NFL veteran, is an excellent addition to the Bengals offensive line and immediately becomes their best player up front. Reiff is coming off one of his best years last season, starting 15 games at left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings. In those 15 starts, Reiff allowed just one sack and only 21 pressures. For comparison's sake, last year’s starting right tackle Bobby Hart allowed four sacks and 44 pressures. Reiff is projected to make the switch to right tackle, a position he has played in the past, and between him and left tackle Jonah Williams, the Bengals now have a more than serviceable pair of offensive tackles. The question now becomes, are the Bengals done at the offensive tackle position?

Prior to the Reiff signing, it was widely expected that the Bengals were going to be targeting Oregon’s left tackle Penei Sewell with the fifth pick in the NFL draft, Now with the addition of Reiff, could the team look to address another position?

Well, the answer here is yes. The Bengals can certainly look to add another player other than Sewell and there is a great chance that a player like Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase is on the board—and if the Bengals take one of those players you won’t hear too much criticism from me. That being said, if Sewell is still on the board at five, he is clearly still the best pick.

Sewell is one of the most talented offensive line prospects to come out of college football in quite some time, and that is saying something as we just had a historic offensive line class in 2020. Sewell brings a unique mixture of size, length, and athleticism that makes him an easy projection at the next level. In the run game, Sewell plays with tremendous power at the point of attack and easily generates movement. He plays a little high at times, but his raw power and quick active hands allows him to regain position and drive the defender out of the hole. His athleticism really pops when he is asked to play in space and reach the second level. His ability to locate and land on moving targets is rare, and he will be a huge asset to the Bengals' screen game. As a pass protector, his length and feet stand out, as he is an easy mover who can slide in pass protection while keeping his chest clear. What’s most intriguing about Sewell is the fact that he is just 20 years old and is just scratching the surface on the type of player he can develop into.

The fact of the matter is that the Bengals have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game and they cannot afford to not have a strong offensive line in front of Burrow. Adding Sewell will allow the Bengals to either kick Jonah Williams inside to left guard, a position that desperately needs to be addressed, or move Williams to right tackle and have Reiff play inside, something Reiff already stated he is open to doing. Having an offensive line that consists of Sewell at left tackle, Williams at left guard and Reiff at right tackle is light years better than what the Bengals rolled out last year. Another thing to note is that Reiff’s two-year contract is essentially a one-year deal as the second year is a void year, so thinking that Reiff’s signing would stop the team from adding a player like Sewell doesn’t add up.

Again, will I fault the Bengals if they do end up drafting Pitts or Chase? Probably not, and the fact the Bengals were in on the Kenny Golladay sweepstakes makes it quite clear that they would like to add another receiver. However, if Sewell is on the board, I have a hard time seeing the Bengals passing on him and robbing Burrow of a franchise left tackle to grow with over the next decade. 

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