The Cincinnati Bengals were busy in 2021 free agency, spending big for a pair of defensive starters in Chidobe Awuzie and Trey Hendrickson, then spending some more to add Riley Reiff and Larry Ogunjobi as likely Week 1 first-teamers. But they've still got a handful of big holes to fill entering this month's draft, especially if they want to make life easier for young quarterback Joe Burrow. With eight picks, including No. 5 overall, they'll have a real chance at patching up those areas. Here are three steps that would headline our perfect 2021 draft plan for Cincinnati.
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Add at least two offensive linemen, including a Day One starter
This seems like a no-brainer at this point, but it can't be emphasized enough. Even if the Bengals' front was just average for Burrow in 2020, there'd still be reason to invest in the trenches. But it was horrendous, and that means that a one-year deal for Riley Reiff to play right tackle is not going to cut it. Reiff may start the year opposite Jonah Williams as a bookend, and he may help, but Cincy's No. 1 goal in the draft should be injecting at least one other new starter into its O-line.
Notice that this says at least two linemen. If the Bengals end up spending nearly half their picks on blockers, that shouldn't be criticized. Who, among Cincy's current starting line (Williams, Reiff, Michael Jordan, Billy Price, Xavier Su'a-Filo), inspires unblemished confidence in 2021, let alone for years to come? Obviously quality matters as much as quantity here, but if there's one area that can't be overcorrected on this team, it's the unit charged with keeping the star QB upright.
If it's not Penei Sewell at No. 5 or Rashawn Slater in a slight move down (or, heck, as a surprise at No. 5), then tackle or guard must be addressed in the second round, as well as later.
Get a premier pass catcher by the end of Day Two
This is said to be a deep wide receiver class, so it's not implausible to think Cincy could still land a starting-caliber talent in the second or maybe even early third round. And no, the Bengals aren't necessarily hurting for wideouts. Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Auden Tate make an underrated trio. But just as protecting Burrow is important, so is surrounding him with weaponry. Nothing matters more when you're trying to capitalize on a star young QB's rookie deal. That means a new WR or TE should be in tow early.
Fortunately for Cincy, the options could be plentiful. Burrow's old LSU counterpart Ja'Marr Chase has become a popular pick for the Bengals at No. 5, and for good reason. Florida TE Kyle Pitts probably deserves just as much, if not more, love at the same spot; could you handpick a better safety valve for Burrow? A slight move down could open the door for a DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle. And then you're into the big basket of potential second- and third-rounders: Terrace Marshall Jr., Elijah Moore, Rondale Moore, Amari Rogers, Dyami Brown, Pat Freiermuth. Any of them would be welcome additions.
Invest midround picks at DE, CB
Both of these spots got big-money additions this offseason, with Cincy paying Trey Hendrickson $60 million to come off the edge and Chidobe Awuzie $21.75 million to start on the outside. Thing is, the Bengals also let Carl Lawson and William Jackson III, arguably two of the team's top young talents, walk at those positions. And while Mike Hilton and Eli Apple offer varying levels of depth at the slot and outside corner spots, and Sam Hubbard has flashed before at defensive end, the Bengals could still use both short- and long-term upside at these key positions.
The linebacker unit could arguably use just as, if not more, help. But corner and pass rusher are premium roles that always need replenished. Pairing at least one midround addition there with other building blocks like Hendrickson, D.J. Reader and Jessie Bates III could go a long way to making Cincy even more competitive in the AFC North. Rounds three through five (No. 69, No. 111, No. 149) feel like the potential sweet spot for taking care of business here.
Here's the prospects CBS NFL Draft writer Josh Edwards has the Bengals taking in his mock draft:
Round (Overall pick)
Ja'Marr Chase (WR)
Dillon Radunz (OT)
North Dakota State
Tommy Tremble (TE)
Osa Odighizuwa (DT)
Tommy Kraemer (OG)
Jermar Jefferson (RB)
Landon Young (OT)
Harry Crider (C)
|7 (235)||Justin Growel (EDGE)||Lake Erie|