When it comes to the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals were one of the most fascinating teams to watch and that's mostly because their first-round pick came with some drama.
In the lead up to the draft, it was pretty clear that Cincinnati was either going to take Penei Sewell or Ja'Marr Chase and Bengals fans spent weeks arguing which way the team should go. In the end, the Bengals ended up reuniting quarterback Joe Burrow with Chase, his former teammate at LSU. Although the pick wasn't popular with everyone, in the end, it feels like the Bengals made the smart choice, which was fitting, because they seemed to make a lot smart choices in this draft (For the record, Pete Prisco would not agree with that statement: he gave the Bengals' overall draft a B-).
For the rest of the week, we'll be taking a look at one thing that every team in the NFL did right in the draft and one thing that each team did wrong. For the Bengals, the options were easy.
What the Bengals got right: Their first three picks
The Bengals had a lot of pressure on them heading into the first round of draft and that's mostly because they were involved in one of the hottest debates of the offseason: Should they take Chase or Sewell?
The debate ended at roughly 9 p.m. ET on April 29 when the Bengals announced their pick.
Chase was arguably the top receiving prospect in the draft and he'll add some instant firepower to a Bengals offense that should thrive once Burrow is healthy and back under center. The fact that Chase and Burrow already have a fantastic rapport together only made the argument even stronger for taking the LSU receiver.
Although picking Sewell would have made plenty of sense, the Bengals most glaring hole going into the draft was at the guard spot on the offensive line, not at tackle. If they had selected Sewell, that would have given them three first-round tackles on their team (Jonah Williams and Riley Reiff are both former first-rounders), which means someone would have had to make the switch to guard.
Instead of asking a first-round pick like Sewell to switch positions, the Bengals went out in the second round and grabbed another offensive lineman in Jackson Carman. Although Carman was a tackle at Clemson, he'll almost certainly be playing guard with the Bengals.
By taking Chase, the Bengals avoided a situation where they might have had to ask their first-round pick (Sewell) to play a position he's never played before, which can turn into a dicey situation, especially if the player struggles. Also, if the Bengals were planning to put Sewell at guard, the question for them would have become: Do we want the top receiver in the draft or do we want a guy who's going to be forced to play a position that he's never played? From that perspective, taking Chase was the easy pick.
With Sewell out, the pressure now falls on Carman to succeed. When everyone looks back on this draft in five years, it will likely be Carman's play that goes a long way in determining whether this class was a success or failure. If Carman is good, it won't matter that the Bengals passed on Sewell.
If Chase is putting up 1,200 yards a season for a six-win team that can't protect Burrow, then passing on Sewell could end up haunting the Bengals, which is why the Carman pick will be so important.
With Chase and Carman as their first two picks, that means the Bengals have taken two offensive players with their first two picks in each of Zac Taylor's first three seasons with the team. The Bengals did finally take a defensive player in the third round and that came in the form of Joseph Ossai. The Bengals are hoping Ossai will be able to fill the hole left by Carl Lawson, who left in free agency. If these three picks all pan out, it could lay the foundation for years of success.
What the Bengals got wrong: No tight end
One of the Bengals biggest needs going into the draft was at tight end and for some reason, they decided to completely ignore the position even though they had TEN picks in the draft. The depth chart at tight end is thin and there was just no excuse for not adding at least one to the roster during the draft. Right now, the top two tight ends on the roster are Drew Sample and C.J. Uzomah.
The Bengals have no idea what Uzomah's going to look like this year and that's because he's coming off a 2020 season where he missed 14 games after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 2. As for Sample, the 2019 second-round pick showed flashes of being a key player last year when he caught 40 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown, but the Bengals are going to need more from him, especially if he's going to be their featured tight end.
When the Bengals traded back in the second round of this year's draft, they picked up two extra fourth-round picks (122nd, 139th overall) and it seemed like that would put them in a good position to grab a tight end, but it just never happened. When the Bengals picked at 139, two of PFF's top-7 tight ends were still available (Noah Gray and Brevin Jordan), which makes it even more surprising that they didn't grab one.
That being said, even if the Bengals would have taken a tight end, it wouldn't have been until the fourth round or later, so it's hard to completely crush them for taking a pass on the position.
Of course, the Bengals clearly realized they needed to add someone at tight end and we know that because one of the first things they did after draft was sign TCU's Pro Wells as an undrafted free agent. The 6-foot-3 Wells, who has a basketball background, has only been playing football since his senior year in high school, so he could end up blossoming for the Bengals, but if he doesn't, the team's tight end struggles could continue.