Many folks within the Bengals’ organization benefitted from the team’s draft class last weekend.
The Cincinnati Bengals made some noise over the weekend, parlaying what was eight picks into 10 by the time the festivities concluded on Saturday evening. They grabbed players who can seemingly help them right away in varying capacities in all three phases of football.
While there were many benefactors to the exciting, new additions, there is also the unfortunate duty of looking into the crystal ball of the team’s roster to see how these rookies may negatively affect some veterans working hard to keep their jobs.
Joe Burrow: This draft was focused on No. 9—both in giving him weapons and in protecting him up front. To the latter point, the Bengals made three investments on the offensive line in Rounds 2, 4 and 6, with all three likely becoming valuable contributors in some capacity in the near future.
They also reunited Burrow with his favorite 2019 receiving target in Ja’Marr Chase, giving the offense needed explosiveness. Cincinnati has made efforts to short up both guard spots and right tackle in free agency, while also giving their second-year quarterback one of the best trios of wide receivers in the league.
Ja’Marr Chase: Oftentimes, rookie wide receivers face a steep learning curve while adjusting to the NFL. It’s why the hit rate on first-round receivers is inconsistent.
However, the Bengals are making an effort to ease Chase into the NFL by putting him in an offense with a quarterback in which he is already familiar. Not being on the same page and the miscommunications often seen with young receiver/quarterback duos should be lessened more than usual because of the familiarity between the two.
Also, as you’ll see below, Chase will benefit from a glut of talent at the receiver position, taking some heat off of him. That can only mean good things for Cincinnati’s offense in 2021.
Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd: Usually, when a first-round pick is used on a player in a specific position group, the incumbents would usually go into the “losers” category because of a decrease in their roles. Not so much here, as Chase should actually open things up more for Boyd and Higgins.
Chase will bring the separation factor missing out of the receiver group last year, but Higgins and Boyd should feast on the tough catches. Hopeful thinking has the Bengals potentially sporting three 1,000-yard receivers as early as this season and it’s not overly-unrealistic for this group.
Joe Mixon: The Bengals need to shore up their running game for a variety of reasons. After getting rewarded with a huge deal last year and then getting Frank Pollack back to specifically coordinate the run game, Mixon has to be pretty psyched.
Now, the Bengals added five key offseason acquisitions on the offensive line (Quinton Spain, Riley Reiff, Jackson Carman, D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill) to give Mixon and the running backs every opportunity for success. If it all falls into place, the Bengals should have a potent and balanced offensive attack.
Frank Pollack: Speaking of Pollack, the new offensive line coach/run game coordinator had to be smiling by the time Sunday rolled around. Sure, the team didn’t grab Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater in the first round, but the three picks they made on the offensive line matched the total amount invested in the 2019 and 2020 drafts by Cincinnati, respectively.
As if that wasn’t enough, the team sprang for Chris Evans (insert Marvel Universe pun here), who should bring an array of talents to the running back position. Pollack has a lot to work with in his first year back with the club.
C.J. Uzomah and Thaddeus Moss: While tight end isn’t a focal point in Zac Taylor’s Rams-bred offensive system in Cincinnati, they do play an important role in the offense as ancillary weapons. Uzomah was off to a nice start to the season before an injury landed him on I.R.
The Bengals not only appear to be committed to Uzomah and confident in his rehab, but also in Moss, who was a recent waivers acquisition. Cincinnati tried to get Burrow’s best LSU bud last year, and it seems they believe that other reunion will also be a productive one for the team, given their lack of any tight end draft picks.
Brian Callahan: Like with Taylor and Lou Anarumo, the pressure is on Callahan in his third year with the team as its offensive coordinator. They loaded up on his side of the ball in this draft, with half of the entire class going to his side of the ball (five players), including the first and second-round picks.
Callahan now has one of the best receiving trios in the league, a budding star at quarterback and an improved offensive line (even in marginally) at his disposal. Excuses are running thin, if the team and its offense don’t make big leaps this year.
Darrin Simmons: It’s not often that a team uses a fifth-round pick on a kicker, but the Bengals did so as a pretty massive special teams investment. Simmons has a lot of respect in the organization, so he likely pounded the table for Evan McPherson, who is likely to be the team’s Week 1 kicker.
Throw in the fact that Simmons got a punter (Drue Chrisman) as a UDFA and his “battery” of Kevin Huber, Clark Harris and Brandon Wilson back this year, and he’s got to be pretty stoked on how things look for his unit.
Lou Anarumo and Marion Hobby: For Anarumo, the Bengals have showed an immense amount of faith in what he’s trying to build on defense. They made massive investments in the draft and free agency on his side of the ball the past couple of offseasons.
Cincinnati used four picks on the defensive line, in an effort to give him proper depth and insurance, in case injuries hit the group hard again. That was music to Hobby’s ears, as the new defensive line coach has a lot of talent to mine, even if Geno Atkins is no longer in the locker room.
The current linebacker group: Last year, the Bengals brought in five linebackers via free agency and the draft to fix a group that had been long neglected. The trio of Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey all showed promise as rookies.
So much so that the team didn’t select any true linebackers in this year’s class. Some considered Joseph Ossai a “‘tweener” who could play in space down the road, but he’ll mostly be utilized as a pass-rusher. Cincinnati may bring a veteran in for more stability, but Wilson, Bailey and Davis-Gaither have all seemed to make favorable impressions on the staff.
Michael Jordan and Xavier Su’a-Filo: These two were darlings of the last offensive line coach, Jim Turner. The former had immense promise when drafted in 2019, but the development hasn’t been there. Maybe that changes under Pollack, but he’ll be busy with a number of “his guys” brought in this year.
Su’a-Filo is valued as a veteran presence on a line that trends a bit younger and still could work in Taylor’s system, but youth and athleticism have been added as possible replacements. Competition is a good thing, but these two may be on the short end of things, come September.
Fred Johnson and Hakeem Adeniji: In a similar vein to Su’a-Filo and Jordan, these two were Turner guys and had ups-and-downs last year. Adeniji likely has more wiggle room with the club, but after this weekend, his plateau may be that of valuable, swing backup, instead of developmental, future starter.
Johnson has had some chances with the Bengals the past couple of seasons, in terms of playing time, but it has been a mixed bag. It hasn’t really worked at either tackle spot or right guard, and with both Carman and Smith coming in this year’s class, he may be pushed out of a job.
Rotational defensive tackles: Josh Tupou has a lot of tools, but after opting out of 2020, he’ll be returning to a lot of competition at the interior of the defensive line. He’s also a Marvin Lewis guy, and those holdovers are becoming few and far between under Taylor’s watch.
Other guys who have seen time recently, such as Freedom Akinmoladun, Amani Bledsoe, Khalil Mackenzie, and even Renell Wren will have a lot to prove this offseason to make the roster. The 2021 rookie haul of Ossai, Cam Sample, Tyler Shelvin and Wyatt Hubert all have intriguing skill sets and could push other incumbents out of jobs.
Austin Seibert: Any time a kicker is drafted, the incumbent is going to be on the hot seat. That’s the case here with Austin Seibert, who didn’t do enough in his brief stint as the primary kicker last season to secure the job. Now that the Bengals have spent a fifth-round pick on the talented Evan McPherson, who’s fully expected to be the team’s kicker moving forward, Seibert has his work cut out for him to make the final roster.
Trayveon Williams and Jacques Patrick: Evans still has to show this staff what he’s made of, but there are murmurs that he can do quite a bit of what Giovani Bernard provided the offense for years. Williams was a guy Turner liked when he was at Texas A&M and while he’s flashed when given the opportunity, the coaches seem to have gravitated towards Evans. Throw in Samaje Perine’s late 2020 heroics and subsequent 2021 free agent contract and the position group is full.
Patrick is another good story and is huge for the position (6’2”, 234), but a lack of a preseason for him last year provides limited sample sizes for the coaches’ evaluation of him. It stinks that elements out of his control may go against him, but he’ll have to grind hard in training camp this year to earn a spot.