It’s no secret that the Cincinnati Bengals draft and free agency periods need to revolve around Joe Burrow. In particular, they need to find a way to protect their young quarterback from taking hits, especially free shots. However, the team needs to consider the long-term reality of Burrow calling shots in the backfield. Bringing home a top tackle in this year’s draft could set their tone for years to come. While they have serious positional needs, it starts with the offensive line, particularly at tackle.
The First Cincinnati Bengals Draft Pick Seems Focused on Two Offensive Tackles
When the Cincinnati Bengals draft kicks off with the fifth overall pick in April, there will be a bunch of exciting prospects on the board. However, that list of prospects could be narrowed to two, or even one, by the time Cincinnati’s on the clock. In order to protect Burrow’s health for the future, the two prized offensive tackles could top Cincinnati’s big board. Penei Sewell from Oregon and Rashawn Slater from Northwestern headline the tackle group this year. Sewell and Slater are both thought to be long-term starters in the league, but they each have pros and cons.
Drafting either tackle could be viewed as a risk. Expecting a rookie to start Week 1 of 2021 and keep Burrow upright is a big ask. However, that could change drastically depending on what happens in free agency. If the Bengals sign a free-agent tackle like Daryl Williams or Riley Reiff, it gives them more flexibility. While they would still lean towards Sewell or Slater, it allows the team to develop the prospect at guard. It’s a similar situation to one Andrew Whitworth faced with the could in the early stages of his career. Whitworth played three seasons at guard before becoming one of the premier tackles in the NFL. Given the Bengals history of success with that experiment, Sewell or Slater could very well be the next in line.
Why the Cincinnati Bengals Would Lean Towards Penei Sewell
Ranked as the top tackle in this year’s draft by most, it’s hardly a guarantee that Sewell makes it to the fifth pick. However, with the promising group of quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, a prospect like Sewell could take a slide. Some draft experts view Sewell as a generational type of talent. Sewell’s pro comparisons show the level of praise surrounding the prospect. In The Ringer’s draft guide, Sewell is compared to Jedrick Wills of the Cleveland Browns. In a piece released by The Athletic, one scout compared Sewell to Anthony Muñoz.
Regardless of the hype, Sewell’s freshman and sophomore tape from Oregon is pretty impressive. Even at 19-years-old, he looked like the best tackle in college football. Sewell opted out of the 2020 season, spending time preparing for the pro game. On one level, it deprives the league’s front offices of important game tape. However, stands to reason that Sewell is spending all of his energy getting ready for professional football. If the Cincinnati Bengals draft Sewell, it could be a ready-made tackle solution to start the year. Further, there are already rumors circulating that Cincinnati is targeting Sewell with the fifth pick. Granted, there’s just no guarantee he falls that far.
Could Rashawn Slater Surprise Everyone by Landing Inside the Top-Five Picks?
Most mock drafts won’t include Rashawn Slater falling within the top-five, let alone top-ten picks. However, his status is rising and after an impressive pro day at Northwestern, he really displays his unique size and power. Further, highly-respected draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah ranks Slater as his top tackle, even ahead of Sewell. While he’s not the tallest mountain of a tackle, he has long arms and can’t easily be moved by edge rushers. Slater’s landmark moment comes from a dominant match against Chase Young. While the Buckeyes beat the Wildcats, Young was incapable of getting around Slater all game long.
Rashawn Slater Pro Day:
• HT: 6042
• WT: 304
• Arm: 33”
• 40: 4.88 / 4.94
• 10-yard split: 1.68
• Bench: 33 reps
• 3 Cone: 7.48
— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) March 9, 2021
Slater might also offer a little more positional flexibility than Sewell. Many view Sewell as a true left tackle, while most view Slater as a starter anywhere on the line. Some think Slater might be a really good right tackle, but a special guard in the ilk of Zack Martin. Flexibility is an asset in the NFL, where injuries can cause massive positional disruption. Having someone like Slater, capable of playing throughout the line, will certainly benefit just about any team. Even if Slater plays more like a guard in the long-term, it’s an area where the Bengals could use help. Michael Jordan, Alex Redmond, Fred Johnson, and Xavier Su’a-Filo simply aren’t premier guard talent.
Cincinnati Bengals Draft Past and Present Shows Interest in Tackles Early
It’s no secret that the Bengals operate differently from most organizations in the league. Due to the family-business-style operations, their patterns are easier to predict based on their past behavior. Eight times in their 52-year history, they’ve used a first-round pick on a tackle. They’ve only used first-round picks on two positions more frequently, selecting defensive ends and linebackers nine times each. In the last ten years, they’ve only drafted first-round tackles twice, the most recent being Jonah Williams in the 2019 NFL Draft.
While Cincinnati frequently leans on first-round tackles, they’ve had significant ups and downs. It worked with excellence in 1980 when they used the third pick to grab NFL-legend Anthony Muñoz. They hit another home run when they selected Willie Anderson with the tenth pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. However, they felt the bad side of the pick in 2015 when they selected Cedric Ogbuehi, considered a bust. While Sewell or Slater could fall in between the two ends of the spectrum, the upside is quite appealing.
Focusing strictly on tackle can be a dangerous game for the Bengals. With exciting talents like Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, and Micah Parsons atop the board, the options are truly hard to beat. However, if the team is serious about protecting Joe Burrow, adding a franchise tackle proves their commitment. Slater and Sewell aren’t perfect prospects, but they’re both potential day-one starters. Further, should the Cincinnati Bengals draft either, it’s an immediate upgrade over Bobby Hart. The Bengals have plentiful flexibility with their draft, but Slater and Sewell could be a sticky spot in the first round.
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