Staring at USC as a flexible offensive lineman, Alijah Vera-Tucker is one of the top blocking prospects in this class. If the Cincinnati Bengals want to use the 2021 NFL Draft to make a statement, moving up for the guard could be a game-changer. Seemingly, Cincinnati’s selection at fifth-overall is trending towards a pass catcher. However, still grabbing star power on the line in the first round could have a major payoff.
Alijah Vera-Tucker Could Be Exactly What the Bengals Need to Add in the Draft
Heading into this week’s draft, the Cincinnati Bengals are set to restock their roster with more young talent. Ideally, these picks will each be used to further compliment Joe Burrow with an arsenal of talent. While they’ve spent heavily on defense in back-to-back free agency periods, using the draft to create a fun, young offense. Seemingly, the team has the chance to really give that group a punch with early selections in each round. However, a trade-up for one of the best linemen in the class might give them the best possible draft haul. Currently, it seems like a pre-destined reality that the Bengals will draft Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth-overall selection. In Vera-Tucker, they might be able to lock in the best guard and best wide receiver in the class. While it could hurt their ability to build more talent, the move has some great upside.
The best interior offensive lineman in this class, Alijah Vera-Tucker is an ideal fit in Cincinnati. Further, he fills their team’s biggest position of need by a long shot. Playing out-of-position at left tackle in 2020, he was one of college football’s best pass blockers. His Pro Football Focus grade of 84.2 ranked 20th-best among his peers, earning First-Team All-Pac 12 Honors. Setting a powerful base, playing with a lot of speed, and using his hands incredibly well, he’s already got a strong foundation. With Vera-Tucker, Cincinnati would get a tremendous athlete with many technical skills already ironed out ahead of the professional game. Further, a 9.09 relative athletic score proves Vera-Tucker to be one of the most athletic prospects in this class.
Why Alijah Vera-Tucker is the Ideal 2021 Draft
The Bengals left a gaping hole at the right guard, one that’s been wide open since the departure of Kevin Zeitler. If the Bengals trade up and grade Vera-Tucker, they’ve added the best solution possible amongst 2021 targets. Cincinnati’s line immediately answers major questions and starts to look pretty high-ceiling. Plus, Vera-Tucker gives the group some star power and flexibility, as he has enough skills to be competent at the right tackle. Further, Jonah Williams and the addition of Riley Reiff give the Bengals the ability to slot Vera-Tucker at his natural position.
Frank Pollack, the team’s highly-praised offensive line coach, got a chance to watch Alijah Vera-Tucker go to work. Pollack conducted the young blocker’s pro day at USC, which gives the coach a really close evaluation. If Pollack came away with that as impressed as outsiders were with the results, it’s a major statement. Vera-Tucker could wind up being the best blocker in this draft class, even if it’s at a less-premium position. Certainly, the limelight in the blocking class surrounds Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater. However, Vera-Tucker seems to be a more polished prospect with a still sky-high ceiling. After all, the young lineman packs a punch with his blocks and shows the ability to move well in short spaces.
Further, moving up for Vera-Tucker gives the Bengals the chance to truly target the best player available throughout the draft. As it stands, they may be forced to reach for an offensive lineman they only kind of like in the second round. Instead, this trade-up option would allow them to attack the available talent. For a team needing to add more star power and regular contributors, this could prove invaluable.
HIstory of Bengals Trading Up in First-Round
Historically, the Cincinnati Bengals aren’t a team that loves to trade up for any first-round talent. Instead, they’ve been a club that wisely finds solid packages of picks that allow them to move back and recoup the benefits. When they have traded up, it’s been for offensive skill players. Only once in their team history have they executed a trade inside the top ten. In 1996, the team traded their fifth-overall pick and 36th-overall pick for the Carolina Panthers first-overall pick, selecting Penn State rusher Ki-Jana Carter. Granted, this is a team that is adjusting its philosophy and getting more willing to try new things with each passing season.
Designing Trade Packages for Alijah Vera-Tucker
While a desire to trade up is an important starter, finding a trade partner is a tricky balance to battle. Certainly, Cincinnati could be at risk of watching Alijah Vera-Tucker fly off the board early, with the Minnesota Vikings having interest. Still, some teams looking to stack assets could have interest in adding some of the Bengals’ chest of picks. Leaving teams aside for a moment, there are a couple of ways the team could package their picks.
The Bengals could package their 2022 first-round pick with their third-round pick in 2021 (69th overall) and make a pretty compelling case. Granted, that would have to go to a team that doesn’t have to land a star in this year’s class. This future-centric package could entice a team in the early twenties in particular. Further, they could package their second and third in this year’s draft, sweetening that pile with one of their two sixth-round picks. Sitting at 38th-overall, their second-round pick is close enough to the first to add value for other teams.
Further, the Bengals can stomach some of these outgoing picks knowing they’ll be receiving at least one compensatory selection next year. William Jackson III and Carl Lawson are likely to net the team additional third and/or fourth-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. So, even if they have to sacrifice some of their short-term assets, it shouldn’t be too painful. Seemingly, the Bengals should be able to cover their losses in a hurry. Granted, these are high prices to pay for unproven professional talent. Still, in the effort to protect Burrow in the short and long term, Vera-Tucker seems well worth the price.
The Fit Between the Bengals and Vera-Tucker
Making a move up the board might typically be an uneasy move for the Bengals, 2021 might have the ideal target to make a leap. Alijah Vera-Tucker gives the team a chance to land a top blocker in the draft class and solidify their line for the upcoming season. Truly, it’s not like waiting around to pick their linemen has proven fruitful in the past decade. Picking Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the 2015 NFL Draft set the franchise back a few years. Getting stuck with Billy Price one pick after the Detroit Lions selected Frank Ragnow in the 2018 NFL Draft still stings. Being aggressive for Vera-Tucker may be pricy, but it’s a move that fits the Bengals trajectory.
Main Photo: LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 02: USC Trojans guard Alijah Vera-Tucker (75) during a college football game between the Oregon Ducks and the USC Trojans on November 02, 2019, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)