2021 Report Card: Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line Grades

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It’s no secret that the largest issue the Cincinnati Bengals faced in 2021 was their atrocious offensive line play. As a unit, the Bengals gave up 55 sacks in the regular season and 19 in the playoffs. The Bengals offensive line grades are not good. Cincinnati made it to Super Bowl LVI in spite of this unit but they were the sole reason Zac Taylor’s offense could not be adequately implemented.

With this offensive line, the quarterback play suffered. The running backs couldn’t find holes. The wide receivers‘ and tight ends‘ timing routes were thrown out the window.

Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Line Grades for the 2021 Season

Jonah Williams: B-

There are three players on this Bengals offense who were selected in the first round by Cincinnati: Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Jonah Williams. Since missing his rookie season due to an injury, Williams has been the Bengals left tackle for the last two years, although he missed six games in 2020 due to injury. In 2021, Williams was likely the Bengals best lineman, overall. Even then, that does not exclude him from the fact this unit was the worst in the NFL yet again.

In his 16 regular-season games, Williams allowed eight sacks and committed four penalties. Graded at 77.1 by PFF, Williams was easily the most reliable option and will be one of, if not the only Bengal the team is not looking to move off of. Williams, despite those sacks, has played well against the plethora of top-tier pass rushers the Bengals have faced this year. Before the season opens, Cincinnati will more than likely pick up his fifth-year option. If they can get an even better tackle, Williams could kick to the other side and end up as a very good right tackle.

Quinton Spain: C+

Quinton Spain is a lot like Eli Apple for this team. Both were actually pretty solid for the team but gave up back-breaking plays in the Super Bowl. If Spain has played his final game with Cincinnati, his last snap will be remembered as the guy who was absolutely bodied by Aaron Donald. Which, in turn, forced Burrow to short-hop a pass to Samaje Perine instead of stepping up and finding Chase alone for a touchdown after Jalen Ramsey was on the turf.

On the year, including playoffs, Spain graded out at 72.3, per PFF. He was charged with five sacks as well. Between Spain and Williams, the pressure was not coming from Burrow’s left side (for the most part). Spain’s leadership and abilities as a veteran have been able to hold it down. Currently, Spain is an unrestricted free agent. He’s a very popular pick among Bengals fans to bring back and plug back in at left guard. Plus, if Cincinnati can lock down someone to play right tackle, Spain would be an invaluable resource to compete with and mentor Jackson Carman.

Jackson Carman: C

The rookie from Clemson was very up-and-down. Putting aside the belief that the Bengals reached on Carman about a round too early (they could have had Creed Humphrey…), Carman should have been able to step in and play. Carman appeared in every game regular-season but only started seven. One of those seven was in the Week 18 game where all of the actual starters were resting. He was having a hard time cracking the starting lineup despite the poor play of the player ahead of him.

PFF graded Carman at a meager 56.3 but did not charge him with any sacks. There are plenty within the Bengals contingent that just want to give up on Carman as a whole. Obviously, this would be foolish. Carman is a project, raw, and young. In his mid-season chunk of starts, Carman wasn’t a play-wrecker. He certainly was not ideal or the best of the starting five, but he was serviceable. If he can improve his work-ethic and weight — which were noted issues going into camp — Jackson can become a decent option. With the signing of Alex Cappa, Carman will have to fight for the other guard position this fall.

Trey Hopkins: C+

For the five seasons, he was a starter, Trey Hopkins was a stalwart on the offensive line. At no point during his career in Cincinnati would a Hopkins season have earned one of the highest Bengals offensive line grades. In 2021, the center position was just okay. Hopkins finished the year with a meh grade of 51.4 and allowed four sacks.

In the past couple of seasons, Hopkins and the guards struggled mightily when it came to passing off stunts and just utilizing communication altogether. In 2021, with the addition of Frank Pollack, Hopkins and the guards made noticeable improvements. Now, they still got dog-walked on a weekly basis because some of the interior talent is legit, but they improved passing off defenders. Hopkins was a cap casualty this off-season and will likely be able to find work elsewhere. If not, Cincinnati may be perfectly fine with bringing him back on a cheaper deal for depth.

Riley Reiff: B-

Tied with Williams atop the Bengals offensive line grades is the other tackle, Riley Reiff. On an offensive line as offensive as the Bengals, Reiff was solid up until his injury. For the first 12 weeks, Reiff was able to hold it down at the right tackle position, earning a 67.3 grade and allowing four sacks. Considering the pass rush talent he faces (T.J. Watt, Myles Garrett, etc), allowing just four sacks in 12 games is not too bad.

Cincinnati signed Reiff to just a one-year deal before the 2021 season and has yet to re-sign him. As of now, Reiff is a free agent and likely atop the Bengals list of tackles to sign if they cannot get a top free agent like La’el Collins. Or, of course, Cincinnati or another team could sign Reiff for depth and could certainly do worse. Reiff was a solid veteran on the offensive line and held his own despite the failings of those who lined up to his left.

Hakeem Adeniji: D

Finishing at the bottom of the graded Bengals offensive line grades is Hakeem Adeniji. It’s quite possible that the big number 77 was thrust into his role due to injury to Xavier Su’a-Filo and Carman. In any sense, Adeniji was not good for the Bengals in 2021. He graded at 43.7 and allowed nine sacks. Perhaps PFF is conservative with their sack estimations because it seemed like Adeniji was getting bodied every other play and was looking down at Burrow.

Adeniji was a sixth-round pick and plays like a sixth-round pick.

Isaiah Prince, Trey Hill, D’Ante Smith, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Fred Johnson: Not enough data…but it’s not good

Isaiah Prince stepped in after Reiff’s injury and it handicapped the entire offense. Half of the time, if his jersey number was blurred, fans would probably mistake him for Bobby Hart. Trey Hill and D’Ante Smith are young depth pieces who are not close to earning legitimate playing time. Fred Johnson and Su’a Filo were released.

Obviously, the starters for the Bengals offensive line are not good. Considering poorly the starters are, how poor must the bench players be that they can’t breakthrough?

Things Are a-Changin’

The Bengals offensive line grades are not good and it was in spite of this unit that Cincinnati won the division, won three playoff games, and was a play away from winning it all. The Bengals were unable to truly run their offensive gameplan. There will likely be at least three new starters on the Bengals offensive line when Week 1 hits.

Thus far, Cincinnati has signed Alex Cappa and Ted Karras to reinforce the interior. Left tackle, center, and right guard are solidified. Protecting Burrow has been a priority and will be into the season. The Bengals nearly won it all despite giving up 70+ sacks and God-knows-how-many hits on Burrow. Imagine what they can do if they half that number.

Offensive report cards are in! The defensive line is up next and they graded out a little better than the offensive line.

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