Bengals Needed Lineman, Not Receiver

by Kevin Burton

   Once again the Cincinnati Bengals failed in Cleveland.

   This time it was not on the field but in the NFL draft.  The team failed to address its biggest need, offensive line, by passing on tackle Penei Sewell from Oregon to take Ja’Marr Chase a wide receiver from LSU. 

   I’m sure the speculation of the television analysts is true, that Chase was selected because he was the top wide receiver target of Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow when they both played at LSU in 2019.  They won a national championship together.

   Yes, you want to make your franchise quarterback happy, but wouldn’t you rather keep him healthy?

   Sewell has been called a once-in-a-decade talent at offensive tackle.  Pro Football Focus ranked Cincinnati 30th out of 32 NFL teams in offensive line play in 2020.  Only the Giants and Chargers were worse.  

   I was actually in despair because the Bengals won two games late in the season because it dropped them from third to fifth in the draft order, making it harder for them to get Sewell. Now he fell to them and they passed on him.

   The NFL does two things to foster competition. It gives the worst teams from the previous year the easiest schedules and gives them first pick at the amateur, ha, I mean college minor league players, available in the draft. 

   My Bengals qualify as among the worst teams at least by record. I’m not convinced they are among the worst when quarterback Joe Burrow is healthy. But last year he got hurt because the line was so bad.

   Here’s what Pro Football Focus had to say about that.

   “It’s safe to say that Joe Burrow did not have the cleanest of pockets to work from in his rookie season before suffering a season-ending injury in one of those collapsing pockets. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft took 32 sacks (t-2nd most) and 42 quarterback hits (t-5th most) over the first 11 weeks of the season. That falls back largely on the play of the offensive line.”

   “Jonah Williams was the only member of Cincinnati’s offensive line to record a pass-blocking grade of 70.0 or higher (75.8) in a group that was hampered not only by a lack of talent but also by injuries. Ten different players played at least 200 snaps along the offensive line for the Bengals this season.”   
   “It’s not a surprise that many Cincinnati fans have their sights set on Oregon tackle prospect Penei Sewell in the 2021 NFL Draft.”

   I was one of those fans. But the Bengals brain trust thought otherwise. Instead Sewell went seventh overall to Detroit.

   Now Chase is a great talent at Wide Receiver.  The Bengals needed a wideout after AJ Green left in free agency. But picking a lineman like Sewell is a move that helps you win playoff games. Picking a great wide receiver helps you sell tickets. That’s not a bad thing but it’s not a playoff thing.  

   In a division where Pittsburgh and Baltimore are so intelligent about personnel I just don’t think the Bengals could afford to pass on Sewell.  Even Cleveland is on the upswing right now.

   There is every chance I am wrong about this.  I loved baseball and football best growing up.  Baseball was always very accessible to me. In other words I was able to learn to pull it apart by its component parts and evaluate it

   Football was and is more impenetrable for me.  I don’t know cover two when I see it, although it can’t be all that hard to figure out. 

   But I do know that teams in all sports who master the fundamentals, win. They can even overcome superior talent at times. In football it’s about blocking and tackling. 

   Chase is good enough that there will be times next season when I conveniently forget I ever wrote this post. And Sewell may be a bust for all I know.

   But I was disappointed last night.

   I am planning to watch the draft again today and tomorrow as much as I can.  Cincinnati had better do something to upgrade its offensive line. I’m looking for the next two picks to go there.

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