The offensive line is a hard unit to evaluate. They play together and are usually graded as a whole. Offensive line problems can be hidden when a team is winning, but those same issues will stand out when the team is losing. Very much like the Bengals of the past two seasons. In 2009, the offensive line went from being the biggest weakness, to the most improved unit on the team. That same offensive line (exact same!) became a weakness again in 2010. Hopefully this can easily be fixed before 2011, but some issues the Bengals are facing can be fixed through the draft. Andre Smith is rehabbing his broken foot (Again) and Marvin Lewis said he's not moving Smith to guard. Marvin also doesn't seem any closer to giving Anthony Collins the chance, even though he is visibly better than Smith at this point. With free agency eventually starting, the Bengals could lose rotating guards Nate Livings and Evan Mathis. Starting right guard, Bobbie Williams is heading into his final year with the team. Starting center Kyle Cook has been solid, but is upgradeable. With that said, the interior offensive line needs some upgrades, starters, and future contributors. The NFL Draft is the perfect way to re-tool your interior line. Starting guards and centers can been found throughout the draft. You don't have to draft one high to find a starter, which is perfect for the Bengals because they can use their first couple picks on premiere positions of need and focus on the offensive line later.
To accurately target whom the Bengals could draft in April. We first need to look at the draft history in the Marvin Lewis era. Since 2003, the Bengals have drafted 12 offensive linemen. Of those, only four were limited to one position. The other eight doubled their value by having the ability to play other offensive line positions. Only three were taken in the first three rounds. Not one offensive lineman has been picked in the third and sixth rounds. They have used the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds to picks half of their total selected offensive linemen.
Eric Steinbach (2003, G/T/C, 2nd round), Scott Kooistra (2003, T/G, 7th), Stacey Andrews (2004, T/G, 4th), Eric Ghiaciuc (2005, C, 4th), Adam Keift (2005, T, 5th), Andrew Whitworth (2006, T/G, 2nd), Dan Santucci (2007, G/C, 7th), Anthony Collins (2008, T, 4th), Jonathan Luigs (2009, C, 5th), Andre Smith (2009, T/G, 1st), Otis Hudson (2010, T/G, 5th), Reggie Stephens (2010, G/C, 7th)
Of course stats can be misleading, but there are a few keys to look for when looking at these stats.
- The Bengals like versatility in their offensive lineman.
- They have selected 4 college offensive tackles and moved them to guard in the NFL.
- They don't usually take an offensive lineman in the first two rounds unless a player is by far the best player available.
- They have selected at least one lineman in each draft during the Marvin Lewis era.
With the guidelines laid out, let's take a look at some players who could be wearing Bengal stripes next season.
2nd Round Possibilities
Mike Pouncey- G/C - Florida - 6'4" 310 lbs
You probably already know the name. Mike is the twin brother of Steelers standout rookie Maurkice Pouncey. File him under: Players that could fall into 2nd round and become BPA (best player available) when the Bengals pick. Mike isn't the same prospect that his brother was, but that doesn't mean he's not good. Mike could be over drafted because a team hopes he becomes his brother at the next level. Instead, he should be selected somewhere between picks 28-44. His value will be lower because even though he played center last year for the Gators, Mike played guard before that. He wasn't as good last year at center, but he did show he could be serviceable. Mike Pouncey has a great football I.Q., great instincts and awareness, good agility and balance, and is strong at the point of attack. All of the qualities of your typical starting NFL guard or center. He would comes in as a starter at left guard for the Bengals and in the future could play right guard or center if needed.
Ben Ijalana - T/G - Villanova - 6'4" 320 lbs
Ijalana is gaining steam after being hidden in a small school for his career. Most by now have him rated as their No. 5 tackle or in their top three guards. Ijalana has early second-round pick written all over him. He played offensive tackle in college, but he has the perfect look for a starting guard in the NFL. He has great bulk, huge powerful hands, strong at the point of attack and can anchor in the passing game. He's still raw and didn't face top competition at Villanova. That's not a problem for me. The only thing I don't like about Ijalana is his lack of killer instinct. You just don't see him crushing a guy and keeping him on the ground. I'd like my interior linemen to be a little nastier, but maybe he didn't have to be at Villanova because he was always the best player on the field. The Bengals would have to use their 2nd round pick on him, but I think he comes in as a starter at left guard while providing depth at tackle if needed.
Others 2nd round possibilities:
Danny Watkins - G/C - Baylor - 6'4" 310 lbs
He's only played football for four seasons so he's raw, but at the same time, he will be 27 years old when the season starts. On the plus side, he's tough, nasty, and still hasn't come close to his potential. I wouldn't take him until the 3rd round, but I bet a team takes him mid second.
Stefen Wisniewski- C/G - Penn St - 6'3" 310 lbs
This is the best center in the draft. Wisniekski is smart, instinctual, has good awareness, and is a great technician. His uncle is the offensive line coach for the Oakland Raiders, so you could see that as a potential landing spot for him in the second round.
3rd Round Possibilities
Jason Pinkston - T/G - Pitt - 6'4" 315 lbs
Pinkston is another college tackle that may be better at guard in the NFL. He has a ton of experience vs. top collegiate talent and he has the look of an NFL guard. His awareness and football IQ may drop him into the third round.
Rodney Hudson - G/C - Florida St. - 6'2" 299 lbs
If Hudson were prototypical size, he would easily be a late first-round to mid second-round pick. He has great technique and hand placement, to go along with great agility and quickness for an offensive lineman. Where he struggles is with big nose tackle types. Power rushers can blow him off the ball sometimes. Playing mostly guard at Florida St., Hudson is also getting looks at center. I think this could be Hudson’s best shot at the NFL. With Kyle Cook heading towards restricted free agency, the Bengals may want to look for a future replacement with some versatility to play guard.
Demarcus Love - T/G - Arkansas - 6'5" 315 lbs
Another tackle to be converted to guard because he doesn't play well in space. I wouldn't take him as a starting OT in this draft but I think Love could be a starting guard in the NFL with the ability to backup left and right tackle. He has a wide base that allows him to sit and anchor in pass protection, and enough agility for a guard to get to the second level in run blocking.
Marcus Cannon - T/G - TCU - 6'6" 350 lbs
Cannon played left tackle for TCU, but looks to be a right tackle or right guard in the NFL. He doesn't play with great leverage or hand usage. His weight might be a concern, but it also creates power for Cannon in the run game. I would take him for the Bengals in the 3rd round because he has starting right guard or tackle size and power. Which the Bengals need in case they lose Bobbie Williams next year or Andre Smith doesn't pan out.
4th Round Possibilities
John Moffitt - G/C - Wisconsin - 6'5" 320 lbs
I love John Moffitt as a prospect. Not only is he tough, strong and smart, he's athletic enough to be a pulling guard. Moffitt was getting reps at guard and center in the Senior Bowl, but I see him as a perfect left guard for Cincinnati. Sure he can play center in a pinch, that only adds to his value. During the Senior Bowl practices, Moffitt looked to be the toughest guard for opposing defensive tackles to beat in one on ones. Moffitt shows a great ability to get to the second level and wall off linebackers. Moffitt plays with an unmatched intensity and bring a blue-collar attitude with him everyday. I don't like that he will be 25 years old at the start of the season, but does it really matter?
Will Rackley - T/G/C - Lehigh - 6'4" 310 lbs
Rackley was a four-year starter at Lehigh, playing mostly left tackle. He was also an offensive captain. I haven't had the opportunity to watch him play because of the small school. So I had to see what Josh Buchanan (the leader on all small school prospects from JBscouting.com) had to say about Rackley.
"He has the massive thighs and is strong enough to slide inside to handle those bigger tackles. He also struggles some with speed off the edge making a switch to guard more attractive him."
It has been said that the Bengals interviewed Rackley at the combine. How much stock can you put into that? Not much, but it does show that he's on their radar.
Other Late Round (4-7) Possibilities
Brandon Fusco - C/G - Slippery Rock - 6'4" 305 lbs
Another small school guy that could use more strength and leverage techniques. He does have good feet and agility. Needs to get acclimated to the higher level of competition, but could be a starter in a year or two.
Ryan Bartholomew - C/G - Syracuse - 6'2" 300 lbs
Bartholomew had a very good workout at the combine and may be over-drafted. He's shorter than you would like for a guard, but he has long arms to help make up for it. He needs work at center after only playing 16 games in the middle. They say he's a hard worker and is well liked by teammates and coaches, so he just might need a good line coach to maximize his potential.
Andrew Jackson - G - Fresno St - 6'6" 295 lbs
This is my poor man's Eric Steinbach. Jackson struggles with leverage and strength but of course that comes with being tall and thin like Steinbach is. Jackson plays with intelligence and technique to his advantage. Some say he could be drafted in rounds 3-4, but I say it's more like rounds 4-6.
Jake Kirkpatrick - C - TCU - 6'3" 305 lbs
Kirkpatrick needs technique refinement. He has the short area quickness and ability to get to the second level. He looks like he's trying to maul everybody, but doesn't look particularly strong doing it. With NFL strength and better leverage and hand placement, Kirkpatrick could be a serviceable center for somebody.