Coming into the draft, it was all but a lock that the Bengals would take a guard with one of their first round picks because, even though they signed Travis Wharton and Jacob Bell during free agency, they did not have a long-term solution in place. After the Bengals drafted Dre Kirkpatrick with the No. 17 pick overall, and Stanford OG David DeCastro slid past the Chargers, Bears, and Titans, it seemed as though the Bengals would have their wishes granted and would take DeCastro, start him at guard from day one, and he would be an all-pro guard for the next decade.
That, of course, is a fans perspective on the draft and we, as fans, know very little about who the Bengals value most and what they are going to do so that they can get the guy they want, even if that means trading back. The Bengals ended up doing exactly that swapping first-round picks with the Patriots, receiving a third-round pick as compensation, drafting Wisconsin offensive guard Kevin Zeitler with the No. 27 overall pick. It is still to be determined if the Bengals got the better end of the trade but, at first glance, Zeitler and Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson holds greater value (at least on paper) than the lone pick of DeCastro. We will wait and see if it actually ends up being a good decision by the Bengals, but one thing is for sure: Andrew Whitworth is very excited to have Zeitler on his team, telling Dan Hoard:
"It wasn’t really a shocker to me," said left tackle Andrew Whitworth. "From everyone I’ve talked to, the guy is very impressive – as a person and as a player. Anytime we get a guy in the locker room that is a great person and player, I’m excited about it."
A lot of fans were not excited about passing over DeCastro, trading back a few picks, and still picking a guard because the only offensive lineman that they have been hearing about is DeCastro and how he will start from day one. It also doesn't help that the Steelers drafted DeCastro, which as you can imagine didn't sit well with many fans. But what fans don't see are the workouts and the interviews that the Bengals hold with prospects and the value they judge from those private sessions.
What fans might not know about Zeitler is that he is an absolute mauler in the running game and is a solid pass blocker. Paul Anderson, Bengals offensive line coach, sees Zeitler as possibly the best guard in the draft and the Bengals were able to get an extra draft pick as well as the top guard on their board. No matter how you view it, this is a win for the Bengals. Not only this but, as Whitworth notes, Zeitler is a great person with great character. If you are a Bengals fan, any time the Bengals draft a player with great character, you should be ecstatic. The fact that he is a top-notch talent and fills a large need for the Bengals offense is certainly a plus.
"I see a guy who is serious about what he is going to have to do," said Whitworth. "He’s not overwhelmed and seems pretty determined. I like that. He’s definitely a guy that has a lot of character – that’s the first thing that you realize after a short conversation with him. I’m excited about his future here and I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help be a part of him being successful."
The transition coming from college to the NFL is never easy for any player, but trying to make that transition on the offensive line is especially difficult. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that Zeitler is going to be going up against two of the top, most complex defenses and blitz packages in Baltimore and Pittsburgh two times a year. Whitworth is commonly known as one of the top tackles in the NFL and one of the smartest players in the league. Knowing that Whit is going to take Zeitler under his wing and do everything he can to help Zeitler learn the offense and transition to the pros, allowing him the opportunity to succeed as a pro, should be reassuring to every fan.
Whitworth is one of the few Bengals players, along with Domata Peko and Andy Dalton, that if he says something about a player, it is not just fluff for the media, but it should be taken as truth. This can also be applied to second year OC Jay Gruden, who had this to say regarding Zeitler:
"He’s one of the top guards on the board, in our opinion. He’s tough, he’s strong, he’s physical, he’s smart — guys like that can only help your football team. It’s not a popular pick sometimes to take an offensive guard, but last time I checked, they play a lot of snaps on Sunday."
Overall, the last three to four years of drafts should be evidence that the Bengals know what they are doing with their draft strategy and who they pick, especially in the later rounds, and they should have earned our trust on draft day. If guys like Gruden and Whitworth say that Zeitler is a great player and will be a great addition to the Bengals offensive line, you should take their word for it. I know that I do. If you still need more evidence and convincing, watch this video of Zeitler's draft profile from SB Nation and decide for yourself if the Bengals got a better value by drafting Zeitler/Thompson over DeCastro.
Kevin Zeitler 2012 NFL Draft Profile (via sbnnfl)