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NFL Combine 2015: Versatility remains priority for drafting offensive linemen

The Cincinnati Bengals may view the offensive line as a "need" during the 2015 NFL draft -- especially with contracts expiring after next season. There are a couple of first-rounder projections, but what of the team's expectations?

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Would you believe me if I were to tell you that the Cincinnati Bengals may draft an offensive lineman in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft? Maybe you don't see the sexiness of the pick as you would a pass rushing defensive end or a linebacker with crooked fingers and saliva pouring from his mouth, but would you agree with the selection?

The concept word out of Indianapolis on Wednesday was "versatility".

Offensive linemen spoke with the media on Wednesday, along with the first segment of 48 general managers and head coaches that are scheduled to chat -- Marvin Lewis will talk at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday. Cincinnati's beat writers attended the presser with LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins, including ESPN's Coley Harvey, who wrote that Collins didn't care if he played left or right tackle.

"It's a big advantage," Collins said about playing multiple positions. "It's about understanding the personnel you are blocking. When you're inside you are going against bigger guys. They are stronger, not faster, but on an island you are going against fast guys who are long with speed. You have to be able to understand where you're at on the field and understand the personnel you're going against."

On the other hand, as Geoff Hobson notes, there is a consensus in Indianapolis that there really isn't a "franchise-level" left tackle this year.

At least that’s the buzz in the combine environs and confirmed by such draft titans as ESPN’s Bill Polian, a new Pro Football Hall-of-Famer elected for building AFC powers in Buffalo and Indianapolis.

"No, there isn’t that kind of athletic guy," said Polian, when asked if there is "a dancing bear," pass protector in this draft.

Indeed, Polian believes the Bengals’ top priority should be a pass rusher and he thinks they can get one at No 21.

Rob Rang of CBS Sports would tend to agree there isn’t a pure left tackle and there is no consensus top ten tackle in the first 10 picks, where, by the way, Anderson, Jones and Smith were all selected. But, he says, there are plenty of guys that can move from left tackle to right tackle and guard. He still thinks the Bengals can get a guy at 21 that fits their style.


Paul Dehner with the Cincinnati Enquirer writes of Collins' connection with rookie running back Jeremy Hill.

Collins' connection runs deep with the Bengals, considering he's close friends with Bengals running back Jeremy Hill. The two both attended Redemptorist High School in Louisiana, were teammates at LSU and Collins even came to Cincinnati to attend Hill's breakout game against Jacksonville last season.

Collins has 22 formal meetings with teams this week, including the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos. Mel Kiper has him going to Indianapolis at No. 29... Todd McShay goes one spot higher to the Denver Broncos at No. 28. The Cincinnati Bengals pick No. 21 overall.

Essentially Collins would be a candidate at right tackle, replacing Andre Smith, who like Andrew Whitworth, is entering a contract year in 2015. Or at the very least, he would play guard with starting left guard Clint Boling, set to enter free agency next month.

Alexander loves offensive linemen with the ability to play multiple positions. Whitworth has played left tackle and guard at a high level throughout his entire career. There's the legendary stories of Eric Steinbach. Remember that one time that the team was taking a look at Bobbie Williams at center? Center T.J. Johnson has worked at center and guard, as did Kyle Cook before his retirement. Even when the Bengals drafted Clint Boling, the team's starting left guard who took snaps at right tackle this year, they praised his versatility. "Clint is a guy who has a lot of versatility. He has played both the guards and tackle position. Big guy with some strength," Lewis said on April 30, 2011.

Is Collins their guy? What about Pitt's T.J. Clemmings, viewed as an offensive guard who could slide out to offensive tackle as his career progresses.

The possibilities.

Then you look at Paul Alexander's expectations when drafting an offensive lineman:

"He has to have the right size, arm length, strength, quickness, the athleticism, flexibility, intelligence and competitiveness," Alexander said. "In my mind, the guy has to at least be adequate in every area. If he fails in one, it’s like the big-league baseball player who can’t hit the curve ball. You can’t make it. If he hasn't got the flexibility or if he’s too slow, it doesn't matter how good he is in the other traits. They're called Achilles’ heel traits."

Good luck.