One of the biggest criticisms the Bengals received for their 2015 draft class was taking an offensive tackle with each of their first two picks.
However, when you realize how long it typically takes the Bengals to develop a tackle into a quality starter, you'll see they were wise to begin that process as soon as possible. By taking Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi with their first two picks, the Bengals began the process of developing their next pair of starting tackles.
With Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith entering free agency next year, having two tackles already with a year of NFL experience under their belt is critical to ensuring there won’t be a massive drop off from Whit and Smith to their replacements.
Here's a look at how long it took the Bengals current two veterans to develop into the rock-solid tackles they've become:
Year 1: Part-time starter, thrust into lineup for the injured Levi Jones. Up-and-down rookie campaign.
Year 2: Emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber guard. Cumulative 29.6 Pro Football Focus Grade in games played at OG (fifth among all OG), but a -0.7 grade in games played at OT.
Year 3: Injuries limited Whit to 10 games. Finished with 2.9 grade while playing those 10 games at LG.
Year 4: Finally, Whitworth emerged as the full-time LT, finishing with a 21.7 grade.
Summary: It took four years for Whitworth to finally become the full-time LT.
Year 1: Injuries limited Smith to just one start while playing in six games at RT. He finished with 0.4 PFF grade.
Year 2: Injuries again limited him to just seven games and four starts at RT, while finishing with a woefully-bad -16.7 PFF grade.
Year 3: Finally began to emerge and stay healthy while starting 14 games at RT and finishing with a 3.8 PFF grade.
Year 4: Becomes a Pro Bowl-caliber RT while starting all 16 games and finishing with a 25.2 PFF grade.
Summary: It took three years for Smith to become the full-time RT and four before he reached his full potential.
Let’s also take a look at former Bengal Anthony Collins, as he has the third-most starts at OT since 2008, behind only Smith and Whitworth.
Year 1: Injuries at OT led Collins to play in nine games and start six at LT. He finished with a -3.4 PFF grade.
Year 2: Injuries again led Collins to play in 14 games, while starting seven at RT. He finished with a 7.0 PFF grade.
Year 3: With Smith and Whit healthy, Collins plays in just nine games with three starts and a 2.9 grade.
Year 4: Collins played in five games with two starts and finished with a 5.8 PFF grade.
Summary: After struggling in Year 1, Collins develops into a quality OT in Cincinnati's system.
This is a small sample size, but thankfully, that's because the Bengals were great at developing their offensive tackles over the years, before they ascended into bigger roles. Whitworth, Smith and Collins all struggled in Year 1 and Whit and Smith didn’t truly find their niche until Years 3 and 4. Assuming either Whitworth or Smith are gone next year, having two guys develop for a year should ensure that at least one of them is ready to start next year.
The truth is, you won't find many offensive tackles who start and play well as rookies. Hopefully by taking Fisher and Ogbuehi in the first two Rounds, the Bengals will avoid the struggles starting tackles go through in their first year in the NFL. This will ensure that, even if both Whit and Smith are gone next year, there won’t be enough of a drop off to prevent Cincinnati from reaching their full potential in 2016 and beyond.