The Cincinnati Bengals had one of the better offensive lines in football this past season, but they made a pair of moves last offseason to ensure it stayed that way in the future.
In today's pass-happy NFL, the offensive tackle position has become as valuable as it's ever been. Without a good pair of tackles, quarterbacks get beaten up and even injured, No one wants to see their $20 million signal-caller on the sideline, and having a great pair of tackles can ensure that never happens.
Look no further than the Bengals, who had a streak of their starting quarterbacks make 109 straight starts (Carson Palmer made 32 from 2009-10 and Andy Dalton made 77 from 2011-15) before Dalton's thumb injury sidelined him for the final three games of 2015. Only a handful of teams around the NFL had a streak like that, and it comes as no surprise the Bengals had one of the league's better tackle duos (Andrew Whitworth and either Anthony Collins or Andre Smith) during that span.
But Collins is long gone and Smith is likely following suit when he hits free agency this offseason. That's what led to the Bengals selecting Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi with their first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The 21st-overall pick of the draft, Ogbuehi had a rough entrance to the NFL after tearing his ACL during his final college game, which was Texas A&M's win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29. Despite many months of rehab ahead of him and with the expectation he would open the year on PUP, Ogbuehi was still taken in the first round of the draft.
That's how talented the 6'5", 306-pound tackle is, and he was targeted by the Bengals going into the draft. Ogbuehi played significant snaps for A&M nearly since the day he arrived on campus. As a freshman in 2011, he started six of 10 games at guard. As a sophomore in 2012, he started all 13 games at right guard.
Then as a junior in 2013, Ogbuehi was moved to right tackle as the full-time starter. In 2014, he started all 13 games for A&M with 11 at left tackle and two at right tackle. He earned first-team All-SEC and third-team AP All-American honors.
Though he progressed well enough in his rehab that he said he could return in the summer, Ogbuehi still opened training camp on the Non-Football Injury list (as his injury didn't occur in the NFL), where he would spend the first two months of the season before being cleared to practice on Nov. 10 and activated to the 53-man roster later in the month.
But with the Bengals already having Whitworth at left tackle and Smith on the right side, the rookie rarely saw the field during his first pro season. Ogbuehi played in 11 snaps in his NFL debut during in a Week 13 win at Cleveland. His first snap came on Jeremy Hill's 1-yard touchdown run.
At the end of the game, Ogbuehi took on the left tackle position, filling in for Whitworth. He also ended up getting snaps at right tackle and as a swing lineman in big formations as the season wore on, but never got significant snaps as the starters remained healthy all season.
When Ogbuehi did play, he showed flashes of becoming a capable blocker, but not enough so that he's a lock to be starting next season. He'll likely compete with Jake Fisher for the starting right tackle spot, assuming Smith leaves, but could eventually get that job either way once Whitworth retires, assuming Fisher takes over on the left side at that time.
But for all we really know about the Bengals first and second round draft picks from 2015, it could be Ogbuehi who takes over on the left side for Whitworth in the near future with Fisher on the right side. There just isn't enough tape of these guys in the NFL to make a strong case for which spot they'll play at for the long-term.
One of them may even move to guard and kick either Cling Boling or Kevin Zeitler to center, actually, that's really just me dreaming of ways to get the liability that is Russell Bodine out of the starting lineup.
Projecting Ogbuehi's long-term outlook is silly right now, but for 2016, he should get a shot at competing for the right tackle spot.