Nastiness and grace rarely go hand-in-hand. But don't tell that to Kevin Zeitler. The fifth year right guard has quickly ascended the ranks of the NFL's offensive linemen and quietly become a critical link in the Bengals' offensive attack.
While offensive linemen might not get as much attention as the skill positions, fans have taken notice of Zeitler's effectiveness, as his expiring contract has become a point of concern. But rest assured, a deal will get done. The Bengals simply do not let young, deserving talent go. If it seems his extension should have been done by now, just remember that two years ago, Andy Dalton didn't receive his contract extension until early August, and A.J. Green's deal wasn't done until right before the season opener last year.
In the following video, we break down the three traits that make Zeitler so great:
Experience: Year 5
Why he might improve in 2016
As he enters his fifth year in the league, all of them as a starter, Zeitler is just entering his prime. Coming off his second 16 game season after missing eight combined games in the previous two, he's healthier and stronger than ever before. And he's still just 26-years-old, with a lot of use left. While he could still refine his individual play, Zeitler may be more consistent in 2016 due to improvement of his fellow offensive lineman. A better Russell Bodine in his third year would greatly benefit Zeitler, as he wouldn't be asked to make difficult reach blocks that force him across the other side of the line. On his right side, Cedric Ogbuehi will start at right tackle, as last year's starter Andre Smith is now with the Minnesota Vikings. Smith's tenure in Cincinnati had its ups and downs, which were mainly dictated by his health. Ogbuehi could very well be an upgrade. Improved play on both sides of him should only decrease the pressure on Zeitler to carry his side of the line. And while he's shown he's capable of this feat, the less extra work he is tasked to do, the better.
Why he'll be a legitimate Pro Bowl candidate
Offensive lineman don't accumulate statistics that grab the attention of the everyday Pro Bowl voter. Rather, they're recognized for two things: draft status, and consistency. Oftentimes, offensive linemen will get voted to the Pro Bowl based on name recognition, which makes it hard for younger and lesser known players to grab the attention of voters. But Zeitler has one thing working in his favor: the company of a great supporting unit.
Being on a great team is a big part of gaining Pro Bowl votes. Fortunately for Zeitler, the Bengals are one of the winningest teams of the past half decade, and they possess a great offensive line that gains more recognition every year. Of course, it still isn't guaranteed that he will make the Pro Bowl, as the number of good young guards vying for votes has increased since Zeitler entered the league. But playing with a strong offensive unit on a playoff team will help his chances tremendously.
Odds of remaining with the team past 2016
There is a high chance the Bengals sign Zeitler to a deal either before the regular season starts this year or early next offseason. His value is undeniable, and he has never indicated he's unsatisfied in Cincinnati. While Ryan Hewitt was extended before Zeitler, that is simply because it is always more complicated to negotiate contracts for stars. The Bengals have the cap room and both sides want a deal, so really, it's just a matter of when.