The Bengals’ offensive line was not good in 2016. In addition to some less than stellar run blocking that contributed to a decidedly average 4.0 yards per run (20th in the NFL), the line gave up the seventh most sacks in the NFL (41). The biggest part of the problem was at right tackle, where Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, and Eric Winston shared duties throughout the season. However, left guard Clint Boling was inconsistent throughout the season due to a shoulder injury suffered in Week 4, which he waited to have surgery on until Week 17. Right guard Kevin Zeitler had a solid season and he is arguably the Bengals’ highest profile free agent in 2017. If the Bengals cannot retain him, the need for more depth at guard goes from mild to astronomical.
Even if Zeitler does return, the Bengals may want to invest one of their 11 anticipated Draft picks in 2017 on the guard position. For most of the 2016 season, rookie fourth round pick Christian Westerman was the only backup guard on the team, in addition to Winston who serves as a backup for all offensive line spots other than center. Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond are currently on the roster, but they were both on the practice squad for most of the season. Westerman’s potential is still high, but we didn’t see even a single snap from him in 2016.
Hopkins did spend the final week of the season on the active roster, but only because a spot opened up with A.J. Green being placed on Injured Reserve. If the Bengals are looking to shore up the depth at guard and find players who can challenge for more time on the active roster, Mel Kiper’s list of top 10 guards provides some solid suggestions for guys the Bengals could possibly target.
1. Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky)
Lamp sports a deceptively compact frame. So, when his brilliant footwork and athleticism drives pass rushers back, it is truly something to behold. Unfortunately, that compact frame comes with the stipulation that he doesn’t have much potential for versatility in the NFL. His controlled punch technique when blocking is both clever and effective, but sometimes not powerful enough to drive a defender away. Pure guards are typically not as highly regarded by NFL scouts due to their lack of versatility, so that means he could easily slide to the Bengals’ second round pick. If he does and the Bengals like the tape, don’t be surprised to see them pick him up. Lamp is currently projected as a Round 1-2 pick, but didn’t appear in Round 1 of Todd McShay’s latest mock draft.
2. Dan Feeney (Indiana)
Depending on who you ask, Feeney is considered by many as the top guard prospect this year. His mobility doesn’t quite measure up to Lamp’s, but he is very mindful of what is going on around him and aware of what the defense is doing at any given moment. His best fit is in a zone blocking scheme, similar to how Boling plays. He has the power and intelligence to open up holes for any running back, although his technique could use some refinement. It is hard to see him lasting past the second round due to his football intelligence, although the Bengals will likely look for a more polished player that early on.
3. Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh)
Johnson possesses all of the technique refinement you could want out of a player who has never played a snap in the NFL. He also has the intelligence and discipline to boot, reducing his chances of being fooled by a slick outside move or committing a boneheaded penalty - something the Bengals could use help with. Why, then, is he only listed as the third best guard prospect? Mobility and handwork. The former Pittsburgh Panther knows how to stop a defender from getting to the quarterback, but is unlikely to be a benefit to the running game until he can improve his technique against inside moves and his ability to get to the second level. If the Bengals are intrigued by his potential, they might be able to get him as late as the third round.
4 Nico Siragusa (San Diego State)
A three year starter in college, Siragusa’s ability to run block, despite limited mobility in space, helped him earn respect through his four years with the Aztecs. For a guard, his low center of gravity and thick frame are exactly what you would hope for. But, his impressive footwork is something you rarely see out of a player with his proportions. He could use some work adjusting to angles and engaging defenders in pass protection, but once engaged, he is rarely beaten. He is expected to be a third round selection, but could fall to the fourth where the Bengals are expected to have an extra pick.
*5. Damien Mama (USC)
Mama’s stock fell in 2016 as he failed to consistently hold down the starting position in his senior year and carried over weight problems that plagued him in 2015. However, he did look solid when on the field, enough to earn All-Pac 12 second team honors in 2016. He’s best with the running game, while his pass protection could use some work. He is by no means a finished product, making his decision to leave college a year early a questionable one. He has enough raw talent to convince Kiper that he is a top 5 guard in 2017, however, NFL teams might not see it that way. He currently looks to be a fourth round pick.
Here’s the rest of Kiper’s top 10 offensive tackles:
6. Danny Isidora, Miami (Fla.)
7. Isaac Asiata, Utah
8. Greg Pyke, Georgia
9. Jessamen Dunker, Tennessee State
10. Jordan Morgan, Kutztown
One asterisk denotes a junior, and two asterisks denote a redshirt sophomore for the 2016 season.