With the loss of quarterback Joe Burrow for the season, fans are looking forward to the 2021 NFL Draft.
Considering that protecting Burrow from further injury is on the top of everybody’s mind, it makes sense that fans would want the Bengals to select an offensive lineman with their top pick. Fortunately former Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell is widely considered the top non-quarterback in next year’s draft.
Sewell is only 20 years old and because he opted out of the 2020 season, he is only a teenager in the film clips you are about to watch. He plays left tackle and that is where he lined up in each of these clips. Let’s take a look.
The Bengals need to improve their pass protection, so that’s where we’ll start our look at Sewell.
Here he is against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, his final college game. He does a great job with both his feet and his hands. His feet are smooth as he drops back to protect the quarterback and prevents the defender from taking the edge with speed. As the edge rusher closes in on him, Sewell does a great job of slapping away the defender’s hands, not allowing him to make a move.
Sewell is an incredible athlete.
Here he over commits to the inside move and appears to be out of position to pick up the outside twist, but somehow he is able to do just enough to allow to prevent the sack.
It is very impressive for a man of 6’6” 331 pounds to move like that.
Penei Sewell— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) November 30, 2020
Finishing blocks pic.twitter.com/GDCZu9Esxl
Protecting the quarterback is obviously priority one, but the run game is where Sewell really shines.
In this clip he doesn’t just block the linebacker, he drives him across the formation. Sewell is a dominant run blocker who knows how to finish.
It’s not only his strength that makes him a force in the run game, it’s his athleticism.
In this clip he is able to reach a stand-up edge player with just a little help from the tight end. He not only engages with the defender, he crosses his face and swings his hips around into the gap.
This is an awesome block.
This backside reach block might be even more impressive.
The guard is trying to get to the second level of the defense to block a linebacker, but the 2i defensive tackle (lined up on his inside shoulder) engaged with him on the snap. Sewell is able to overtake the defender, allowing the guard to release.
Reaching a player who is lined up a full gap away from you is crazy. This is an amazing block, but not an uncommon one for Sewell.
The Bengals like to pull their offensive tackles and Sewell is also an excellent puller.
Here Oregon runs a pin-n-pull scheme on the backside of the run. Sewell pulls up to the flowing linebacker and drives across the formation creating a huge cutback lane.
If you needed further evidence of Sewell’s athleticism, check out this screen play. Sewell releases into the secondary and destroys the defensive back!
What’s really impressive about how Sewell blocks in space on screens and pulling plays is how rarely he is penalized. He doesn’t always get where he needs to be to make these blocks, but where other offensive linemen will block in the back and draw a flag, Sewell has the processing skills and body control to pull up and not make the illegal block. This kind of spatial awareness is very odd and stands out on his film.
Sewell has a tendency to either lean on defenders or get to high with his pad level. He showed improvement over the course of the season, but it is still something that he will need to work on as he gets back into the swing of things after not playing for a year.
Many of you may be asking yourself, “If Sewell is a left tackle, what are they going to do with Jonah Williams?”
I wouldn’t worry about it. One of them can switch to right tackle and it will give this team excellent bookend tackles for the next few years.
If it were me, I’d put Sewell on the right side for a few reasons.
The first is that Williams has done an excellent job at left tackle. He is without a doubt the best player on the Bengals’ offensive line. No need to mess with that. Leave him where he is.
Second, Sewell is only 20 years old. Although his muscle memory may be built around playing left tackle, he is very young and will adapt.
The third is that in today’s NFL, the blindside doesn’t matter as much as it once did and in the AFC North in particular it is the right tackle who has to deal with the division’s best pass rusher, Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt.
Finally, teams tend to run the ball more to the right and run blocking is the strength of Sewell’s game, whereas pass blocking is the strength of Williams’. (They are both very good in both areas.) Jonah left, Penei right works to their strengths.
You can see what makes people so excited about Sewell. He is a special athlete and powerful blocker. His play steadily improved over the course of last season and at only 20 years old his ascension is likely to continue.