Time will tell. But a big part of any success the Bengals hope to have in 2021 is going to depend largely on having a successful draft. And any successful draft will start with a stud offensive lineman.
And let’s forget about Oregon’s Penei Sewell for the moment here. The odds of him falling to the Bengals at the No. 5 pick are about as good as the odds were for the Bengals to make the playoffs in 2020. And you see how that turned out.
But this draft features other intriguing individuals at the offensive tackle position. However, none are probably worthy of being taken at No. 5, so in this mock draft, Cincinnati opts to trade down and still get find a solution.
The San Francisco 49ers are looking for its quarterback of the future, and he probably won’t be there at No. 12. So the 49ers elect to trade up for the Bengals’ No. 5 pick, and throw in their second-round selection (No. 43) in the bargain.
First Round, No. 12
At 6-7 and 309 pounds, Texas’ Samuel Cosmi is reminiscent of another fixture at left tackle for the Bengals: Andrew Whitworth. Cosmi stepped on the field straight out of high school and has started in 34 of 35 games in which he appeared.
A USA Today Freshman All-American in 2018, Cosmi recently earned third-team honors on the Associated Press’ 2020 All-America team. As the starting left tackle for the Longhorns, he surrendered just one quarterback hit, one tackle for loss and one sack on the season.
Cosmi, who was also recognized as a unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection, was the anchor for an offensive line that helped Texas average 41.3 points per game and 6.36 yards per play, and helped the Longhorns roll up two 60-point games for the first time since 2005. Texas scored 18 rushing touchdowns in 2020.
Second Round, No. 38
Georgia defensive end Azeez Ojulari may be the best pure pass rusher in the draft, but, at 6-3 and only 230 pounds, his lack of ideal size may allow him to slide down the draft boards. If he does, the Bengals should pounce on him.
Ojulari led the Bulldogs in sacks over the past two seasons and finished 2020 with 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 12.5 tackles for loss. Ojulari, a semi-finalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation’s top defender, recorded three sacks and two forced fumbles in Georgia’s Peach Bowl victory over Cincinnati.
Round Two, No. 43
Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, at 6-2 and 210 pounds, has the size, athleticism and route-running ability to make an instant impression at the NFL level. Although he lacks breakaway speed, Bateman does a good job of locating, tracking and adjusting to deep balls, and has excellent hands.
Bateman had a breakout season for the Golden Gophers in 2019 when he finished with 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. He managed 36 receptions for 472 yards and two scores in this year’s coronavirus-shortened campaign.
Round Three, Pick No. 69
At 6-3 and 315 pounds, Jay Tufele of USC is probably one of the most athletic defensive tackles in the 2021 NFL Draft. In his career for the Trojans, Tufele, who opted out of the 2020 season, has blocked kicks, disrupted pass plays and been an immovable force in the middle.
Round Four, Pick 102
Thomas Graham, Jr. is a promising cornerback out of the University of Oregon. At 5-11 and 197 pounds, he is instinctive and versatile and his ball production make him a quality depth piece with starter potential.
Round Five, Pick 133
Given the Bengals’ problems throughout the past couple of seasons on the offensive line, it should come as no surprise to see Cincinnati go back to the trenches in Round Five. And Stanford’s Walker Little, if available, would likely be just what the doctor ordered.
At 6-7 and 309 pounds, Little might otherwise have a first-round grade. But, after suffering a knee injury in the opener of the 2019 season, Little opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the draft. Before the injury, Little was a strong run blocker, but a liability in pass protection, and will need time to develop into a serviceable pro.
Round Six, No. 166
Cincinnati was near the bottom of the NFL in sacks this past season and, with the uncertainty surrounding the status of the Bengals’ top pass rusher, Carl Lawson, the edge position has to figure prominently in the draft or free agency.
As a result, Cincinnati turns to Buffalo’s 6-3, 248 pound Malcolm Koonce in round six. Koonce improved his sack total every year for the Bulls and tallied nine sacks in 2019 and earned a top-15 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus. Even in this year’s shortened season, Koonce still managed three sacks.
Round Seven, No. 197
Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle had an up-and-down season for the Hoosiers in 2020. In a three-game stretch in November, the 6-2, 214 Fryfogle recorded 25 receptions for 560 yards and six touchdowns. But, after losing his starting quarterback to injury, Fryfogle managed just three catches for 45 yards in two games in December.
Round Seven, Pick No. 199 (from Detroit)
It’s back to defense with the Bengals’ final pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and Khyiris Tonga, at 6-4 and 321 pounds, provides just the type of developmental project Cincinnati craves. Tonga finished the 202 season with 36 tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, three quarterback sacks, five pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Things never fall quite the way you hope, but this would be a pretty good haul for the Bengals if even some of it comes to pass. Let me know what you think.