It was during training camp that the Cincinnati Bengals were trying to find the solution at right guard. They had options, but none were very intriguing.
Xavier Su’a-Filo was experienced, but underwhelming. Michael Jordan looked improved, but not quite good enough. Rookie Jackson Carman, selected 46th overall in the NFL Draft just a few months prior, was simply not far along enough to handle starting reps.
As the season quickly approached, optimism at this spot was fading as these three options failed to inspire much confidence. D’Ante Smith emerged as a dark-horse candidate, but injury took him out of the running.
The season was about to begin, no matter if the team found an answer at the position, and all Hakeem Adeniji could do was watch and recover.
When news of Adeniji’s torn pectoral surfaced back in June, it was safe to assume his season would be over before it began. That was the case for seventh-round rookie Wyatt Hubert when he tore his pec back in July. It was the same injury that cost Trae Waynes his 2020 season. If you go back even further, you’ll recall William Jackson lost his rookie season in 2016 due to a torn pec as well.
Adeniji wasn’t declared to miss the entire season back in June, but c’mon, this is the Bengals. He’s going to have the longest recovery time because of course he will.
This train of thought led many to believe the second-year player out of Kansas would be placed on season-ending Injured Reserve before the roster had to be set. Instead, Adeniji was placed on the Non-Football Injury list, which was possible because he was injured during the offseason. Still, joining Hubert on this list wasn’t promising from the outside looking in.
Fast forward eight weeks into the season. Jordan gets cut, Su’a-Filo gets injured, and Carman is left unchallenged to work through his shortcomings. While Carman was showing signs of promise, there was much left to be desired, and a back injury he suffered against the New York Jets was not going to make things easier for him.
As it turned out, the injury was not that serious and did not impact Carman’s ability to play. Unfortunately for him, he was about to re-engage with some competition.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Adeniji is activated off the NFI list ahead of Week 9 and returns to practice. Fantastic news considering many weren’t expecting to see him until 2022, but expectations weren’t very high because of that. Adeniji will surely just be practicing as a backup while he re-adjusts and gets his feet wet, right? Wrong.
Move out of the way, Carman, Adeniji is going to start at a position he’s never played before just days after returning to practice.
Adeniji’s debut against the Cleveland Browns fell somewhere between meh and passable, which is more than what the rest of the team could say about their individual performances. What was important is that he did enough to stay in the starting lineup, or simply not poorly enough to be booted for the return of Carman. Now, he’ll get a bye week and some time to prepare for his second start against another good defensive line for the Las Vegas Raiders.
The preparation was evident, as Adeniji played arguably his best game as a Bengal. Pro Football Focus graded his pass blocking at 80.1 as he pitched a perfect game on Cincinnati’s 14 true passing plays. Neither Carman nor Su’a-Filo have gotten close to that level in their respective times with the Bengals. Adeniji did so against an aggressive defensive line less than a month removed from being on an injury list.
Head coach Zac Taylor effusively praised Adeniji’s efforts earlier this week, and looking back at the film, it’s clear to see why:
Not only does Adeniji’s quickness in pass protection seem to translate well in a more condensed space, he looks a bit more powerful in the run game than he was in college and as a rookie. Chalk it up to development if you’re so inclined, but that’s not something that can easily change so quickly in a player’s career without seeing a notable change in body weight. He physically looks like the same guy, but is playing more controlled and with more power.
This is your starting right guard moving forward. I don’t know if that means it’s a week-to-week situation, if it’s locked down for the remainder of 2021, or if he’s also the favorite to start next year too, but he’s the guy right now and that doesn’t appear to be changing.
We can only imagine how much earlier we would’ve had this conversation if he hadn’t gotten injured back in the Summer.