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Valentine’s Day 2021 NFL Draft Crushes

What NFL Draft prospects have caught my eye?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 26 Quick Lane Bowl - Pitt v Eastern Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Super Bowl has come and gone. Now it’s Valentine’s Day, the time when every football fan’s thoughts turn to love.

I mean the love of draft prospects, of course. What did you think I meant?

Last year Bengals fans found their one true love with Joe Burrow, and this year it’s all about surrounding him with players who can help him be his best. In the words of Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson in the movie As Good As is Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.” Having Burrow gives the Bengals a chance, but to be a better team they need to draft well.

The NFL Draft is about looking for outliers. It’s about finding gems. It’s about getting players who can make a difference. Here are a few players whose film reminded me of the movie Pretty Women, when Vivian was asked if she enjoyed the opera, and she said, “It was so good, I almost peed my pants.”

The Bengals have a need at wide receiver and Burrow has publically stated that he “wouldn’t mind” being reunited with his old LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase. While the quarterback may have some input on what the team does, Mike Brown shouldn’t act like Westly from The Princess Bride and simply say “As you wish” in response to everything Burrow says.

Still, drafting Chase would make a lot of sense, and he is the first of my draft crushes. There is obviously a rapport between Burrow and Chase, but just because you have a connection with your ex doesn't mean you should get back together. After all, not every couple is Ross and Rachel.

Chase, however, is special. He’s also a prefect fit. Burrow may even be tempted to quote Jerry McGuire and tell Chase “You complete me.” This is good because the Bengals need to put as much talent around Burrow as possible before he becomes eligible for an extension and quotes Rod Tidwell from the same move saying, “Show me the money.”

Chase is an incredible player. He has underrated speed, but what really makes him special is his ability to track and high point the football. This seems to be what the Bengals value most at the wide receiver position, and it’s certainly a trait that fits well with Burrow’s skill set. Adding Chase to a receiving corps that already includes Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd would truly stack the deck in Burrow’s favor.

Of course, he needs time to throw and to be able to finish the year without another injury. That’s why the Bengals also need to add talent on the offensive line. The first love of many Bengals fans this draft season was Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Both Chase and Sewell opted out of the 2020 season after dominant performances in 2019 when both were still teenagers.

Sewell has a massive frame, incredible athletic ability, and a real mean streak. I can’t blame him for opting out, but he could have used another year of technical development. The talk of Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater possibly being drafted ahead of Sewell is based largely on the fact that Slater is a finished product, while Sewell still has room to grow. Sewell showed excellent development over the course of the 2019 season, and it was evident in what would end up being his final collegiate game against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. If he can continue on this path he could be one of the best in the NFL.

So why draft Sewell? Because as Harry said in When Harry Met Sally “...when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” Sewell has the potential to be a franchise tackle and a linchpin to the Bengals’ future success. He’s the guy. Get him now.

Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey was a favorite of mine last year but decided to return to school. Like Rose in the movie Titanic, “I’ll never let go.” Now that he has declared for the draft, I want him more than ever.

Humphrey is an excellent interior offensive lineman. He is physical and has excellent hands. He is also incredible in pass protection, and in 2020, he gave up zero sacks on 373 pass-blocking snaps. That sounds like a guy the Bengals should add.

The Bengals have a good center in Trey Hopkins, but he is coming off of injury and may not be ready for the beginning of the season. Hopkins and Humphrey both have the versatility to slide out to guard, so when Hopkins is healthy, both could be on the field.

If the Bengals could land Humphrey I’d be feeling like the king of the world.

Like many Bengals fans I’m also crushing hard on Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, but that doesn’t seem like the type of move the Bengals would make.

“Would you stop thinking about what everyone else wants? What do you want?”

Thanks, Noah, aka Ryan Gosling’s character in The Notebook. You’re right.

Drafting a tight end with the fifth-overall pick does not seem like a move the Bengals would make, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it to happen.

Pitts may play tight end, but he is an incredible receiving threat. I would actually argue that he is just as much of a fit for Burrow’s paly style and the Bengals’ offense as Chase and a better fit than any other wide receiver in the draft.

Pitts is not just a tight end. He can line up at any wide receiver alignment and win. Like Chase, he makes great adjustments and wins in contested situations. Unlike Chase, he is 6-6, 240 pounds, making him a match-up nightmare.

To quote Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog, “The only love that lasts is unrequited love.” If the Bengals pass on Pitts, and he goes on to an incredible career with another team, we will all be left wondering what could have been (see the Bengals passing on Patrick Mahomes).

Another prospect who seems like an unlikely pick for the Bengals but whose film has me all how and bothered is Asante Samuel Jr.

Samuel has just about all of the characteristics I look for in a cornerback. He is excellent in man coverage, very smooth in his hips, and most importantly he consistently makes plays. He’s on the short side, but that doesn’t bother me at all. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how well he fits with the Bengals and what they want to do defensively. Just like the sign that Andrew Lincoln held up in Love Actually, Asante, “To me, you are perfect.”

One defender who would be a great fit is Wake Forrest defensive end Carlos Basham Jr. The Bengals pass rush was extremely lacking in 2020. Basham can help fix that, but he is also a talented run defender. This comes in handy when you have to play the Browns and the Ravens twice a year.

Basham is a physical specimen at 6-5, 285 pounds. He has great hands and moves extremely well. He also works his tail off and always seems to get to the football.

Basham may not be the best edge prospect in this draft, but he very well could be the best fit for the Bengals at the position. Basham and the Bengals could be perfect for each other.

“You’re not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: This girl you’ve met, she’s not perfect either, but the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other.”

Robin Williams as Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting

Defensive tackle was a big issue for the Bengals in 2020. Florida State’s Marvin Wilson looks like a player who could help, but he does come with some baggage in the form of a disappointing, injury-shortened 2020 season.

He is strong and powerful and when he is on he is nearly impossible to block. He generally plays with excellent leverage for a 6-5 defender, but at times he will be caught on a block and struggle to disengage.

He has blocked a field goal and even a punt in his career. That’s right, this 305-pounder actually blocked a punt. I’m not talking about in Varsity Blues where Billy Bob took out the blockers, but Tweeder was the one who blocked the punt. Wilson was in on “punt safe” and actually got his hand on the punt.

He has incredible potential, he just hasn’t taken that next step yet, which means that Wilson could be a massive mid-round steal.

“Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you’re behaving like the best friend.”

Eli Wallach as Arthur Abbott in The Holiday

I don’t know how to say this so, I’m just going to come out and say it. I have a crush on most of the Pitt defensive line. Like Bella in Twilight and Katniss in The Hunger Games, I’ve got feels for more than one beau. It’s worse for me though, because there are three.

Well, maybe not worse. I’m not caught in the middle of an age-old clash between werewolves and vampires, nor am I being forced into a battle royale for the amusement of the one percent. This is actually a good thing. If the Bengals select any of these Pitt Panthers, I’ll be so excited that everyone in the room will be thinking “I’ll have what (s)he’s having.”

Patrick Jones II is an absolute stud at defensive end. He’s long, lean, and productive as an edge pass rusher. He’s got a very nice assortment of pass rush moves.

Rashad Weaver also plays on the edge. He has 14 sacks over the past two seasons, but he really stands out for his run defense. He projects as someone with the strength to play the 5-technique in the Bengals 3-4 defensive fronts. This added versatility could make him a good fit for the Bengals.

Jaylen Twyman opted out of the 2020 season after having 10.5 sacks in 2019. The Bengals felt the absence of Geno Atkins last season. They need to find another interior defensive lineman who can pressure the quarterback. Twyman could be exactly what they are looking for. He has excellent speed and power pass rush moves. Both his feet and his hands are always moving, and he does a great job of disengaging from blocks.

The Bengals have their quarterback in Joe Burrow and that is the biggest piece of the puzzle. This year’s draft isn’t just about finding their match, it is about finding his. Who will help to maximize his talent and set this team up for success in 2021 and beyond?

That comes in many forms. Yes, it means pass catchers and blockers, but it also means defenders who can help get the ball back in Burrow’s hands, giving him more opportunities. After a very productive 2020 draft, the Bengals need to continue to hit on early picks and build depth in late rounds, and selecting a few of my draft crushes would be a step in the right direction