One thing is clear about the Cincinnati Bengals, they are a conservative franchise. They don’t have a traditional general manager, they offer little guaranteed money to free agents, and—until just last year—they relied exclusively on the NFL Draft for their top-end talent.
One such conservative tendency has been to attack an area of need very early in the draft. Last year, that worked out quite well, as Joe Burrow is an absolute star and charismatic figure who attracts free agents like new tackle Riley Reiff by way of his personality.
In 2019, the team needed a tackle badly, so they took Jonah Williams. When healthy, he has been solid. The year before, they needed a center to replace Russell Bodine, so they nabbed Billy Price, who has yet to live up to his billing. I would even make the argument that the drafting of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher was due to the anticipated need, as the team probably already knew that they weren’t going to give Andrew Whitworth another contract.
In other words, the team tries to make up for deficiencies in free agency by using premium picks to fill holes. That’s not really a progressive strategy. Rather, one should try to first address immediate concerns in free agency so a true best player available strategy can be deployed in the draft.
At any rate, this approach would suggest that the team is set on drafting Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, not LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Sewell is a tantalizing talent at a position that is not just needed, but has been a source of embarrassment for the franchise: The offensive line.
Yes, Sewell is a tackle and the more pressing concern is at guard, but, as I proposed earlier, he could be played at guard to begin his career and then moved to tackle when Reiff moves on.
More importantly, he would give the team its only offensive lineman with legitimate star potential, perhaps elevating the overall attitude and play of the line, something that Bengals radio broadcaster Wayne Box Miller argues in the video below:
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The other matter that emerged from our conversation with Miller is that he believes the Bengals are quite confident in the abilities of Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. Is that belief enough for the team to pass on an immensely talented receiver like Chase? Quite possibly. Chase did all he could during his incredible Pro Day workout.
Of course, just as the team’s attitude has changed regarding signing outside free agents and even cutting players who have underperformed, like Bobby Hart, it is quite possible that the new direction the team has taken will result in the front office making the bold move and drafting Chase.
But if Sewell’s name is the one that ends up on the card, it shouldn’t be surprising at all considering the team’s history at roster construction.