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What to expect from Bengals’ 2021 draft picks in rookie seasons

Evan McPherson also poised to be a difference maker.

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Florida
Evan McPherson

Despite what some of the haters may say, the Cincinnati Bengals had one of the better NFL Draft classes in 2021. Each and every one of the Bengals’ 10 selections stand a pretty good chance of finding their way on to the active roster at some point during the season, although some will make a bigger impact than others.

The biggest difference maker in the group will undoubtedly be first-round pick Ja’Marr Chase, who will be reunited with quarterback Joe Burrow to form one of the most dynamic tandems in the NFL.

When last we saw Chase during the 2019 season, he and Burrow were leading the LSU Tigers to their first national championship since 2007. Chase finished with 84 receptions for 1,780 yards (an average of 21.2 yards per catch) and 20 touchdowns. In addition to taking home the national title, Chase also won the Biletnikoff Award, which is presented annually to the outstanding receiver in college football, and was a unanimous All-American selection.

Chase ran a 4.38 40 at his LSU pro day and will give the Bengals the legitimate downfield threat that they have been lacking.

That much was easy. Ranking the rest of the draft class in terms of who might be expected to contribute the most in the upcoming season will be a little more difficult. But here goes.

This next name might come as something of a surprise, but expect kicker Evan McPherson, Cincinnati’s fifth round selection out of Florida, to have a huge impact in 2021. Last year, the Bengals lost five games by five points or less, and tied another one.

Since 2018, missed kicks by Cincinnati kickers have cost the Bengals 46 points (14 missed field goals and four missed extra points). Seven of those games were one score losses.

At Florida, McPherson set an SEC record for career field goal percentage by making 51 of 60 attempts, and made 149 of 150 extra point tries. He also made five of his eight career field goal attempts from 50 yards or more. Leg strength is definitely not a problem, as McPherson has purportedly hit from between 65 and 68 yards in practice.

The Bengals selected a pair of defensive ends in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, either of whom could end up making a significant impact during their rookie campaigns. Joseph Ossai of Texas, at 6-4 and 253 pounds, was a consensus first team All-American selection as a junior before declaring for the draft and produced five sacks in each of his final two seasons with the Longhorns.

Tulane’s Cameron Sample, at 6-3 and 267 pounds, was the first of Cincinnati’s three selections in the fourth round. Last year, he managed the third most pressures in college football with 48 and boasted the best pass-rush win percentage in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus.

Former Clemson offensive tackle Jackson Carman will probably see more time on the field than any rookie not named Ja’Marr Chase, but an offensive lineman’s impact is a lot harder to quantify. How much more of a difference will Carman make than Quinton Spain or Xavier Su’a-Filo?

Next up is another surprise in former Michigan running back Chris Evans, the Bengals second selection in the sixth round. At 5-11 and 215 pounds, Evans runs a 4.5 40 and is a pass-catching threat out of the backfield. He averaged seven yards per carry as a true freshman in 2016, 5.1 yards per carry as a sophomore and 5.2 yards as a junior.

Evans’ 2019 season was wiped out by academic issues and he only got 16 carries last season. But he left an impression at Senior Bowl practices and has a good shot of being Cincinnati’s No. 3 back, behind Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

Tyler Shelvin, the mountainous defensive tackle from LSU and the Bengals’ second selection in the fourth round, could become a factor in the run game but does not really offer a lot against the pass.

Cincinnati selected East Carolina’s D’Ante Smith with its third pick in the fourth round. Smith is a project at offensive tackle, but could turn out to be one of the steals of the draft.

Georgia’s Trey Hill, who the Bengals took with their first pick in round six, can play any of the interior positions, while seventh-round selection Wyatt Hubert, a defensive end out of Kansas State, provides depth and has a chance to be a star on special teams.