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Grading the Bengals’ 2021 NFL Draft class

Just how well did the Bengals draft? It’s time to roll out the true grades.

LSU v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

NFL Draft grades aren’t useless, but they are hard to evenly gauge across the internet.

Most of them are labeled like traditional letter grades from school, and that scale is based on a numeric system; a system in which a 75 out of 100 is deemed “Average,” and a 50/100 is “Failing.” Just typing it out makes me question what the first 22 years of my life were actually based on. And when I look at draft picks immediately being labeled as Cs, Ds, and Fs, it just feels more harsh than it should.

That system is very questionable to me, which is why we’re not going to do our Bengals draft grades like that this year. Instead, we’re going to do something with a bit more transparency that is also still subjective and nonsensical on the surface. Nothing can equate to a value greater than one, and the closer the portion is to one-half, the more average it is. Follow along if you desire.

Pick 1.05: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

  • Grade: 5 out of 5 Renditions of “Neck”

When the opportunity presents itself to take the best wide receiver prospect since *at least* Amari Cooper, the only way you can be docked is if you pass on him.

Chase was—arguably—the best player available when the Bengals picked. He fills an immediate and long-term need in every way imaginable, and he’ll be reunited with his old quarterback in an offense that resembles the one he just came from at LSU.

Now that Chase and Joe Burrow are wearing the same uniforms again, Chase was asked if he’d like to hear “Neck,” the now banned LSU-themed chant, played at Paul Brown Stadium.

I wouldn’t mind hearing it again.”

Pick 2.46: Jackson Carman, G, Clemson

  • Grade: 4 out of 7 Pancakes

We can grade the trade from pick 38 to 46 by itself (9 out of 10 Press Box Videos), but this grade deals with the player, and the player alone.

Carman was projected to go right around the beginning of the third round, so this is not the ultra-reach it was initially described as. That said, He is a projection at guard and has some things to clean up with his game. He’s not a slam dunk to hit, but there’s evidence he can make a smooth transition to guard and become a better player at that position. He has the natural power and processing ability to move inside full-time.

Per The Athletic’s Dane Brugler’s draft guide, Carman has a knack for cooking, so the sooner he whips up some pancakes on the field, the sooner the Bengals can feel truly validated about this pick.

Pick 3.69: Joseph Ossai, DE, Texas

  • Grade: 7 out of 8 Hook ’Ems

Somehow, there were nine edge rushers taken before Ossai last weekend. Sure, he’s a bit inexperienced at the position, and he may be on the lighter side at 256 pounds, but that’s all you can say in terms of negatives. He’s one of the best athletes in this entire draft class, and he’s got the production to support his case as a high-upside prospect. He’ll fit perfectly in a defense that sorely needs explosion off the edge.

Ossai is the fourth Texas Longhorn the Bengals have drafted since 2010, and the third to be taken with a third-round pick (Malik Jefferson in 2018, Jordan Shipley in 2010). He is now the highest-drafted Longhorn in Bengals history, and there are equally high expectations for the young pass-rusher.

Rest in peace to Ossai’s former teammate, Jake Ehlinger.

Pick 4.111: Cameron Sample, DL, Tulane

  • Grade: 4 out of 6 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Ossai wasn’t going to be enough for the Bengals, so they added Sample with their next pick to continue revamping their pass rush. They expect him to play at around 280 pounds, which signals to him spending most of his time rushing inside the tackles, and that’s where a guy of his body type and athleticism would be best at. He can give them an immediate boost at a position that severely limited them last year.

Sample grew up just outside of Atlanta and played college ball in New Orleans, but he likely got on the Bengals’ radar in Mobile, Alabama. The 2021 Reese’s Senior Bowl featured multiple Bengals-to-be, including Sample, who was named the top defensive lineman for the American team. Sample showed out against high-level competition, and earned the right to be drafted at this juncture.

Pick 4.122: Tyler Shelvin, NT, LSU

  • Grade: 6 out of 9 Angry Bill Belichicks

With this pick, the Bengals drafted two of the four LSU players who opted out before last season. Shelvin was never going to be a top-five pick like his teammate Chase, but the Bengals got a bit of value for a very large man.

Shelvin is the most stereotypical nose tackle you’ll ever see. He is really hard to move off the line, but he’s also got limited range to make plays outside of his gap. That’s why he found himself off the board right in the middle of the draft; there’s equal amounts of good and bad here.

But if you ask New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, he may kicking himself knowing he gave this pick away for the Bengals to take Shelvin.

Pick 4.139: D’Ante Smith, T, East Carolina

  • Grade: 5 out of 7 Protein Shakes

Smith might be the key to this draft class for Cincinnati. From 1994-2017, Per Pro-Football-Reference.com, just 99 of the 614 offensive linemen drafted after the third round have gone on to start 64 or more games. 1994 was the first year the draft was limited to the current seven-round format.

The odds of Smith becoming a long-term starter are about one in six, but he has the physical tools to become just that. He was projected to be picked near the end of the third round, so for the Bengals to scoop him up right before the fifth round is commendable. He now gets the chance to develop for a year under offensive line coach Frank Pollack, and prove he can maintain an appropriate playing weight for an NFL tackle.

Better give him an extra scoop of creatine.

Pick 5.149: Evan McPherson, K, Florida

  • Grade: 5 out of 9 Gatorades

Drafting a kicker, before the seventh round nonetheless, is a risk. Couple that with the fact that no other kicker was drafted this year, and it just looks odd on paper. Perhaps other teams gave up because they only wanted McPherson?

Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has many reasons to believe McPherson can live up to his draft status. They feel so confident in him that they didn’t want to wait and see if he made it to the sixth round. Perhaps if the video of him unscrewing a Gatorade bottle from 30+ yards went viral before he was picked, maybe he would’ve been snagged by another team beforehand.

Until he’s their next great kicker, this pick will be scrutinized. After all, nothing about being a kicker is fair.

Pick 6.190: Trey Hill, C, Georgia

  • Grade: 5 out of 8 Shots

One Trey to back up another? That appears to be the two-year plan here.

Hill may have to be stashed on the practice squad this year due to sheer numbers at offensive line, and that’s okay. He’s coming off surgery for meniscus injuries in both of his knees. That’s certainly not nothing, but enough time will have passed by the time he puts his pads back on. Much like Carman, he’s got ample power and movement skills at just 21 years of age. He just needs to harness it.

Hill is one of four former track athletes the Bengals drafted this year (Chase, Chris Evans, and Wyatt Hubert), as he specialized in the shot put. He wasn’t quite the Margus Hunt of the sport, but he did make the regional championships in 2017.

Pick 6.202: Chris Evans, RB, Michigan

  • Grade: 4 out of 6 Ransom Drysdales

While Evans is the oldest player the Bengals drafted this year (he’ll turn 24 in October), Evans only started six games during his five years at Michigan and touched the ball a grand total of 369 times. He has an interesting story of being accused of plagiarism and kicked out of school for a year. During his time away, he worked three jobs and eventually found his way back into school and onto the team. His incredible athleticism and all-around ability was underutilized the entire time he was in Ann Arbor.

Evans’ name is familiar to anyone who has been to the movies in the last 15 years. All the Captain America references have already been played out, but I’m partial to Hollywood Evans’ role in 2019’s Knives Out. Ransom Drysdale was really close to scheming his way to the top in that movie. This Evans has a good chance of carving out a role in the Bengals’ offense as well.

Pick 7.235: Wyatt Hubert, DE, Kansas State

  • Grade: 3 out of 5 Cups of Porridge

Not all seventh-round picks carry draftable grades, but that was apparently the case for Hubert. The Bengals have been coveting him since the Senior Bowl, and he eventually became the fourth edge rusher they selected.

Hubert has solid flexibility and a tremendous motor like his new teammate Ossai. Being the 10th and final pick of this class, it will naturally be tough for him to make the final roster barring injuries at the position, but he screams practice squad with the chance to make noise next year.

If he does make an impression later this offseason, it would be hard to ignore that Goldilocks hair of his.