While the national media and many Bengals fans pounded the table for the Bengals to select Penei Sewell in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, it is fair to say that just about everyone expected the Bengals to take a tackle in Round 2.
And they did... sort of.
The Bengals selected Clemson’s Jackson Carman, but Zac Taylor stayed true to what he said when the team signed veteran tackle Riley Reiff.
Reiff is this team’s right tackle. Carman will be a guard... for now.
That leaves the future of the right tackle position open. Reiff could have a strong season and show promise of longevity, prompting the team to sign him long-term. Carman could start at guard as a rookie and transition to right tackle down the line, a move set up by his playing right guard instead of left guard.
A young tackle like Hakeem Adeniji or Fred Johnson could develop into a starter, or maybe it could be 2021 fourth-round pick D’Ante Smith who grows into the position.
Let’s take a look at what the Bengals added in with the East Carolina product.
Why have we been talking about offensive line non-stop for the last year?
Because of Joe Burrow, that’s why.
The Bengals have their guy under center, but to keep him healthy and give him enough time to do his thing, they need to have the right guys on either side of the center.
So it’s only natural that we start with pass protection.
In this clip you can see how athletic Smith is at 6-5 305 pounds. He moves well enough to wall off the pass rusher from the quarterback. There are some technique issues here that could be cleaned up (He plays a little high and doesn’t get a great first step), but those are correctable issues.
The foundation is there.
In the previous clip, the defender countered to the inside late. Too late, really. You could see Smith start to adjust, but the ball was gone at that point. This clip shows Smith adjusting to the defensive line’s movement.
He initially kick-steps to block the edge rusher, but the defender cuts hard inside of him. His footwork isn’t great, but he gets into position to make the block on the inside move. He also keeps his eyes up, which allows him to see the defensive tackle looping to the outside. As the edge player takes his rush into the guard, Smith comes off and gets back wide to the outside to make the block on the defensive tackle.
Smith shows great athleticism on this play, but he also shows that he is a very smart player who can process what is going on in front of him and adjust quickly.
You want your linemen to be smart, and you want them to be athletic, but there is something else that is more important. The words I want to use here are not fit to print, but let’s just say that a certain demeanor is requisite to playing offensive line.
Smith does a good job of keeping the defender off the quarterback, but that’s not what caught my eye about this clip from one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl. Watch the very end. The defender is on the ground and Smith gives him an extra shove as he tries to get back up.
Offensive linemen need to finish blocks and finish them on their own terms. That’s exactly what he does here. The defender appears to be trying to run back, but that’s not Smith’s problem. He wasn’t done with the rep. Did a whistle blow? Who knows, but you want the player who takes every opportunity to impose himself on his opponent.
We’ve focused primarily on pass blocking in this article, but the same skills that Smith shows in that arena are on display when he run blocks. In fact, his technique is much better.
His athletic ability shines in this clip as he takes a wide path and climbs to the second level to block the linebacker.
He comes in low to make contact and drives his hips through the defender, helping to open up a massive running lane.
Smith’s pass protection technique needs to be cleaned up, but all the tools are there. In the run game, he already demonstrates the ability to get movement on the first and second level of the defense.
Smith’s film shows massive upside, which is exactly what you are looking for on Day 3 of the draft. He is big and long and moves very well. He could develop into an excellent player for the Bengals.