The odds of the Cincinnati Bengals landing a top prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft are slim. Unless they move up from the 31st pick, a highly unlikely outcome, they’re set to watch the top players at each position go off the board in front of them.
An exception might be Iowa Hawkeyes center Tyler Linderbaum.
Regarded not only as the best center, but perhaps the best interior offensive linemen in this class, Linderbaum seems to be falling in recent mock drafts due to his lack of athleticism testing, positional versatility, and shorter than average arm length (31.25”).
That rings true in Todd McShay’s latest two-round mock for ESPN. McShay has Linderbaum falling all the way to Cincinnati.
By now, the Bengals’ protection woes of 2021 are well-documented. Quarterback Joe Burrow took way, way too many hits last season, and the offensive line was a glaring problem coming into the offseason. Cincinnati wasn’t messing around in free agency, though, signing offensive tackle La’el Collins and interior linemen Alex Cappa and Ted Karras. That’s a big improvement. But is it enough? I’m not sure Karras is a long-term answer, and Linderbaum should quickly emerge as one of the best centers in the NFL. Linderbaum anchors well and fights to the whistle, and his zone-blocking ability will open lanes for running back Joe Mixon. And as an added bonus, this is terrific value: Linderbaum is my No. 18 prospect.
More than anything, this would be a case of best player available for the Bengals. They’re coming off a productive free agency period in which they shored up their offensive line, including the center position, but an unknown void remains at left guard. D’Ante Smith and Jackson Carman are projected to compete for that spot, but Ted Karras can feasibly fill it in the interim as well.
Linderbaum might be too good to pass up, but if he’s not there, Cincinnati probably doesn’t take a center anywhere else in the draft. Karras was signed and introduced as the line’s new center, and Smith and Carman are expected to take leaps in their second years to potentially start.
But plans change, and great players are usually the cause of that. If the Bengals deem Linderbaum a special kind of center, demonstrably better than the veteran they acquired in Karras, then they could easily make that move.
As for the next pick, McShay has the Bengals taking Wisconsin Badgers linebacker Leo Chenal with the 63rd overall pick.
Germaine Pratt is a free agent next year, and Chenal offers Cincinnati a plug-and-play candidate. He made 108 tackles last season and added eight sacks.
As McShay alluded to, Germaine Pratt is entering a contract year, so having a potential replacement behind him wouldn’t be a bad move, especially given how hard it will likely be to extend Pratt with the team looking to extend Jessie Bates. Tee Higgins and Joe Burrow will also become extension eligible next year.
So, what do you think of this NFL Mock Draft? Let us know in the comments section!