The Cincinnati Bengals have become a blessing for all those who associate themselves with the organization, and it’s no different from a journalistic perspective. They’re never short on stories to tell.
I just don’t know where to start with the Jackson Carman story. Maybe there is no ideal place to begin.
When the Bengals sought to bolster their offensive line the year after Joe Burrow tore his ACL due to poor protection, Carman became the draft pick they centered their plans around. A collegiate left tackle with championship experience, and roots from Cincinnati sounded great on paper until you dove into the details.
Carman didn’t test before the combine. He—officially—measured in with shorter than average arm length. He was dealing with a back injury, and that wasn’t even the biggest concern regarding his potential to develop. The consensus labeled him under the “character concerns” umbrella and questioned his maturity.
All of this combined made for a controversial 46th overall pick for a team that desperately needed o-line answers, not questions.
On top of it all, Carman wasn’t returning to the Queen City to play left tackle, the position he became a five-star recruit at and eventually a multi-year starter at Clemson. The Bengals needed a right guard, and Carman was tasked with converting to the position in a matter of months. Conventional wisdom made it seem like a lineman of his build could slide inside, and his strengths would proceed to be stronger.
The plan never worked. Carman couldn’t win the job during the offseason, and when it was handed down to him following midseason injuries, he let it go after just a month as the team turned to Hakeem Adeniji, another career tackle to slide inside.
All of this seems like fodder to what would come next. Last April, a report detailing rape allegations against Carman was published by Defector right before the start of the 2022 NFL Draft. The report states that the alleged rape occurred when Carman was 18 years old at Clemson, and the victim was just 15.
The perception towards Carman shifted as far as possible. The offseason began with cautious optimism that he would build off the 501 snaps he played as a rookie and solidify himself as a starter. It quickly became a question of whether or not he should even be on the team. High draft picks have been released after a single season before, and if this information was truly new to the Bengals, and had enough weight behind it, what’s the worth of keeping him around? Team president Mike Brown later revealed the team was aware of the incident prior to the 2021 Draft.
The entire process of selecting Carman created enough skepticism. It was reported that Brown reached out to former Bengals o-line coach Paul Alexander, who helped Carman’s pre-draft training, for an endorsement prior to trading back and selecting him at a juncture where many believed it was too early for him to be drafted.
What was Alexander to say about his trainee other than what Brown wanted to hear?
The Bengals made their bed and tucked themselves in. Carman made it through the 2022 offseason, but the end result was the same as the year prior. He battled for a starting guard spot, this time at left guard, and fell short to a rookie fourth-round pick in Cordell Volson.
And that seemed to be that. Carman would become a healthy scratch for the majority of the regular season as Volson never looked back at left guard. A top-50 pick making zero on-field contributions in year two is more than enough grounds for cutting him loose before year three begins.
They say the playoffs are a whole new season. Carman would probably agree.
When left tackle Jonah Williams went down with a dislocated knee in the middle of the Bengals’ Wild Card game, Carman was not only the next man up, he was arguably the last man up. Cincinnati’s o-line was already starting two reserves in Adeniji at right tackle and Max Scharping at right guard; two players who’ve been ready to go at a moment’s notice all year long, while Carman has watched most games wearing street clothes. With depth now at a premium, Carman needed to be prepared with the same mindset.
Reserve lineman are expected to be able to play multiple spots when called upon. Luckily for Carman, who’s been practicing at every o-line spot aside from center, he filled in for Williams at the position that earned him an NFL contract. And it looked like the switch was flipping.
Carman’s footwork, hand usage, and overall timing looked lightyears better at his natural position than it ever did at either guard spot—because of course it did. The Bengals opted for the simplest solution after watching him underwhelm at positions he had no prior experience at, and it helped keep their hopes alive.
The next week, in snowy and sleet-covered Orchard Park, Carman did more than survive at left tackle. As the game wore on against the Buffalo Bills, he started to thrive for the first time in his NFL career in the team’s most convincing playoff victory in recent memory. On his 23rd birthday, nonetheless.
There’s just no drafting this kind of script.
Carman’s immediate future only guarantees the next week. A player with his track record can’t be granted positive expectations until he proves to earn them.
That there’s a future at all for him is nothing short of a blessing.