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Chase Brown received high pass-blocking grades at Illinois

Among all drafted running backs, Brown had second-highest grade.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Mixon struggles when it comes to pass blocking. We all know that. We’ve been beating that dead horse for a very long time. He was the highest-paid player on the Bengals’ offense last season and didn’t play in the second half of the AFC Championship game because he struggles with pass blocking so much.

Mixon is due to be paid over $12 million in 2023, but if the Bengals cut him after June 1, they’ll save over $10 million. Heading into the draft, many thought the Bengals would find Mixon’s replacement, but they didn’t draft a running back until the fifth round when they selected Chase Brown out of Illinois.

Brown isn’t going to replace Mixon, but he will likely replace Samaje Perine, who left the team during free agency and was Mixon’s backup and the team’s best pass-blocking running back.

One reason they may have selected Brown is his overall score when it comes to pass blocking. There were 18 running backs drafted this year, and Brown was graded as the second best of them at pass blocking, per PFF.

The only running back that was graded higher was Texas running back Roschon Johnson, who was selected in the fourth round before the Bengals selected Brown. Johnson didn’t score as high as Brown in the combine, though. Brown was faster and seems to be more athletic. The only other running back that was available who had a high pass-blocking grade when the Bengals selected Brown was UAB’s Dewayne McBride. McBride and Brown are similar in weight and athleticism, but Brown played against BIG TEN schools while McBride played against Conference USA schools, which may have factored into the Bengals’ decision.

The Bengals revamped the offensive line before the 2022 season, and while it helped, it wasn’t quite enough. Jonah Williams struggled at left tackle, and right tackle La’el Collins, who may not have been fully healthy, struggled as well. Since the end of the season, the Bengals signed free agent Orlando Brown Jr. as the team’s new left tackle, and they moved Williams to right tackle. However, Williams and Collins are both recovering from offseason surgery, which means that Jackson Carman could be starting at right tackle when the season begins.

Since the Bengals didn’t grab another right tackle, or any offensive linemen, in the draft, it’s clear they’re happy with what they have right now, even if it means Carman starts at right tackle in Week 1. If that’s the case, it will be important to have some extra help in the backfield to help give Joe Burrow a clean pocket.

This is where Brown could come into play. Asking a rookie running back to step in and be proficient as a pass blocker is a tall order, no matter what round they were selected in. However, Brown has clearly shown not only a willingness to pass block, but even though he had a couple of bad games as a pass blocker, he graded well overall.

Brown only gave up one sack, one hit, two hurries, and four pressures in 13 games. Brown stayed in the pocket to pass block 45.3 percent of the time, while Bijan Robinson, the top-ranked running back in this year’s draft class, only stayed in the pocket to block 26.5 percent of the time. Johnson, the only running back with a pass-blocking grade higher than Brown’s in this year’s draft class, stayed in the backfield to block 26.8 percent of the time.

Both Robinson and Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs were gone by the time the Bengals went on the clock in the first round. Zach Charbonnet was gone by the time the Bengals went on the clock in the second, and then there was a big run on running backs in the third round before the Bengals were ready to make their selection. The Bengals did a good job of not reaching for a running back before one they liked fell to them in the fifth round.

Luckily for them, that particular back happened to be one of the better pass blockers in this year’s draft, which was exactly what they needed.

The Bengals are one of a handful of teams primed to make a Super Bowl run in 2023. The only three teams that gave up more sacks last season to still make the playoffs in were the Giants, Seahawks, and Vikings, and two of those were Wild Card teams.

With the talented pass rushers in the AFC North, which includes T.J. Watt and Myles Garrett, the Bengals will need to improve their protection of Burrow if they want to maximize their chances of winning their first Super Bowl.