After years of struggles, the 2023 Cincinnati Bengals offensive line has the potential to be the best one we’ve seen since 2015. A big part of that is what looks like a great starting five, but another key to this unit being so good is actually having some quality backups if a starter or two goes down, just as we unfortunately saw at the end of last season.
If healthy, there’s no question the Bengals’ best backup lineman is La’el Collins, who is currently on the PUP list and is expected to remain there to start the season, knocking him out for at least the first four regular-season games.
Even so, Collins has the potential to be a very important member of an offense that has the potential to be the best in the entire NFL.
Hometown: Baton Rouge, LA
Experience: 8 years
Collins signed a three-year, $20 million contract prior to the 2022 season. He can earn as much as $9,384,313 this year. Overcoming adversity is nothing new for Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive tackle La’el Collins.
Collins, out of LSU, was projected to be a top-20 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Instead, because police wanted to question him about a murder investigation in his hometown of Baton Rouge, Collins fell out of the draft altogether and signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. Collins cooperated with investigators and was later cleared before signing with Dallas.
By Week 6, Collins had worked his way into the starting lineup at left guard and stayed there until suffering a torn ligament in his right big toe in the third game of the 2016 season.
Collins began the 2017 season as the Cowboys’ starting right tackle and had become a fixture in one of the top offensive lines in the NFL before missing all of 2020 with a hip injury. Prior to that injury, Collins ranked fifth among all NFL right tackles in Pro Football Focus grades.
Violation of the league’s substance abuse policy kept Collins out for the first five games of the 2021 season, and he eventually signed a three-year free-agent contract with the Bengals in March of 2022.
Collins’ first season in the Queen City was a mixed bag. His run blocking was exceptional, as he earned a 73.5 grade from PFF. But he struggled in pass blocking and had surrendered five sacks before tearing his left ACL and MCL against the New England Patriots on Christmas Eve.
Now, as Collins works his way back into playing shape, he has become something of an afterthought following the Bengals’ signing of left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. away from the Kansas City Chiefs. Collins is considered by some as the favorite for the swing tackle job behind Brown and Jonah Williams, who is making the transition to right tackle. There is even talk of an outright release, in which case Cincinnati would save around $7 million against the salary cap.
But none of this matters to Collins. He simply tunes out the static and continues to work tirelessly towards his singular goal - getting back on the field healthy.
“Every day, I’m able to do something different,” Collins said recently. “I can tell that my knee is locked in there, it’s stable, it’s not going anywhere, and I’ve been able to push it. It’s coming along really well. With the support system that I have here, I’ve been able to respond really well.”
So, while there is still no timeline for his return, Collins is optimistic that he will be back to full strength soon.
“It’s all great signs,” he said. “Every day I come in, I do a little more, I feel a little better, I get a little stronger. So, we’ve just been stacking good days on top of good days.”
And, wherever he winds up on the depth chart, Collins is confident in a Bengals’ offensive line that could surprise a lot of people before this season is over.
“Very confident,” he said. “We have a lot of ability, a lot of potential in the room. We got a lot of young guys that are doing a lot of great things. It’s just great to be able to go out there and watch them continue to improve, watch them continue to get better. Knowing the type of coach that we have, that gives you every reason in the world to want to go out there and go a little harder.”
It’s also worth mentioning that Collins played offensive guard early in his NFL career, so there’s a possibility he gives the Bengals added depth at guard and tackle. It’s no secret this franchise loves versatile linemen who can play multiple spots.
Roster Odds: 80%
Unless something changes, the Bengals are set to keep Collins and have him potentially back up the left and right tackle spots (unless you think Jackson Carman is a capable backup at left tackle or any position for that matter).