The Cincinnati Bengals made another deep postseason run in 2022, but injuries and subsequent ineffectiveness on the offensive line once again plagued the team’s bid for a Lombardi Trophy. To the team’s credit, they heavily addressed the line last offseason, placing four new starters up front.
It started rocky, got better as the year wore on, but then collapsed in the AFC Championship Game versus the Chiefs. Three starters on the offensive line were out for the contest and it showed.
Now, in what is seemingly an endless pursuit of a capable line in the Zac Taylor era (and, really, the final years of the Marvin Lewis era), Cincinnati is once again forced to look at who they have up front. Last year, La’el Collins was a big free agency get for the club, but he had ups and downs with his play, in large part because of injury—a storyline that is carrying into this year because of a significant knee injury he suffered at the end of the season.
If Cincinnati wants to move in a different direction at right tackle, there is one option set to hit the market who provides one of the most valuable traits by a lineman for the Bengals—availability.
Jawaan Taylor Free Agent Profile
Weight: 312 pounds
Years Pro: Entering fifth season
Age: 25 (Turns 26 in November)
Round Drafted: Second (35th overall), 2019 NFL Draft
Taylor was a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, starting at tackle since he was a true freshman. He opted for the draft with a year of eligibility left and was one of the youngest players in the 2019 class.
In his first three years as a pro, Taylor had his ups and downs, playing on a very poor team and offense overall. He had a 63.9 overall Pro Football Focus score as a rookie, making the site’s All-Rookie Team.
He had a dip in his pass-blocking grade from 69.0 in his first year to 51.8 in his second season, though. Taylor was also the worst-rated Jacksonville starter on the line in 2021 with a 60.3 grade by PFF standards.
But, this past year, Taylor made major strides along with the rest of his team. He allowed 16 pressures in 2022, after averaging about 34 each of the previous three seasons and posted a career-best 76.4 pass-blocking grade. Even so, his overall score was just 58.7 last year. year.
The biggest strength of Taylor is his durability. That may not jump out as the most important of traits to a lot of folks, but while talented, having said talent available remains a big key for the Bengals. Taylor has started and played in every single game (68 in total) in his career.
Taylor’s jump in his pass-blocking prowess also points to a potentially-ascending player. Again, he’s only 25 years old and with the Jaguars finally finding some offensive stability with Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence, 2022 could have shown the beginning of his blossoming within a viable system.
Additionally, this was a guy in whom the Bengals had interest going into that 2019 Draft, so they liked what they saw in college. They had a pre-draft visit with him, as they did their due diligence with tackles that year, ultimately selecting Jonah Williams at No. 11 overall.
His technique and abilities across the board seem to combine for an above-average tackle, which is something the Bengals covet. He does seem to pass off blocking assignments on twists and stunts relatively well, too.
While he may be a cumulative above-average NFL tackle, there are still average to below-average facets. When you look at his PFF run-blocking grades, he just hasn’t seemed to have found his pro footing there.
The grading site had him as the worst tackle, in terms of negatively-graded run blocking snaps at 22.4%. That won’t be music to Bengals management’s ears, as they’ve tried to get more consistency from the run game.
While he has stood up to good rushers over the years, including in-division rival J.J. Watt at times, he doesn’t seem to routinely “stand up” and stymie would-be rushers overly often. Against some of the better edge defenders, he’ll lose a little footing, but does regain balance to keep the rush at bay more often than not.
Moreover, Lawrence had one of the quickest release times of all quarterbacks last year, potentially providing the behind-the-scenes crutch propping up that high pass-blocking grade last year.
The Bengals have a huge decision to make with Collins and how they view the future of their right tackle position. In short, Cincinnati can’t keep trotting out lines with issues if they want to expect to eventually win a title.
Trench play is paramount in the NFL (and in the sport, in general), so even with the major overhaul the Bengals had up front last year, it still wasn’t good enough last year. A lot of that was because of injuries, but those happen in the league, and they are still dealing with a significant one on the right side wherein last year’s starter may not be ready for the season-opener.
Taylor likely won’t be an All-Pro should he land in Cincinnati, but he’d bring stability—both in play and his ability to elude the injury report. And, while it’s a gamble, the Bengals would need to hang their hopes on that “ascending player” possibility, given the improvements he showed last year.