For the first time in three seasons, the Cincinnati Bengals’ first round selection is not set in stone as the NFL Draft approaches. In 2020, Joe Burrow was the sure-fire number one pick, and while there was some lively debate around the fifth overall selection last season, Ja’Marr Chase became the betting favorite as draft day grew closer. Thanks to a Super Bowl run in 2021 followed by a busy offseason of key free agent signings, there are a few different directions the team could go at pick 31. In this series, we will make a case for the Bengals attacking specific position groups with their first round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Pressure is On
Cincinnati struck gold along the defensive line last season, with newcomers making an impact week in and week out. Free agent addition Trey Hendrickson led the team in nearly every pressure metric, including 14 sacks. Larry Ogunjobi was third on the team with seven sacks, and tied for the team lead with 12 tackles for loss. Preseason addition B.J. Hill notched 5.5 sacks, and added a key interception against the Kansas Chiefs in the AFC Championship. Sam Hubbard and D.J. Reader rounded out the Bengals defensive line that for the most part showed to be a strength of the team, especially when it came to stopping the run. However, the defensive front was not the most consistent unit on a weekly basis.
Cincinnati ranked 14th in pressure rate, and were fortunate to win five of their six games last season when sacking the opposing quarterback one or fewer times. That .833 winning percentage was tops in the league, and only four other teams had a winning percentage over .500 in those scenarios. While Joseph Ossai is slated to return in 2022 coming off knee surgery which ended his rookie season before it began, expecting him to be a star in Year 1 is dangerous (even if his 2021 preseason was superb). Ogunjobi is currently not in the fold for 2022, so defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will be looking to add playmakers to the line in the draft.
Edge appears to be a rather deep position group in the 2022 NFL Draft, so the Bengals may elect to wait until the middle rounds to add another pass rusher. However, pass rushers like Arnold Ebikete (Penn State) and Boye Mafe (Minnesota) could be good value at pick 31, especially since neither will likely be on the board in the second round at pick 62. If Cincinnati prefers to focus on beefing up the interior of the line, Travis Jones (Connecticut) could be in play. The real value would be in rounds two and onward, unless one of the top pass-rushers free fall into Cincinnati’s lap.
Minnesota RDE Boye Mafe (#34) definitely looked less hesitant/more reactive in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl vs WVU than he did Week 1 vs OSU. Here is a 3-down sequence that encapsulates his skill set. Drops in coverage, gets a sack on a nice swim move, and hustles for the run stop. pic.twitter.com/QPkluEn0ne— Al Karsten (@bigalfredosauce) April 5, 2022