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.
Protect the Franchise
One hundred and two. 1-0-2. That’s how many sacks Joe Burrow has taken in just 30 career games in Cincinnati. After the horrendous knee injury in 2020, and the obvious impact a poor offensive line had on the entire offense in 2021, upgrading that position group is a no brainer. Thankfully, the Bengals addressed a few of those questions via free agency, signing Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins. All three of those players represent significant improvements over the incumbents, and immediately make the 2022 version of the offensive line much more serviceable. Is it enough, however?
First, you have to define ‘enough.’ Will the line be better as currently constructed? Of course. Both Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon should benefit greatly from those improvements with Burrow showing just how lethal he can be when given a clean pocket.
When operating with a clean pocket in 2021, Joe Burrow ranked:— Taylor (@_TaylorCornell) March 20, 2022
🔸1st in PFF Grade (95.9)
🔸1st in YPA (9.0)
🔸3rd in Adjusted Completion % (82%)
🔸3rd in Passer Rating (113.7)
🔸5th in Big Time Throw % (5.8%)
🔸7th in Passing TDs (25)
🔸7th lowest Turnover Worthy Play % (1.5%)
But let’s not overlook that additional work could be needed to shore up the line long term. At left tackle, Jonah Williams has a team option for 2023 and would need a new deal if the Bengals hope to keep him locked into protecting Burrow’s blind side. Left guard remains a major question mark, with Quinton Spain unsigned and Jackson Carman set to compete for the starting role. Karras is slated to start at center, where he played predominantly in 2019 and 2020 before sliding over to LG last season. Cappa and Collins anchor the right side for the next few seasons, with both signed to multi-year deals.
With LG being the only obvious question mark entering 2022, the Bengals could choose to give their second round pick from last season an entire year to earn a long term role in that spot. Drafting for depth then becomes the other glaring need at that time, with current backups Isaiah Prince, Hakeem Adeneniji, D’Ante Smith, and Lamont Gaillard all being unproven as dependable options. While drafting for ‘depth’ at pick 31 isn’t necessarily ideal, there are some intriguing options that could immediately push for a starter role. What Bengals fans should avoid though is assuming offensive line is no longer a need simply because of the moves made this offseason.
I think any #Bengals fan that thinks Linderbaum isn’t a need because the OL is better than it was last year should reconsider— Taylor (@_TaylorCornell) April 18, 2022
The Possible Options
One popular pick amongst fans is the center from Iowa, Tyler Linderbaum. Linderbaum is the consensus top center in the draft, and his play at Iowa was elite. Additionally, his testing numbers from his pro day were absurd.
Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum at his pro day (among iOL historically)— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) April 11, 2022
4.98 40 (96th percentile)
1.71 10 (93rd)
7.14 3-cone (100th)
4.38 pro agility (97th)
32.5 vertical (92nd)
110.5 broad (93rd)
Linderbaum profiles as a ‘can’t miss’ prospect with a very high floor and Pro Bowl ceiling. Selecting him at 31 would slide Karras to LG and guarantee that the offensive line would be improved at 4/5 positions (Jonah Williams notwithstanding). So then why is Linderbaum starting to fall into the 2nd round of some mock drafts? For one, the center position is not a premier position in football. Generally speaking, the tackle position is the most important, and guards are likely of greater value than centers. Secondly, Linderbaum lacks versatility. The beauty of players like Ted Karras is their ability to move around the offensive line as needs emerge or other situations dictate. Linderbaum is a center now, and likely solely a center going forward.
If the Bengals still want to address the offensive line and Linderbaum is not an option, Kenyon Green is a possibility. Green provides versatility, having played at multiple positions along the offensive line at Texas A&M, as well as stellar performance. While Green is usually off the board by pick 31, if he were to slide just a bit, the Bengals would have to strongly consider selecting the former Aggie.
If you missed the previous installments of the series, check out the arguments to be made for the Bengals drafting a defensive back or defensive lineman at pick 31. You can follow Taylor on Twitter, @_taylorcornell.