Cincinnati's own Jackson Carman is making his way back to Queen City after the Bengals selected him with the 46th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Everyone knows Joe Burrow needs more time in the pocket and the Clemson alum is looking forward to having a big role in keeping his new quarterback upright this season.
"I blocked for the No. 1 pick this year [Jaguars QB Trever Lawrence] and I’ll be blocking for another No. 1 pick. It’s the same thing, just going in and doing my job at the highest level," Carman said. "It’s a blessing to be able to protect Joe Burrow. It’s even crazier knowing that I was just playing against him two years ago [in the National Championship]. It’s really an amazing full-circle experience.”
Some may have been surprised that Cincinnati didn’t take Penei Sewell with the fifth overall pick on Thursday night, but former Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander says team owner Mike Brown zeroed in on Carman from the start.
“I talked to Mike about it, I go right to the top,” Alexander joked. “When I talked to Mike I said ‘hey Mike, here are the 25 guys that I worked with for the draft. Who do you want to talk about?’ The first thing he said was, ‘tell me about Jackson Carman.’ I was kind of like 'wow.' I thought first they’d want to know about Penei Sewell and go down the line and all that kind of stuff and he wanted to talk about Jackson and obviously I gave a strong endorsement and I think he’s going to be terrific.”
Alexander believes he had the profile of a first round pick after working closely with Carman in the offseason.
“I don’t know why the mock drafters had him lower than that if anything I had him as a first round pick instead of a third round pick,” Alexander said. “ I think a lot of the evaluations this year because of COVID precautions and restrictions were a little bit off this year.”
Alexander seemed shocked that Carman fell on other draft boards because of his ability to be a plug-and-play type of player.
“Is he a first round pick? No question he is," Alexander said without hesitation. "He is going to start right away and in his career he’s going to at least be an average NFL starter at his position, maybe better, so that’s why I see him more as a first rounder.”
The Bengals share similar views. They were targeting Carman at No. 38, before ultimately trading down to the 46th pick and adding two extra fourth round selections that ultimately became defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin and offensive tackle D'Ante Smith.
The organization believes Carman can be a day one starter.
"He’ll come in and compete at guard for us. He’s played a lot of tackle at Clemson. We feel good about the position flexibility there, but he’ll come in and compete at guard right away," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. "He’s done it for a long time there at a very high level. He has great athleticism. He’s shown he can do it against really good competition. You can turn on the tape and see him do it against a bunch of guys that went in the first round of the draft the last few years. He held his own, and we certainly feel like there’s a lot of upside with Jackson."
The Clemson tackle will be competing for a starting spot at right guard. Making the switch from tackle to guard will be a challenge from a mental standpoint, but Alexander believes Carman will be able to learn and handle the position quickly.
“He’ll have a little work to do, but the good thing about him is that he has the ideal body frame to play either guard or tackle,” Alexander said. “You probably have triple the amount of calls at guard than you do tackle and different possibilities of things that can happen so he’ll have to learn that. He’ll have to get into that whole rhythm of communication and execution.”
Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack seems to agree that there will be a learning curve for Carman, but with repetition, he's built to handle the extra work load that comes at guard.
“The action is going to happen a lot faster when you go inside," Pollack said. "He’s going to have to take on guys sooner, a little quicker—he’s not going to have the time and space he’s used to working with. He’s going to have to anchor a lot faster. He’s going to be dealing with a little more powerful, stronger players inside. He’s shown to have all the strengths to be able to make that transition.”
Alexander worked with 25 offensive lineman that heard their names throughout draft weekend. He believes Carman knew current players in the league better than any of the other players he was around.
“We’d be watching film and he’d say, ‘yeah, that’s T.J. Watt, you’ve got to do this or that’ or ‘oh, he plays left tackle for them,’” Alexander said. “I was trying to break down all of these players and I can’t believe how much he knows. He instinctively knows by seeing, but he also models himself that way which is really important. A lot of guys come into the league and they don’t know anything. They put all of their emphasis on their college life, but this kid was always looking forward. He is a driven guy who has the right makeup and obviously has the right physical ability."
The Bengals' offensive line looks different than it did last season. Jonah Williams is set to start at left tackle, Quinton Spain and Xavier Su'a-Filo will likely compete for the starting left guard spot. Trey Hopkins will start at center if healthy, followed by Billy Price. If things go as planned, Carman will line up at right guard and Riley Reiff will be Cincinnati's starting right tackle.
Some may consider the Carman pick a reach, but the Bengals think he will have an instant impact on their team in 2021.
Time will tell if they're right about the Cincinnati native.
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