The 2021 NFL Draft is right around the corner and the Bengals have plenty of needs to fill. Wide receiver and offensive line have received plenty attention in the Penei Sewell vs. Ja'Marr Chase debate, but the Bengals need hits throughout this draft to jumpstart their roster.
They have eight draft picks total, including two sixth round selections. Joe Burrow has made it clear he wants to take the first snaps of 2021.
Here are needs to fill on the path to maximizing his comeback.
1. Offensive Line
The merry-go-round from hell hasn't stopped spinning for this group over the past five years. Burrow was put on a silver platter for defenses to feast on in 2020.
The rookie threw the ball 404 times in 10 games and was hit 72 times through his first nine outings. Since 2000, only Daniel Jones has been hit more as a rookie in the first nine games. Injuries took their toll on this group. They finished 2020 with 10 different line combinations and had 10 different players register 200-plus snaps according to Pro Football Focus.
After swallowing the results from an optimistic approach to the offensive line, the front office made sure to upgrade the group this offseason. The question remains how much better is it? Projected starters from left to right tackle are: Jonah Williams, Quinton Spain, Trey Hopkins, Xavier Su'a Filo, and Riley Reiff.
The Reiff addition took the heat off of this need a little bit, but interior pressure shredded Burrow's knee, and the three starters in the middle have their issues with inconsistency or injuries. There isn't one player in this "starting" group signed past 2022. Finding a day-one starter on the interior and an eventual starter at tackle should sit at the top of the Bengals' war room whiteboard.
1B. Defensive Line
Super Bowls are won and lost in the trenches. Cincinnati has huge question marks on both sides of that equation. The Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap era is over, and now it's time for a new era of defensive maulers to step in.
Dunlap was shipped out to Seattle for the 235th pick in this year's draft, while Atkins was released and could still come back to Cincinnati on a smaller number. Add in the exit of Carl Lawson, and this Bengals defensive interior looks completely different.
Newly-added defensive end Trey Hendrickson notched 13.5 sacks last year on a great front, but he doesn't have that luxury to lean on right now. The front four of Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Larry Ogunjobi, and Sam Hubbard can be very effective, but they'll need some depth.
Ogunjobi has flashed as a pass-rushing defensive tackle but hasn't shown the consistency to just hand him a starting 3-tech job. Mike Daniels had a run of five straight seasons with four or more sacks as a Packer, but that feels further and further away as he approaches his 32nd birthday in May. He can still be a useful player, but age has left him with the same consistency issues as Ogunjobi. Josh Tupou and Renell Wren have tantalized Bengals fans for years, only to reward them with 30 total appearances combined since 2018.
Rookies aren't always good enough to start, but they are essential for depth. The Bengals need at least one more rotational player in the mix to beef up their future potential.
3. Wide Receiver
The second round has been very kind to the Bengals lately, especially in the receiver room. Cincinnati plucked Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd after the first 32 picks in the draft. Now they need one more outside threat to round out a dynamic trio.
Higgins was on pace for over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns when Burrow went down. Add in the pinpoint chemistry Boyd had built with his quarterback and the Bengals have a great one-two punch.
The problem is depth. A.J. Green's departure has left a big void on the outside opposite Higgins. Auden Tate can be that guy in short spurts, but 2019 was a good example of an offense that features Tate. He led the 2-14 squad with 14.4 yards per catch but reeled in just half of his targets.
Tate is a big body that's useful in a rotation, but not quite at the level of a starting outside receiver in the NFL. Cincinnati has no downfield options behind Tate as Mike Thomas and Trenton Irwin combined for 14 catches and 127 yards on 21 targets last season.
Burrow was one of the best deep-ball throwers in the country at LSU, now's the time to get him a burner that can win on the outside for years to come.
Randy, Randy, Randy, so long old friend.
Randy Bullock appeared in 59 games for the Bengals from 2017-20, making 85-of-100 field goal attempts and 95.2% of his extra points. Bullock was serviceable, but it pays to have a weapon at the kicker spot in today's NFL. Anytime the Ravens and Chiefs cross midfield, their special teams give them a great chance at three points.
ESPN's Mike Clay broke down all the kickers in 2020 based on actual and expected field goal percentage. Bengals fans can probably guess where Bullock landed: Average.
The Bengals benched Bullock for Austin Seibert over the final weeks of the season but the latter didn't do anything to fend off a training camp competition. The Oklahoma product went 6-of-8 on field goal attempts and missed his only kick from 50-plus yards. According to most analysts, there are roughly 2-3 kickers worthy of being drafted, yet it's no lock that Cincinnati selects one. They have only drafted 11 kickers in team history and just two in the last 25 years: Neil Rackers (2000) and Jake Elliott (2017).
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