The first thing the Cincinnati Bengals did after making Joe Burrow the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft was to add to his arsenal with a talented wide receiver, but they waited until the sixth round to try to improve his protection.
That didn’t sit well in the social media universe, where fans expressed concern the Bengals haven’t done enough to address the offensive line this offseason and still passed up quality options at that spot in the third and fourth rounds.
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Second-year coach Zac Taylor acknowledged the Bengals need to be better up front this season, but still felt satisfied with their draft. The Bengals took seven players over the three-day event, picking at the top of each round without moving up or down, and got three new pieces on offense and four on defense, including a trio of linebackers to address a big need. Six players were college team captains.
“It was more the guys that were sitting there at other positions — particularly at receiver and linebacker,” Taylor said in a Zoom news conference to recap the draft Saturday evening. “We had really high opinions of those guys. To just say that maybe you’ve got a need somewhere, and you’re going to pass up the value that those guys bring, is not something that we wanted to do. We’re not saying that the way we played on offense last year, particularly up front, was acceptable and that’s the standard we want to set. We’re just saying we had some guys that were too good to pass up.”
Six of the seven picks came at value from where ProFootballFocus.com had them ranked. The only miss, according to their rankings, was third-round pick Logan Wilson, a linebacker from Wyoming, but former Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey was a huge value pick in the seventh round. Bailey was projected to by PFF to go at No. 153 in the fifth round, and he would have gone much higher had he not suffered knee injuries in 2015 and 2019, the latter that caused him to miss almost his entire senior season.
The Bengals did take Kansas left tackle Hakeem Adeniji in the sixth round at No. 180, and although that appears to be more of a depth move, Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan both indicated he could challenge at a guard spot or perhaps right tackle. ProFootballFocus.com had him ranked as the 163th pick.
Cincinnati will look different up front, regardless. The team’s 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams is slated to start at left tackle after missing his entire rookie year because of shoulder surgery, and former Cowboys guard Xavier Su’a-Filo signed in free agency. Su’a-Filo is penciled in at right guard, and some even project late-season waiver pickup Fred Johnson could push Bobby Hart out of the right tackle spot. The Bengals are also hoping Mike Jordan continues to develop at left guard.
“There’s pieces there development-wise, and there’s also smaller developments I think than you would see,” Callahan said. “It’s not going to jump out at you. No one’s going to jump up and down and say ‘Look how much better we are.’ But those things are happening, and they were happening as the season went along. So, we’re kind of right on the trajectory we thought they’d be on, especially with those young kids.”
But using a No. 1 pick on a quarterback and then not protecting him well enough is a legitimate concern, even if the Bengals won’t express that. Rookie quarterbacks have more to learn and a better offensive line can help ease the transition.
The difference with Burrow is he’s known for his strong pocket presence and confidence, so perhaps he can rise above.
“I’m not concerned about it,” Callahan said. “I think there’s a lot of ways (to help) if you’re struggling in one particular area – say if you’re struggling in pass protection, there are ways to help that. I do think that when quarterbacks make good decisions – when you look at just taking quarterback hits and sacks, there’s a lot of things that go into it and it’s usually never just on one particular person or one particular unit. The receivers have got to get open, the quarterback has to make decisions – it all works together. There’s ways you can help when you’re struggling in certain areas.”
Burrow reportedly has been studying the Bengals’ playbook for weeks now, but there isn’t any more clarity on what the Bengals will do with Andy Dalton now that the new quarterback is in place. Veterans are set to begin virtual offseason meetings Monday and rookies integrate beginning May 11.
Taylor wouldn’t say whether Cincinnati received any offers for Dalton during the draft, but now that teams know who is on their roster, there could be more clarity coming soon.
“We’re going to keep addressing that over this weekend,” Taylor said. “He certainly is (still a Bengal) right now, as he has been all along. Now that the draft’s over, we’ll let the dust settle and talk through it.”
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