When the Cincinnati Bengals went on the clock in the first round of the NFL Draft, no offensive linemen had been taken.
The name of Alabama left tackle Jonah Williams was staring right at them.
Cincinnati could have traded back and still gotten a good lineman, but new coach Zac Taylor said the Bengals saw who they wanted. They selected Williams, widely considered the best lineman in the draft, with the No. 11 overall pick.
“He’s a guy we were really excited fell to us, quite frankly, so we felt it really worked out in our favor,” Taylor said in a press conference at Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday night shortly after the Bengals made their pick. “I think you’re happy when your guy is there. You want to make sure you can grab him. There were a lot of good offensive linemen that I think people hold in high regard, but Jonah was there so we grabbed him.”
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The Pittsburgh Steelers had just traded up with the Denver Broncos to get Michigan linebacker Devin Bush at No. 10. The Bengals need linebackers so Bush would have been a consideration, but Taylor said their only thought at that point – when a division rival swooped in ahead of them – was that Williams was still available.
Williams, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 302 pounds, was a little surprised no offensive linemen went earlier in the draft but was excited to get the call while at the draft in Nashville.
“It’s wild,” Williams said on a conference call with the Cincinnati-area media. “Obviously, the waiting is tough. It’s just hard to be patient during that time, but as soon as I got that call from the Cincinnati area code, all that dissolved and all I could think about is just getting to work and being a part of this team.”
The Bengals liked Williams from the time the new staff first met with him at the NFL Combine.
An intelligent blocker who has size, flexibility and mobility to be effective in the run game and in pass protection, Williams played both right and left tackle during his three-year career at Alabama and projects as a guard or tackle in the NFL. The Crimson Tide also had considered using him at center.
That versatility makes him a huge asset for the Bengals, who brought back their entire offensive line this offseason, including re-signing right tackle Bobby Hart to a three-year deal.
“Out of all the positions in any sport, I think the chemistry in the offensive line room is one of the biggest parts of the success or failure of that offense,” Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner said. “… All we kept coming back to on him was his character. Obviously with the talent and all the things he brings to the table and the production of blocking everybody in the SEC the way he did. There are other guys that can block well too, but his character is an A-plus, and he is a great fit for any line room. We are really excited to have him in the building.”
Williams’ natural position is left tackle, Taylor said, but his versatility enables the Bengals to get their “five best linemen on the field.”
He is willing to play wherever the Bengals want him.
“It means a lot,” Williams said. “That’s the most I can ask for as an offensive lineman. As a competitor, you obviously want to be the first. I think the other tackles and linemen in this draft are great and they are going to do great things, but as a competitor you want to be the first one taken. At this point, none of that matters. I’m a Cincinnati Bengal, and I’m ready to get to work.”
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