Zac Taylor: Bengals still finalizing draft board

Team feels good about likely options at No. 5 overall pick

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Credit: Andrew Harnik

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said quarterback Joe Burrow’s connection to former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase isn’t necessarily a big factor in the NFL Draft, but it does weigh into the conversation as team officials discuss their first-round options.

Chase, considered the top wide receiver in this class, is one of the players expected to be on the Bengals’ draft board Thursday with the No. 5 overall pick .

The Bengals are projected by most to take either Chase or Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell. Some believe they will have a difficult time passing up on a chance to reunite Burrow with his top receiver from 2019, if Chase is available. The NFL Draft begins with the first round 8 p.m. Thursday in Cleveland.

“It’s one of the things that you weigh in,” Taylor said in his pre-draft press conference Monday via Zoom. “Certainly we take in a lot of factors -- their production on the field, their character, their football IQ, just what they bring to our locker room and what they bring to our team as a whole. Relationship with a quarterback, that certainly doesn’t hurt, but that’s just one of the many things that we weigh in.”

The film the Bengals are watching of Chase is all with Burrow as his quarterback. Like some others in this draft class, Chase opted out of the 2020 season after catching 84 passes for a team-high 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns during the Tigers’ 2019 national championship season.

Burrow has offered high praise for Chase and noted he would love to have him on his team again, but he hasn’t necessarily been pushing for Chase over another prospect.

Taylor said the Bengals haven’t finalized their draft board, and they will continue having conversations right up until their pick is made.

“We feel like we’re gonna get a premier player that can come in and really help us win immediately,” Taylor said.

The Bengals had representatives at Chase’s Pro Day in March, but Taylor was at Florida’s event that day watching as tight end Kyle Pitts impressed onlookers. Taylor didn’t necessarily need to see Chase in person to understand what he could bring to the team.

“He’s a premier receiver in this draft,” Taylor said of Chase. “He does a lot of things really well. And, you know, when you watch the tape in 2019, it’s fun to watch Joe play again, because that’s the most recent tape you’re watching, but tremendous player and it’s obvious why it’s put himself in conversation to be a high pick.”

Some fans and draft analysts believe it would be irresponsible of the Bengals to take anyone but an offensive lineman with their first pick after watching Burrow suffer a season-ending knee injury last year when his pocket collapsed on him during a Week 10 game at Washington.

Cincinnati allowed 48 sacks last season, which ranked as 28th most in the league, and Burrow took 32 of those in 10 games before undergoing surgery to repair his ACL and MCL.

“We’re going to help our team win with whoever we take, and everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Taylor said when asked what he would say to individuals who say it would be irresponsible not to take an offensive lineman first. “I’m thankful that I don’t have to answer to everyone’s opinion because I’d be here all day. Because everyone’s got one and it’s fun and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we feel like we’re going to make a really great addition to our team on Thursday night.”

The Atlanta Falcons could make the Bengals’ decision for them, depending on who they take. Jacksonville, the New York Jets and San Francisco are all expected to take quarterbacks with the first three picks. Atlanta also could use a quarterback to develop behind Matt Ryan, but Pitts, Chase and Sewell could fit in its plans as well.

Taylor was at Sewell’s Pro Day, along with Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin.

“He’s big, athletic, powerful and he can do a lot of things really well,” Taylor said. “He had a good workout. Certainly, you can see why he’s put himself in position to be a top pick in the draft.”

The Bengals have a little more flexibility with their picks after picking up former Vikings offensive tackle Riley Reiff, a 32-year-old who was brought in to fill released right tackle Bobby Hart’s spot. Reiff said he’s willing to move to guard if needed, but the veteran addition makes it so Cincinnati could be comfortable taking any number of players.

Addressing the defense through free agency with several other pickups also makes it so the Bengals can focus on the offense or best player available, like if a top-level edge player falls in the second round.

“I think we’re right along where we want to be, supplemented with this draft for certain,” Taylor said. “This will be an exciting couple days for us when it comes up because we’re really excited to see what we add to our team. But we put ourselves in a really good position with our rosters out right now. And that’s a credit to Duke and his staff. And so we feel good where we’re at leading into this draft.”

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