The 2021 Bengals draft class caught a lot of flak early. Objectively, most of the criticism is warranted. The Cincinnati Bengals passed on a consensus top tackle early, traded back in the second round to take a guy who many had ranked lower, and didn’t take another offensive lineman for nearly another 100 picks.
Even with all this criticism, the Cincinnati Bengals got better. Each pick has its merits and covered plenty of necessary holes. Let’s take a detailed look at each of the new Bengals.
2021 Bengals Draft Class Addresses Needs, Provides Depth
Round 1, Pick 5: Ja’Marr Chase, Wide Receiver, LSU
The war between #TeamChase and #TeamSewell seems to have been won by the former. With the fifth pick in the 2021 Bengals draft class, Cincinnati selected the best wide receiver prospect in Ja’Marr Chase.
With the departure of A.J. Green (and Alex Erickson), the Bengals needed to figure out where 100+ targets were going to go. Behind Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, that receiver depth is thin. Chase comes into camp as the new WR1 and will force defenses to respect the three wide-outs.
“Is Chase going to block for Burrow???” Well, no. But when the Bengals split out Boyd, Higgins, and Chase, not to mention the running ability of Joe Mixon, who are you going to cover? Teams aren’t going to be confident enough to stack the box, thus opening lanes. If you want to test your luck going one-on-one with one of those three, feel free. You’ll get used to seeing their nameplate.
Round 2, Pick 46: Jackson Carman, Guard/Tackle, Clemson
Jackson Carman (LT #79) was selected as the 46th overall pick in the 2nd round. The prospect is from Fairfield Ohio just outside of Cincinnati. He returns to his hometown team hoping to help them win a championship just like he helped Clemson. Let’s watch the film on our new OL. pic.twitter.com/XOXRan4B2D
— Sans (@bengals_sans) May 2, 2021
Originally slated to pick at 38, the Bengals decided to trade back to 46. That 38 pick ended up being Christian Barmore to the New England Patriots and the Bengals got picks 46, 122, and 139. Enter Cincinnati native, Jackson Carman.
This pick was rather controversial and for good reason. The Bengals finally get their offensive lineman, but they passed on “better” prospects like Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg, and Walker Little. It turns out that Cincinnati was zeroing in on Landon Dickerson, who was taken a pick before. They liked Carman and were willing to make him the pick at 38 but saw the opportunity to add two more picks to help bolster a roster riddled with holes.
The Bengals see Carman as a guard and he will compete for the right guard spot on day one. He’s a big dude at 330 lbs but he can move. There were concerns about his arm length and ability to handle edge rushers, but he makes up for it by his quickness and ability to process change.
Even if the other two picks don’t pan out, Carman has a high ceiling and could be well worth the “reach,” as many Twitter draft experts put it.
Round 3, Pic 69: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
Cue the video “I THINK I’M ‘BOUT TO STEAL!”
Many Bengals Twitter fans lamented that if you were to swap the Ossai and Carman picks, it would be a bit easier to swallow. Regardless, Ossai was there at 69 and it was too nice to pass up.
Both sides of the line were issues for Cincinnati in 2020. That includes the horrendously inept pass rush. Ossai will immediately compete and will be rotated in with Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard. His strength and explosiveness will wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. He will need to hone his rush defense, but as a rookie, he will be included in pass-rush packages.
Keep an eye out on the rookie from Texas in this 2021 Bengals draft class. He’s got the tools to be really, really good.
Round 4, Pick 111: Cameron Sample, EDGE, Tulane
Judging by last year’s class and this year’s, the Bengals love captains and the Senior Bowl. The latter is how Cam Sample became this pick. He was voted as the top defensive lineman by the opposing offensive line in that Senior Bowl. Not many things can be higher praise than being voted the best by the enemy.
It seemed like a head-scratcher for Cincinnati to double-dip back-to-back EDGE prospects. But his versatility (which the Bengals love) will be the difference. He has the explosiveness to line up outside and rush the passer. But he’s also got the footwork and strength to slide inside.
Round 4, Pick 122: Tyler Shelvin, Defensive Tackle, LSU
This dude is HUGE. He’s 6’2″, 350lbs with 34-inch arms and 11-inch hands.
So, again the Bengals add a defensive lineman. Despite having D.J. Reader, Cincinnati needs another big guy inside to at the very least be able to rotate. But imagine Reader and Slevin next to one another inside on goal-line sets. It will take that dive out of the opposing playbooks.
Shelvin could also turn into a steal. He only has one year of starting experience as a sophomore in 2019. He opted out last year and ended his LSU career with all of zero sacks. With the addition of Larry Ogunjobi, Shelvin will not start Week 1 but will be good enough to rotate to give the regular guys a breather.
Round 4, Pick 139: D’Ante Smith, Tackle, ECU
The first developmental piece of the 2021 Bengals draft class will be D’Ante Smith from ECU. While Bengals fans breathed a sigh of relief that another offensive lineman was selected, Smith is likely not going to compete with either Jonah Williams or Riley Reiff on day one, but he will be able to provide depth alongside Fred Johnson.
Smith was very solid at ECU, but there were concerns about his lighter playing weight. Thankfully, he put on nearly 20 lbs before the Senior Bowl. He has the length and foot quickness you’d like out of an NFL tackle, it just that he is a little robotic and his run-blocking is lacking. However, if anyone is going to be able to whip him into shape, it will be new line coach, Frank Pollack.
Round 5, Pick 149: Evan McPherson, Kicker, Florida
.@McPherson_Evan is calibrated 🎯 🎯 🎯
(Via evan_mcpherson19 – TikTok) pic.twitter.com/fnXbNyGm90
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) May 1, 2021
There was only one kicker selected in this year’s draft: Evan McPherson. This was a surprise. Not the player, but where he was selected. Regardless, if McPherson can be a good kicker for more than the next decade in Cincinnati, many will forget about it.
McPherson was extremely accurate in college, making 85% of all kicks, which is best in the history of the SEC. He’s got a powerful leg and can make plenty of kicks from 50+. At his Pro Day, he went 21/22, making at 60+. That one miss was 58 yards, so I won’t hold that against him.
Here’s to hoping Cincinnati learns from its past mistakes and gives McPherson the reigns rather than cutting him, putting him on the practice squad, letting him get snatched by the Philadelphia Eagles, kick a 60+ yarder in Week 1, and win a Super Bowl. I’m not bitter they kept Randy “Injury in both calves” Bullock.
Round 6, Pick 190: Trey Hill, Center, Georgia
Of the first seven selections (including Trey Hill), six played with or against Joe Burrow. Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it’s a fun little tidbit of knowledge.
Versatility. It seems to be the theme of the 2021 Bengals draft class. Hill has plenty of playing experience, racking up 26 starts before going down with a knee injury in his junior year. An under-the-radar stud, Hill is able to play both center and guard. Considering the injuries sustained to the offensive line in the last few years, it’s good to have options (that aren’t named Billy Price….)
He is a physical big body who loves contact and is always looking for work. With Trey Hopkins recovering from a torn ACL, Cincinnati will use Hill as depth. This could go down as one of the more solid, lesser talked about selections.
Round 6, Pick 202: Chris Evans, Running Back, Michigan
“Avengers, assemble!” Okay, maybe the uber-athletic running back out of Michigan isn’t THAT Chris Evans, but he’s still a specimen.
In what is really seeming like a trend, Evans is a ridiculously talented and athletic player who was poorly utilized by his Alma Mater. With the departure of Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati was bound to select a depth piece. Don’t be surprised if we see Evans out there more frequently than Samaje Perine and Trayveon Williams. He’s going to impress in camp and will be too good to keep off the field.
Round 7, Pick 235: Wyatt Hubert, EDGE, Kansas State
The final selection of the 2021 Bengals draft class is yet another EDGE guy, Wyatt Hubert. While he may be the last Bengals pick, he is first in our rankings of best hair from the class.
In terms of pure statistics, Hubert was very solid for his Wildcats in 2020. He started all ten games and totalled 27 tackles, 13 of which were for loss and 8.5 were sacks. His marks for TFL and sacks were career bests for the three-year starter.
His role on the team is depth. That’s about it. He sure has the tools to develop into a regular on the rotation but I imagine he will be inactive for most if not all of the Bengals’ games this season, barring injury.
New Stripes, New Bengals
New franchise quarterback. Loaded wide receiver room. Best safety in the league. The Bengals have the tools to compete in 2021 in their slick new unis. This 2021 Bengals draft class was all about addressing needs. There will forever be debates about who should have been selected instead of player X, but that’s the fun of the draft. Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: the draft is fun!