After Joe Burrow absorbed a league-leading 51 sacks in 2021, the Cincinnati Bengals have made a conscious effort to ensure their star quarterback is better protected. The Bengals have used both free agency and the draft to bring in multiple additions up front and give Burrow more time in the pocket.
And Cincinnati might not be done. Based on data from Pro Football Network’s Mock Draft Simulator, offensive tackle could be the Bengals’ choice in Round 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft. MDS users are sending a first-round tackle to Cincinnati in 34.6% of mock drafts. Who could the Bengals consider with the 28th overall pick?
The Cincinnati Bengals Keep Fortifying Their Offensive Line
The offensive line that the Bengals deployed en route to a Super Bowl appearance could hardly look more different than Cincinnati’s current iteration.
Left guard Quinton Spain and center Trey Hopkins — neither of whom is still in the NFL — started a combined 31 games. Riley Reiff made 12 starts at right tackle. Hakeem Adeniji is still a backup for the Bengals, but he started nine games (including the Super Bowl) in 2021. Jonah Williams is the only member of the 2021 Cincinnati line who’s still in the starting mix, and even he’s a question mark.
The Bengals began making the offensive line a priority during the 2022 offseason. Cincinnati revamped the right side of their front via free agency, adding center Ted Karras, right guard Alex Cappa, and right tackle La’el Collins on multi-year deals. They also drafted left guard Cordell Volson in the fourth round, who went on to start 16 games in his rookie campaign.
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“You know, when you add guys and pay them good contracts and have high expectations, you want to see the results of it, and they really showed us the results of it,” Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin said at the 2023 Scouting Combine.
“And you know, it’s always a continual grind, you know, getting enough offensive linemen. Colleges don’t have enough offensive linemen, the NFL doesn’t often enough offensive linemen, certainly the new leagues that are playing, they don’t have offensive linemen.”
The Bengals saved their most significant move for this offseason, signing former Kansas City Chiefs left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to a four-year, $64 million contract that includes $31.1 million in guarantees. Brown, who played the 2022 season on the franchise tag, will slot in as Burrow’s blindside protector, meaning Williams’ status is up in the air.
Why the Bengals Might Need a Right Tackle
The Bengals plan to move Williams, a 42-game starter at left tackle, to the right side to accommodate Brown. But Williams, who was reportedly “blindsided” by Cincinnati’s Brown acquisition, requested a trade out of Cincinnati.
It’s fair for Williams to be worried about the idea of moving to RT. Depending on whether the Bengals exercise his fifth-year option for 2024, Williams could be entering the final year of his rookie contract.
He likely doesn’t want to spend the upcoming season learning and playing a position he hasn’t mastered in the NFL before potentially hitting the open market. And given that left tackles earn more than right tackles, it makes sense that Williams would want to be traded to a team that will provide him with an opportunity on the left side.
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If Williams stays in town, he could compete with Collins for the Bengals’ RT job. But there’s no guarantee that Collins will stick in Cincinnati, either. The Bengals could save more than $6 million in cap space by releasing Collins, who suffered an ACL and MCL tear in Week 16.
There is a scenario in which Cincinnati trades Williams and cuts Collins, leaving former second-round pick Jackson Carman and free agent addition Cody Ford as the club’s top options at right tackle. In that case, Cincinnati would likely strongly consider an offensive tackle with their first-round pick.
Bengals Options in the 2023 NFL Draft
Offensive line options like Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski will likely be out of the Bengals’ range at No. 28, but Cincinnati should still have options at the tail end of Round 1.
Broderick Jones, Georgia
Like Johnson and Skoronski, Broderick Jones might be a pipe dream for the Bengals. His average draft position in PFN’s MDS is 14.8, so he’ll likely be off the board by the time Cincinnati is on the clock. While the Bengals rarely trade up in drafts, they could conceivably move up if Jones begins to slip into the late teens.
A former five-star recruit, Jones played four games in 2021 before becoming a full-time starter for Georgia in 2022. A two-time national champion, Jones brought home first-team All-SEC honors in 2022. He’s a punishing blocker in the run game who would help set the tone for the Bengals’ line.
Anton Harrison, Oklahoma
Oklahoma has produced some of the NFL’s best offensive tackles, including Trent Williams, Lane Johnson, and Brown, the newest Bengal. Cincinnati could dip into that well and add another ex-Sooner to their front five by selecting Anton Harrison in the first round.
Harrison is an excellent mover and already looks like an NFL-caliber pass protector. He allowed just two sacks in his collegiate career, including zero in 2022, when he was named first-team All-Big 12. Harrison likely needs to get stronger at the NFL level, especially if he wants to improve as a run blocker, but he has the basis of a solid offensive tackle.
Darnell Wright, Tennessee
Darnell Wright came out of the 2023 Combine as a definite winner. At 6’5″, 333 pounds, Wright posted a 5.01 40-yard dash with a 1.81 10-yard split, a 29″ vertical, and a 9’7″ broad jump. His 9.67 Relative Athletic Score ranks third among this year’s offensive tackle class.
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Wright also has plenty of experience, having started 42 games and played more than 2,700 snaps at Tennessee. While there might be concerns about his hand usage, there may not be an OL prospect more prepared to be dropped into a starting lineup, especially at right tackle.
Dawand Jones, Ohio State
The Bengals could stick with a local product and select Ohio State’s Dawand Jones near the end of the first round. Jones’ calling card is his size, as he’s a massive 6-foot-8, 374 pounds with a 7-foot-6 wingspan. With that frame, he looks like a plug-and-play right tackle.
A high school basketball player who received Division I offers, Jones became a full-time starter for the Buckeyes in 2021 and had several reps against elite competition. He was named a first-team All-American in 2022 and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2021 and 2022.