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Cincinnati Bengals — 2021 NFL Draft Grades For Every Pick

The Cincinnati Bengals, after some swift maneuvers, had 10 selections in the 2021 NFL draft — including a coveted fifth-overall selection.

With the AFC North only getting better, did the Bengals bungle this time around? Or are they on the doorstep of challenging the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens?

On paper, they certainly got better — and provided some neat tools for franchise face Joe Burrow along the way.

Bengals NFL draft picks:

1) Ja’Marr Chase, Wide Receiver, LSU (1st round, No. 5)

Bengals Grade: B

There’s absolutely zero question that a guy like Ja’Marr Chase can become a generational NFL talent with the Bengals.

After a stellar 2019 sophomore season that saw him catch 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns from his new (and old) quarterback, Joe Burrow, Chase opted out of the 2020 season and waited for his name to be called in the 2021 NFL Draft. Shrewd and prudent, Chase’s reported work ethic, acumen for the game and rapport with his former and future signal-caller all point to special, special possibilities with the Bengals.

This being said, Burrow’s electric 2020 rookie campaign with the Bengals was cut short due to a devastating ACL/MCL tear in his left knee on Nov. 22, 2020, against the Washington Football Team, when a pair of jostling linemen backed into his blindside on a pass attempt to WR Tyler Boyd.

Coming into that game, Burrow had been hit 72 times on pass attempts, which was tied with New York Giants rookie Daniel Jones (2019) for the most by a frosh quarterback through nine games in two decades.

Wouldn’t this mean that the Bengals would’ve wanted to double down on protecting their future face of the franchise with an absolute stalwart of a pick in Oregon’s offensive tackle Penei Sewell? Maybe it wasn’t a sexy pick, but it was sure and true.

Twenty years from now, when Burrow and Chase have connected on 750 passes for 9,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in their time together, perhaps this will all look silly. After all, Burrow specifically wanted Chase in this Bengals offense, and this was a dreamy draft for the hogmollies — with big-man talent in all rounds. Cincinnati had 10 total picks to select its incoming talent, and taking Chase wasn’t the worst decision.

It just didn’t feel like “the best.”

2) Jackson Carman, Guard, Clemson (2nd round draft pick, No. 14 (46th overall))

Bengals Grade: A-minus

No sooner were folks in Cincinnati — fans and media, alike — complaining about the lack of protection on the offensive line, did the Bengals front office address the issue with the second-round selection of Clemson guard Jackson Carman.

Former Cincinnati star offensive lineman Willie Anderson was consulted about the Carman selection, per USA Today’s Chris Rolling, and the Bengals actually traded back to get him — adding two fourth-round selections in the deal with the New England Patriots.

It’s a trade that landed them another LSU star in defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin, and another offensive lineman in East Carolina’s D’Ante Smith, and it’s the kind of draft-day shenanigans that deserve a big kudos to those working the phones. Carman is a Cincinnati native who was graded a little lower than the second round, but this move smells of nothing but pure value.

3) Joseph Ossai, Defensive End, Texas (3rd round draft pick, No. 5 (69th overall))

Bengals Grade: A-minus

Ossai graded as a second-round defensive end through multiple scouting services, and it’s easy to see why. The 6-foot-3, 256-pound bowling ball spent the 2020 campaign playing at the JACK linebacker position for the Longhorns, where he finished tied for third in the FBS in tackles-for-loss (16) and added 5.5 sacks in just nine games.

In his 22 consecutive starts for Texas, he pumped out (29.5) tackles-for-loss, 10 sacks, four forced fumbles, five pass deflections and two interceptions. He fell to the early third round, and the Bengals smartly snagged him for a defense that was dead last in QB hurries (39) and sacks (17) in 2020.

4) Cam Sample, Edge, Tulane (4th round draft pick, No. 6 (111th overall))

Bengals Grade: B+

Again, this is a Bengals defense that got little-to-no pressure last season, and Sample’s senior season at Tulane — where he led the American in pressures (42) and added career-bests in tackles (51), tackles-for-loss (7.5) and sacks (5.0) — the kind of terror he can be at the line of scrimmage.

Per Geoff Hobson, Bengals.com senior writer, Sample finished as one of the outstanding players at the 2020-21 Senior Bowl, where he notched the highest grade and win rates in one-on-one scenarios.

5) Tyler Shelvin, Defensive Tackle, LSU (4th round draft pick, No. 17 (122nd overall))

Bengals Grade: B-minus

Shelvin didn’t particularly grade well after opting out of LSU’s 2020 campaign, but he was immoveable for the Tigers in a run to the 2019 FBS Championship. Listed at 6-foot-2 and 350 pounds, he’s an ideal nose tackle with a sub-5.4 40-yard dash, capable of creating a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage.

Character issues might’ve been a little bit of concern and leading to his drop in stock, as academics and behavior kept him from enjoying fruitful 2017 and 2018 campaigns. But alongside former college teammates in Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Burrow, Shelvin may fit right in with Cincinnati, and there’s no question his size and ability caught the attention of multiple NFL coaches — particularly one in New England.

He’s a fairly late flier who could fill it up while in the right spot on the line.

6) D’Ante Smith, Offensive Tackle, East Carolina (4th round draft pick, No. 34 (139th overall))

Bengals Grade: B-minus

With a plethora of options along the offensive line in this draft, Smith is another guy who just fell a little off of his projection (third round) and into the laps of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Score one for the Orange & Black, who land a guy who wound up being a four-year starter for the Pirates at both the tackle and guard positions. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler reports Smith had the longest wingpsan of any offensive lineman at the 2020-21 Senior Bowl, and season-ending injuries in 2016 (back) and 2020 (knee scope) are some of the only visible reasons Smith was available in the middle of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Smith was the second of three offensive linemen drafted by the Bengals this season, as the overhaul along the wall continues.

7) Evan McPherson, Kicker, Florida (5th round draft pick, No. 5 (149th overall))

Bengals Grade: B-minus

Graded as the highest specialist kicker in the draft field (fifth/sixth round), the Bengals didn’t reach too far for one of the more accurate kickers in Florida’s history.

He made 85% of his field-goal attempts in his career (51-for-60, an SEC record), including 17-of-19 in both is freshman and sophomore seasons. In 2020, he posted a single-season school record of four 50-plus makes, and went 17-for-22 for the potent Gators. Inside the 40-yard line, he was even more accurate: 94.5% for his career.

Missed PATs have delightfully become a chaotic part of the NFL game in recent years, but McPherson didn’t miss many in college — going 159-for-160.

McPherson likely is coming in to create some competition with veteran Austin Seibert, who came to the Bengals after Week 13 of 2020 to replace an injured Randy Bullock and connected on 6-for-8 field goals with a long of 48 while not missing a PAT.

8) Trey Hill, Center, Georgia (6th round draft pick, No. 6 (190th overall))

Bengals Grade: B-minus

Hill did skip his senior season in order to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft, but the 6-foot-3, 315-pound true center was once considered one of the top offensive linemen in the country. He started the final four games of his freshman season (2018) at right guard, before moving to center in Kirby Smart’s offense for the next two seasons.

His late surgery in 2020 repaired torn menisci in both knees.

9) Chris Evans, Running Back, Michigan (6th round draft pick, No. 18 (202nd overall))

Bengals Grade: C+

A rare 24-year-old rookie for the NFL, it’s hard to see where Evans is going to get touches in this offense — with Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, CJ Uzomah, Thaddeus Moss, Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine and Drew Sample all scrambling for some touches this year.

But the Bengals did let longtime utilityman and eight-year veteran Giovani Bernard walk in the offseason, and with him goes more than 6,500 yards all-purpose and 33 touchdowns in the span.

Evans didn’t play too much for the Wolverines in 2020 (16 carries, nine catches), but does have a lengthy career in Ann Arbor, Michigan, of both lining up as a receiver and taking snaps out of the backfield. It’s the kind of versatility the Bengals will be looking for in trying to replace a guy like Bernard.

10) Wyatt Hubert, Defensive End, Kansas State (7th round draft pick, No. 7 (235th overall))

Bengals Grade: B+

Hubert did nothing but rush and rush and rush some more for Kansas State, where over the last three seasons he amassed 34 tackles-for-loss, 20 sacks, was twice named First Team All-Big 12 and earned Freshman All-American status. If the Bengals only bring him in on third downs to specifically frustrate opposing quarterbacks, this pick is a complete win for the front office.