The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Cincinnati Bengals 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (5)
Round 2 (38)
Round 3 (69)
Round 4 (111)
Round 5 (149)
Round 6 (190)
Round 7 (202)
Round 7 (235)
Cincinnati Bengals Offense
By Rich Hribar
Selecting Joe Burrow with the first overall draft pick last year, Burrow completed 65.3% of his passes for 6.7 yards per pass attempt over his 10 starts as a rookie. He threw 13 touchdown passes to five interceptions.
Burrow suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Week 10 and had reconstructive knee surgery in December. Burrow continues to trend positively towards starting the season, but Week 1 is still only roughly nine months from the injury, leaving little wiggle room for any setback and still the potential that Burrow may not have full mobility to start the season.
For those reasons, I would have loved for the Bengals to pursue a veteran backup this offseason after they were an absolute travesty offensively after Burrow went down last season. Behind Burrow, the team still only has just Brandon Allen and Kyle Shurmur, both with expiring contracts after the 2021 season.
The Bengals ranked 31st in the NFL in expected points added via their rushing game (-28.7 points) as they ranked 28th in the league as a backfield in yards per touch (4.5 yards).
It did not help the cause that Joe Mixon missed the final 10 games of the season with a foot injury. Prior to injury, Mixon was 11th in yards from scrimmage per game (94.3). The Bengals gave Mixon a four-year extension last offseason, but the team has realistic outs starting after this season if pressed as Mixon carries dead cap hits of $8.2M, $5,5M, and $2.7M over the remainder of the current deal.
Things should not come to that immediately, but behind Mixon, the Bengals do not have a viable alternative or complement to Mixon after releasing Giovani Bernard earlier this month. Mixon has missed multiple games in three of his first four seasons.
Stanley Morgan Jr.
The Bengals have been a wide receiver driven offense under Zac Taylor paired with game scripts. The Bengals had a third wide receiver on the field for 82% of their snaps in 2020, which was second in the league. This after 78% in 2019, which was first in the league.
While the team has a pair of solid options at the top in Tyler Boyd and 2020 second-rounder Tee Higgins that are both signed through 2023, they are extremely thin in depth behind those options at the position. To pair with a lack of talent behind Higgins and Boyd, no other Cincinnati wideout outside of those two are currently under contract for the 2022 season. Long linked to pairing Ja’Marr Chase with Burrow again at No. 5 overall, even if the Bengals go in another direction with that pick, wide receiver is a need for this roster.
The Bengals got little from this group last season. Targeting the position just 13% of the time (28th in the league), the Bengals tight ends were also 20th in the league in yards per target (6.8 yards). Veteran C.J. Uzomah missed the final 14 games of the season last year after suffering an Achilles injury, but is still under contract for the next two seasons. 2019 second-round pick Drew Sample still has two years remaining on his rookie contract, coming off a 40-349-1 season in relief of Uzomah.
The Bengals also took a flyer on Thaddeus Moss, who played with Burrow at LSU. Moss caught 47-of-57 targets for 570 yards and four touchdowns in the nation’s most prolific offense in 2019. After a Jones Fracture in his right foot, Moss went undrafted in the draft and did not find the field last season for Washington. The Bengals did not use their tight ends often last season, but they also have little talent here to warrant usage.
LT: Jonah Williams/Hakeem Adeniji
LG: Michael Jordan/Keaton Sutherland
C: Trey Hopkins/Billy Price
RG: Quinton Spain/Xavier Su’a-Filo
RT: Riley Reiff*/Fred Johnson/Isaiah Prince
It is no secret the Bengals struggled up front again in 2020. Cincinnati closed the 2020 season ranking 29th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (50%) and 22nd in Pro Football Focus’s collective pass blocking grades. They allowed a sack on 7.6% of the team dropbacks, which was 25th in the league. Joe Burrow was hit on 10.4% of his dropbacks, which was the 11th-highest rate in the league.
There was some discrepancy between the two sites on their run blocking performance as the Bengals were 11th in ESPN’s Run Blocking Win Rate (71%), but 21st in the run blocking grade at Pro Football Focus.
After 2019 first-round pick Jonah Williams missed his entire rookie season, he missed another six games last season. When he was on the field, Williams was easily the best lineman on the team, but was still the 47th graded offensive tackle at Pro Football Focus.
The team added veteran Riley Reiff on a one-year contract to be a short-term stopgap at right tackle or depth should the team add an offensive tackle early at No. 5.
While the Bengals have startable offensive tackles, the interior of this offensive line is a mess still. Center Trey Hopkins tore his ACL in Week 17 last season. 2019 fourth-rounder Michael Jordan has been ineffective in 19 starts over his first two seasons, and allowed a pressure on 7.0% of his pass blocking snaps in 2020, which was the 13th-highest rate among guards last season. At right guard, the team has veterans Xavier Su’a-Filo and Quinton Spain, who were the 79th and 89th graded guards last season per Pro Football Focus.
Cincinnati Bengals Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
D.J. Reader came over to Cincinnati as a free agent from the Houston Texans last season. He was immediately a good run stopper as a nose tackle, but he was lost for the season with a quad injury in Week 5. The Bengals made a significant investment in Reader and the 27-year-old is signed for three more seasons.
Cincinnati also signed Larry Ogunjobi to a one-year/$6.2 million deal. Ogunjobi had a down year in 2020 after he put up at least 10 quarterback hits and 10 tackles for loss in each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In 2020, those figures were just five tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. Ogunjobi was 42nd among defensive tackles in pressure rate last season, per Sports Info Solutions.
Mike Daniels was signed for a one-year deal in 2020 and re-signed for another year and $1.5 million for 2021. Daniels played and started 11 games but in that time had only one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit.
Carl Lawson was allowed to leave in free agency and as a replacement, the team signed Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson had a breakout season in 2020. He started 15 games for the Saints with 25 quarterback hits (t-8th) and 13.5 sacks (third). He was also fourth in pressure rate among edge rushers, per SIS.
Sam Hubbard had a disappointing year as a pass rusher. He had just two sacks after 14.5 sacks over his first two seasons. He also ranked 72nd among edge rushers in pressure rate. But Hubbard was one of the best run defending edge rushers in the league — he ranked first at the position in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate. Hubbard is in the final year of his rookie deal.
The depth here after the top two hasn’t offered a lot. Khalid Kareem and Amani Bledsoe played 24.4% and 29.4% of the defensive snaps, respectively, but combined for two quarterback hits.
The Bengals have taken multiple low-risk swings at linebacker — mostly in last year’s draft. With Josh Bynes gone, Germaine Pratt is now the veteran of the group and he was a 2019 third-round pick. He played 64.7% of the defensive snaps last season. Pratt had one of the highest broken tackles rates among linebackers during the season.
In the draft, Cincinnati took Logan Wilson in the third round, Akeem Davis-Gaither in the fourth round, and Markus Bailey in the seventh round. Wilson and Davis-Gaither hovered around 30% of the defensive snaps played as rookies. There were some struggles, but this looks to be the foundation of the position that will be allowed to develop, at least throughout the 2021 season.
Donnie Lewis Jr.
Few positions have been turned over more in one offseason than the Bengals’ cornerbacks. Darius Phillips, a 2018 fifth-round pick, played 55% of the defensive snaps and ranked 69th among 148 cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap.
The rest of the group will be new in 2021. Trae Waynes was signed last offseason but missed all of 2020 with a torn pec. Chidobe Awuzie ranked 136th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap last season, but has shown flashes throughout his career with the Cowboys. Mike Hilton is an intriguing add for the Bengals as one of the top slot corners in the league over the past few seasons. Hilton ranked fourth in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap last season and was one of the most dangerous slot blitzers.
Jessie Bates might be the league’s best deep safety. Without much help in the secondary, the Bengals ranked eighth in DVOA against deep passes in 2020, according to Football Outsiders. Bates was sixth among all defenders in passes defensed last season. Bates just turned 24 years old and is in the final year of his rookie deal.
Von Bell was a free agent signing last offseason and he played well as the versatile box safety while Bates often played as the single-high in the defense. Bates played 99% of the defensive snaps last season and Bell played 100%. That again will be the safety duo Cincinnati rolls out on as many snaps as possible.
There is a bit more depth here with the signing of Ricardo Allen. Allen is on just a one-year deal and has the experience to play all around the backend to potentially spell either of the starting safeties. The Bengals also used dime or lighter personnel on 13% of defensive snaps, which was 17th in the league, which could show with some three-safety looks in 2021.