Updated: May 4, 2022
Photo Credit: Cincinnati Bengals, Public Domain (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cincinnati_Bengals_orange_wordmark_(1997-2003).png)
The 2022 NFL Draft is just around the corner. In just nine days, the Cincinnati Bengals, drafting later than they ever have in the history of their franchise, will be adding a player who will hopefully contribute to another Super Bowl run. It seems like the options for the Bengals at this pick are endless.
At pick #31 in the first round, the Bengals have the opportunity to take the best available player. With the rock-solid roster the Bengals have assembled over the last few seasons, they are fortunate that coming away with a major, immediate-impact player in the draft isn’t a necessity. While most of the “blue-chippers” will likely be off the board by pick #31, the depth of this draft class is its strength. There will likely be several players available for the Bengals who can contribute in their role right away.
With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the prospects who could potentially be available for the Bengals at #31…
For the majority of the offseason, all anyone could talk about was how the Bengals desperately needed to upgrade their offensive line. Joe Burrow was sacked nearly to oblivion. The running game was never consistent. The intermediate passing game was all but non-existent. The Super Bowl magnified these issues times a billion.
The Bengals didn’t sit idly by once the offseason began. Within minutes of the “legal tampering” period beginning, the Bengals had agreed to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ guard Alex Cappa. Not too long after came reports that former New England Patriots’ center Ted Karras was also coming to town. Now, with former Dallas Cowboys’ offensive tackle La’el Collins in the fold, the offensive line has been totally revamped and improved.
That doesn’t mean the Bengals won’t address the O-Line in the draft with the 31st pick. It may be a sneaky smart decision. Cappa, Karras and Collins are all fine players, and certainly upgrades over their 2021 counterparts, but only Cappa is signed longer than three years, and, as the Riley Reiff injury demonstrated last year, depth is a good thing.
Out of all the linemen available and likely to last to the 31st pick, there are four that stand out as good fits for the Bengals. Tyler Linderbaum is a name that might be familiar to a lot of Bengals’ fans, as he was a player commonly mocked as potentially available at pick #31. The 2021 Rimington Award winner is the top center in the class, bringing excellent movement traits for the position. He would be a great fit for a team that runs a zone blocking scheme, as he is quick and athletic enough to beat his man to a spot on a consistent basis.
Despite all of his accolades and production, there is some downside to Linderbaum: he’s undersized. Now, I know what you may be thinking, a 6’2”, 296 lbs. football player isn’t undersized - and you’d be right. However, in the context of the National Football League, and especially in the context of an always rough and tumble AFC North, being able to manhandle your opponent can be critical to winning the matchup. This isn’t to say that Linderbaum can’t win with speed and smarts over brute strength, but brute strength never hurts.
Two guards that could be available and good fits for the 2022 Bengals are Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green and Boston College’s Zion Johnson. Both are massive, powerful human beings. Green stands 6’4”, weighing in at 323 lbs., while Johnson stands 6’3” and tips the scales at 312 lbs. While they have similar traits and playing styles, their journey to the NFL couldn’t be more different.
In Green’s case, he was a former five-star recruit coming out of high school, one of the most coveted players in the country. Since arriving in College Station, Green has delivered on his high school promise, starting 13 games as a freshman, appearing in games at four of the five positions along the offensive line, and earning 1st Team All-American honors in 2021. Green has the potential to be a very good run blocker right away at the NFL level, but he will need to improve his instincts in pass protection. He played tackle for the Aggies in 2021 but will likely transition to one of the guard spots in the NFL.
Johnson, unlike Green, was not a highly sought-after recruit in high school. After playing two seasons at Davidson, Johnson was able to transfer to Boston College, where he continued his strong play. The two-time team captain and 2021 1st Team All-American is, like Green, a great run blocker who moves defenders easily. Unfortunately, while he moves other men with ease, Johnson doesn’t seem to move himself with the same efficiency. He isn’t a great athlete, nor does he move laterally well.
One of the last offensive linemen who could both be a good fit and potentially available for the Bengals at spot #31 is Tulsa’s Tyler Smith. The 6’5”, 323 lbs. redshirt sophomore is another powerful blocker, but unlike Green and Johnson, Smith may have a far higher ceiling, and the ability to remain at tackle at the NFL level.
Smith has tools for days. He’s also as raw as they come. While he has the strength and natural footspeed to easily beat his opponent snap after snap, he has poor technique at this stage of his career and draws far too many penalties. He might not be a player that the Bengals could rely on in 2022.
On the flip side, the beauty of what the Bengals accomplished in free agency is that no lineman they draft has to contribute right away. Cappa, Karras and Collins might not be All-Pro level players, but they can help turn a poor line into an average, or even above-average, one. No matter which of these linemen the Bengals happen to select, they can give him time to develop.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is a position group that seems like a clear priority for the Bengals in the draft, and there are a number of different ways they could go. Devonte Wyatt, one of the two Georgia defensive tackles who lit up the 2022 NFL Combine, could be a great fit for the Bengals at #31 because of his ability to be a disruptive penetrator at the next level. The 6’3”, 304 lbs. senior ran the 40-yard dash in 4.77 seconds - a blazing time for a man his size. His film shows speed and production to boot, recording seven tackles for a loss (TFL) and two and a half sacks.
With Larry Ogunjobi still a free agent after failing his physical with the Chicago Bears, the Bengals could really use another defensive tackle alongside B.J. Hill as part of a rotation. Wyatt brings the same kind of penetrating ability that Ogunjobi had. It’s a natural fit.
Two other defensive tackles who bring a similar skill-set are Houston’s Logan Hall and Oklahoma’s Perrion Winfrey. Like Wyatt, Hall and Winfrey are both able to shoot through gaps and make disruptive plays against the run and the pass. Unlike Wyatt, though, neither has the same size or strength.
Hall is a 6’6”, 283 lbs. senior who played tackle in college, but may be a better fit as a 3-4 defensive end at the pro level. He was named 1st Team All-AAC in 2021, recording 13 TFLs and six and a half sacks. Although he may not have a well-defined position at the NFL level at this point, the NLF has increasingly become a position-less league, and Hall could allow the Bengals additional flexibility when trying to rush the passer in obvious passing situations.
Winfrey stands 6’4”, 290 lbs. and brings the same kind of explosive pass rushing ability as Wyatt and Hall. Winfrey might actually be the best pure pass rusher of the three. With that said, he has some pretty glaring flaws as well. While he has an exceptional first step at the point of attack, he doesn’t move laterally well, which can affect his ability to stop the run. He also lacks consistent pass rush counters, so if he can’t win at the snap of the ball, he typically has a hard time making plays.
The Bengals are also likely to consider several defensive ends with their first pick in the draft. Of those, Purdue’s George Karlaftis, Minnesota’s Boye Mafe, and Michigan’s David Ojabo are good fits for the Bengals. Karlaftis plays with tremendous strength for his size. At 6’4”, 266 lbs., Karlaftis isn’t the most physically imposing player, but he tosses opponents around like ragdolls. Some scouts even believe he could line up at defensive tackle at times.
Like Logan Hall, Karlaftis brings a versatile skill set that could allow the Bengals a plethora of options when trying to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The 3rd Team All-American is also stout against the run. However, the knock on Karlaftis is that while he is often disruptive and makes life hard on opponents, he doesn’t always finish plays with sacks or tackles for losses. Hopefully, he can make the adjustments and refine his technique to allow him to go from situational-nuisance to full-blown playmaker.
While Karlaftis is a fine athlete, Mafe and Ojabo are both athletic specimens. Mafe stands at 6’4”, and weighs 261 lbs., while Ojabo stands at 6’4” and weighs 250 lbs. Both have exceptional speed for their size, running a 4.53 and a 4.55 in the 40-yard dash, respectively. For Mafe, he is mostly a projection-player at this stage, with massive potential but lacking in technique and refinement. Ojabo’s downside is much more tangible: he tore his Achilles tendon during pre-draft workouts.
While neither Mafe nor Ojabo is likely to make a huge impact in 2022, the Bengals, again, don’t need them to. With 2021 3rd Round pick Joseph Ossai returning from an injury he sustained in preseason, the Bengals are adding another pass rusher this offseason already. Whichever player the Bengals choose to add to their pass-rush rotation will have the luxury of time to mature.
Although the Bengals are relatively set at linebacker with Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson, depth is always handy, and Utah’s Devin Lloyd could be the perfect sort of modern-linebacker that brings the Bengals’ unit to the next level. The two-time Butkus Award finalist and two-time team captain for the Utes was one of the most productive players in college football, intercepting four passes, returning two for touchdowns, and recording 22 TFLs, one of the highest marks in the country. Lloyd also brings good pass rush skills, along with his ability to be a threat in pass defense. That said, Lloyd does need to improve his instincts and technique in coverage, otherwise he could find himself a target of opposing quarterbacks.
The final position group that is likely to be addressed by the Bengals in the 2022 Draft is the secondary. In particular, the Bengals will almost certainly select a cornerback at some point, potentially in the first round as they are always eager to do. In fact, going back to 2006, the Bengals have selected five cornerbacks in the first round, the most of any position.
There are three corners who could make sense for the Bengals at pick #31: Washington’s Kyler Gordon, Florida’s Kaiir Elam, and Clemson’s Andrew Booth, Jr. They all bring varied skill sets and athletic profiles to the table. Gordon, standing 5’11”, 194 lbs. is a good, all-around player who isn’t afraid to mix it up in the run game and lay the wood on opponents. However, Gordon didn’t run as well as hoped in the 40-yard dash at 4.52, putting doubt on his ceiling. Elam is a great athlete but didn’t put together his best season in 2021. Unlike Gordon, Elam isn’t much of a factor in run support either. He does have good upside, though, and may project best to the NFL level out of all three corners.
Booth is a player who has tremendous upside, but also comes with risk. He tracks the ball well in the air and competes with wide receivers. He makes ever catch a challenge. However, Booth was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter Disease as a kid, which causes him pain and swelling below his knees. Booth never allowed this to affect his play in college and showed physicality and assertiveness throughout his career. His upside and potential might be too great for the Bengals to pass up.
Finally, Michigan safety Daxton Hill is a player the Bengals could covet for his versatility. Last year, the Bengals brought in Riccardo Allen to be a third safety on passing downs, as a sort of hybrid that could play alongside Jessie Bates III and Von Bell. Hill is in that same mold. The 6’0”, 191 lbs. junior is a good athlete that spent time at both safety and at slot corner for the Wolverines in 2021. He was named 1st Team All-Big 10, posting 4.5 TFL, 2 INTs, and 9 pass breakups. He has solid coverage skills and contributes in run support, but will need to improve his tackling form at the next level.
At the end of the day, there are a lot of ways the Bengals could go in the 2022 NFL Draft. That’s all thanks to the excellent roster construction by Duke Tobin, Zac Taylor, and the rest of the Bengals’ staff that has built a team with very few holes. The Bengals are in the position where they can sit back, take the best player available that fits the culture, and allow that player the time and space to become the best versions of themselves. That could be really important too, because the recent track record at pick #31 isn’t great.
Since 2013, only one player drafted at #31 has reached a Pro Bowl, former Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick. Fortunately for the Cowboys, Frederick turned out to be not just a Pro Bowler, but one of the best centers in the NFL for much of his career. The Bengals might just be in a position to take a player like that this year. They might also have to settle for someone who won’t make a big difference in 2022. That’s ok. The Bengals won’t need them to.