The Bengals don’t have to take a quarterback with a top-five pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
They took care of that last year with Joe Burrow, the No. 1 pick who has brought an aura of optimism to a franchise that has the second-worst record in the NFL since 2018.
The Bengals have options with the No. 5 pick given the first four picks could be quarterbacks. The choice likely will come down to three intriguing prospects: Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, Florida tight end Kyle Pitts or LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
Sporting News breaks down the pros and cons for each pick and gives our decision:
Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon
Sewell allowed one sack in 1,376 snaps in two seasons with the Ducks. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound tackle opted out of his junior season, but he’s regarded as the best offensive lineman in the 2020 class. He played left tackle as a sophomore but was recruited as a guard.
So, why this even a discussion? The Bengals drafted Jonah Williams in the first round in 2019, and it doesn’t sound like he’s moving inside. Cincinnati also signed Riley Rieff at right tackle. Offensive-line depth is nice – and, yes, it’s a priority given Burrow took 32 sacks in 10 games last season.
So, would the Bengals ride with those tackles and go for a different impact player?
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Chase also opted of the 2020 football season after a record-setting season with LSU in 2020. He finished with 85 receptions for 1,785 yards – an incredible 21.0 yards per reception – and 20 TDs as Burrow’s favorite target on a national championship team.
The 6-foot, 208-pound receiver has been out for a season, but he is the prototype WR1 in the NFL game and a natural replacement for A.J. Green – who ranks second all time in receiving yards and TDs in franchise history. Green left for Arizona this offseason. The Bengals still have a 1-2 combination that features Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins – but those two receivers combined for 10 TDs last season. A true first receiver needs to be a double-digit TD player, and Chase would have that potential – not to mention a previous connection with Burrow.
That said, Chase didn’t play last season – and Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle took advantage of that absence. They could be in that discussion as the first receiver taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Pitts, who caught 43 passes for 770 yards and 12 TDs as a junior at Florida last season, could change the entire complexion of the offense. He is already drawing comparisons to Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson.
The measurements are eye-popping. Pitts, who is 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, has an 83-inch wingspan, runs a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash and has a 33.5-inch vertical. Drew Sample had 40 catches for 349 yards and a TD last season, but he is more of a possession receiver. Pitts is useful both down field and in the red zone, and several teams with top-10 picks are looking to make this move.
Would this be the first bold play of the first round? The Bengals have tried this move before with Jermaine Gresham (2010) and Tyler Eifert (2013).
A quick glance at four notable mock drafts shows that all three picks are a possibility. Mel Kiper and Vinnie Iyer have the Bengals taking Sewell, Todd McShay has Chase, and Daniel Jeremiah has Pitts.
Pro Football Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Munoz, who spent 13 seasons with the Bengals, endorses the Sewell pick. Sewell could break in while Reiff plays on a one-year prove-it deal, and then be that franchise tackle that protects Burrow for the next decade. He is the safest pick, and Cincinnati could add a receiver like Terrace Marshall Jr. in the second round.
Sewell doesn’t have to be Munoz. The Oregon tackle just has to be a dependable tackle.
Pitts would be a splash pick, but there are other teams – including Atlanta at No. 4 – could be in the mix for the tight end. There is no doubt Pitts would be a game-breaking presence in that offense, but there is an inherent risk in taking a tight end with a top-five pick.
Chase would make more sense than Pitts. He has a connection with Burrow, and that would be a leverage play for the franchise quarterback. This would improve the down-field passing attack, too. SN’s Vinnie Iyer has seven tackles being selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. There is depth at that position, and Cincinnati could find a starting offensive lineman in the second round.
Our best guess? Cincinnati should take Sewell, but we won’t be surprised if they take Chase.