ANALYSIS: Grading the Cincinnati Bengals draft class

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said evaluating NFL Draft prospects was more challenging this year because of the number of players that opted out of the 2020 season, leaving some guesswork as to what kind of development they missed out on.

That makes grading how teams did in the draft just as difficult for draft analysts.

The Bengals believe they added some starting caliber talent and quality depth with their 10 picks over the three-day event, but they might have passed on players with some question marks who end up being great or jumped early at guys that put good stuff on tape but weren’t valued as highly by others.

Here are some initial grades on the Bengals’ draft class and how well they hit their needs:

ROUND 1: No. 5 – Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

The Bengals got quarterback Joe Burrow a receiver who could solve his deep-pass deficiencies, as Chase and Burrow already have a strong connection from their 2019 national championship run. Some question whether it was wasteful to go out and get a wide receiver with the first-round pick when the offensive line hasn’t been able to protect Burrow long enough to utilize his weapons, but it’s more difficult to project how quickly a rookie offensive lineman will adjust to the NFL, whereas skill players, especially receivers, seem to be transitioning much more quickly. Chase can get open and make plays for Burrow, before the line even has a chance to break down.

Grade: A

ROUND 2: No. 46 – Jackson Carman, OT, Clemson

There were better linemen available at No. 38 when Cincinnati traded down and some thought No. 46 was a reach with Carman, but he wasn’t a bad pick, especially considering the Bengals got two more fourth-round picks to add some depth and help fill the many needs of the team. The nation’s No. 2-rated offensive tackle coming out of Fairfield High School, Carman blocked well for this year’s top overall draft pick in Trevor Lawrence, and now he will be asked to help protect last year’s No. 1 pick in Burrow. Carman will be transitioning to guard initially and could be a long-term option at tackle that ends up being great, but he’s never played a snap at his new position so it’s a bit of a guess how he will fit into that role.

Grade: B

ROUND 3: No. 69 -- Joseph Ossai, DE, Texas

With the Bengals looking to add to their pass rush, Ossai fits as a solid rotational end behind Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson. He’s an explosive edge defender but he was used in more of a drop-back role early in his career at Texas and didn’t blossom until moving to the Jack linebacker role, essentially a defensive end, last year. That means he’s a bit raw but has impressive upside. Some thought his potential made him worthy of a second-round pick, so he could be a steal.

Grade: B+

Credit: Eric Gay

Credit: Eric Gay

ROUND 4: No. 111 – Cameron Sample, DE, Tulane

Not a flashy pick, coming from Conference USA, but the Bengals were very high on him after seeing him at the Senior Bowl, where he dominated his one-on-ones against Power 5 offensive linemen and won Defensive MVP. He’s a capable run stopper, productive in the pass rush and also is able to get after the quarterback from the interior, so he provides some versatility on a defensive line that needs different types of players and depth. With some work on his technique, Sample could end up being a very promising player.

Grade: B

Credit: Matthew Hinton

Credit: Matthew Hinton

ROUND 4: No. 122 – Tyler Shelvin, DT, LSU

Shelvin had struggles with weight early in his career and was limited to just one full season in 2019 because of that (he was a COVID opt-out in 2020), but he said he matured and took to heart his coaches’ expectations for him and that led to a breakout year with the Tigers’ national championship team. Some thought after sitting out last fall, he would have trouble keeping off the 40 pounds he lost between 2018 and 2019, so the fact he’s still weighing in at 350 shows he’s learned his lesson. Shelvin is a boulder with long arms and good hands, which he uses for leverage and power, and he’s impossible to move. He eats up blocks and will compete as D.J. Reader’s backup, but he won’t add much to the pass rush and the Bengals still have no backup at the three-technique, which might have been a bigger need.

Grade: C+

ROUND 4: No. 139 – D’Ante Smith, OT, East Carolina

The Bengals didn’t do as well addressing the offensive line early in the draft as some might have hoped, but they might have made up for that with a great value pick on Day 3. Smith was overlooked by some because of a knee injury that limited him to one game in 2020, and he could add some weight to his 6-foot-5 frame, but he brings the physical tools and skill set to be a quality starting tackle down the road. At the Senior Bowl he was viewed as one of the better pass blockers. As a project for the future, Smith is a nice pick.

Grade: B

ROUND 5: No. 149 – Evan McPherson, K, Florida

It was a surprise the Bengals picked a kicker so early, but McPherson was viewed as the top kicker in this class and he likely wouldn’t have been available in the sixth round for them. He was solid throughout a three-year career at Florida, though his final season was his worst field goal percentage wise (77.5 percent); however, the Gators had him lining up for longer kicks and that’s where he’s a great asset. McPherson is consistent and will go into training camp as the favorite for the kicker job currently held by Austin Seibert.

Grade: A

ROUND 6: No. 190 -- Trey Hill, C, Georgia

Hill brings some versatility as a backup guard/cetner and likely won’t be counted on for playing time in 2020, barring major need with injuries, but those were things the Bengals didn’t expect last year either. He was named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy (recognizing the nation’s top center) and the Outland Trophy (nation’s outstanding interior lineman) in the 2020 preseason, but was limited to eight games because of injury. Prior to the injury, he was drawing Day 2 buzz so he has potential to be a big steal as he gets a chance to settle into the team and develop at the NFL level.

Grade: B

ROUND 6: No. 202 --  Chris Evans, RB, Michigan

Michigan hardly utilized Evans in 2020, after he worked back from a 2019 suspension, but he absolutely surprised at the Senior Bowl, leaving many to wonder what the Wolverines were thinking. He has all the tools to be effective in between the tackles and also in the passing game, so he makes for a good third-down option and potentially fills the void left by Giovani Bernard. The question is just whether his Senior Bowl week display was a one-time show.

Grade: B-

ROUND 7: 235 – Wyatt Hubert, DE, Kansas State

Another good depth piece, Hubert has played every spot on the defensive line and has potential to be a rotational player the Bengals could count on in the future. He’s a high-motor pass rusher who has a great first-step and he’s a decent value pick to address a need this late in the draft.

Grade: A-

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