It took some time for Renell Wren to get on the field at Arizona State, but his production as a senior in 2018 was enough to make him pop off the Cincinnati Bengals’ draft board.
The Bengals selected the 6-foot-5, 318-pound defensive tackle in the fourth round of the NFL Draft on Saturday as they sought to add some depth to the interior line. Wren brings more length to the position and makes the Bengals a little more versatile inside.
“He provides something that we don’t have right now inside, and that’s a guy with some size and some length,” defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said Saturday after the pick was made at No. 125 overall. “We’ve got shorter, stouter guys certainly — Geno (Atkins) is Geno; he’s in a different category — but what we’re playing with, this guy will get us a different look out there, which we’re excited about it.”
Defensive line coach Nick Eason joked that he calls the new addition “Mt. Wren.” He’s a big body that will be difficult for an offensive lineman to block, but yet he’s athletic enough to move around.
The Bengals are hoping he can become more of a pass rusher inside, as they try to keep up with the trend of defenses being capable of attacking the quarterback from all angles. Atkins already has proven solid in that regard but Cincinnati doesn’t have any other interior guys consistently applying that kind of pressure like the group on the ends.
“He’s been doing a really good job of pushing the pocket, most definitely,” Eason said. “He’s just got that natural size and length to do that. That’s something we don’t have. We’ve got some guys, some good players that are coming back, with Josh (Tupou) and (Ryan) Glasgow and Carl Lawson. Adding Wren to the puzzle, we’re going to have a really good defensive line.”
Wren comes in with the mentality he still has a lot to prove.
Although he was a contributor before his senior year, it wasn’t until then that he really came on strong. He started 13 games at nose tackle and finished with 43 tackles, 4.5 for loss, one sack, and two pass breakups to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Arizona State valued him enough to name him a captain before all that.
“The biggest thing was consistency,” Wren said. “That’s been improved I think. I had all of the upside, physicality and knowledge of the game. That all gotten way better for me. Now it’s putting those things together and doing it all of the time. That’s what I’m here to prove.
“I feel like I’ve reached my full stride, but there’s more to come with it. I’ve been proving since the All-Star game that I can convince coaches I can provide a lot to the team. For the Bengals to put that trust in me is great. The sky is the limit.”
Wren said he plays with a lot of power, like “a bull in the middle” because of how explosive his first step is. He’s been watching interior linemen like Kansas City’s Chris Jones and Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox and trying to pattern his game after them.
He hopes to bring that — and more — to Cincinnati.
“When I played at Arizona State this previous season, they lined me up over the center a lot at nose,” Wren said. “Just being able to be right next to the ball and having that feeling that, when the ball is snapped, I’m using the God-given ability I have, which is my strength, to lock my arms out and create disruption up the middle. Also, being able to play the run on first and second down. I was worried about doing pass rush on third down. The big thing is to just get after it every play and be competitive.”
Wren played a lot of nose, 1-technique and 3-technique but hadn’t played defensive end since freshman year before the coaches at the Reese’s Senior Bowl put him there for a few snaps in January.
Eason said he could be used in multiple roles, but the biggest thing is working with him to improve his technique a little and then seeing where he fits best. Wren’s footwork was one of the knocks against him coming into the draft but Anarumo and Eason both said he is a high-character guy who comes ready to work and learn, and they believe they can get the best out of him.
“I’m excited to have a guy with some size and some length that we don’t have,” Eason said. “He has enough athletic ability to play multiple positions, so I’m looking forward to having him. We’re excited about the pick, and I think he’s going to be a great player. He has a huge NFL upside.”