NFL Draft: Bengals catch free-falling Billings in fourth round

For most NFL players, the day they were drafted is one they will never forget. But for Cincinnati Bengals fourth-round pick Andrew Billings, it will be the two days prior, when he was passed over 98 times, that will stay seared in his mind.

“This is something I’m going to carry with me my whole life,” said Billings, who was projected by many to be a first-round pick.

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Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said the team had him ranked high on its board and it was almost possible to pass him up.

“Yes, that might have been mentioned up there,” Lewis said. “We’ve done a good job of drafting to the best player we have graded as a consensus, and not to bypass that.”

The reason so many other teams repeatedly passed on the 6-foot-1, 311-pound Billings, Lewis surmised, was his height, saying some people might find it restrictive.

“But we’ve done pretty good drafting well these guys that we’ve been able to find that have certain characteristics that catch our eye,” Lewis said, referring to a quartet of fourth-round defensive linemen the Bengals have drafted during his tenure – Marcus Hardison (2015), Geno Atkins (2010), Domata Peko (2006) and Robert Geathers (2004).

Atkins and Peko enter the season as the starters, but there’s an opening there for Billings to be a part of the rotation right away. Hardison was inactive for all 16 games last year, while Brandon Thompson is still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in the season finale. The team also has nine-year veteran Pat Sims and DeShawn Williams, a 2015 undrafted free agent who spent last season on the practice squad.

“To me, there’s no process of saying, ‘OK, let’s let him stew for a while,’” Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney said. “We’re in the win-now business, so he’s going to come in, get ready and let’s go.”

Burney said he has no issues with Billings’ height.

“Even though he may not have a lot of height, he has long arms, so he doesn’t play short,” he said. “He tosses offensive linemen off of him. He doesn’t get captured. He’s a knocker. In a 4-3 defense, that’s crucial before have success, so he’s a guy that’s going to help our defense at the tackle position in a hurry.”

Burney noted that Billings has some power lifting records, and Billings rattled off some impressive numbers while talking to reporters. He said he squatted 805 pounds in high school and benched as much as 605 pounds this past season.

The other issue that may have caused some teams to shy away from Billings is he’s not known for being able to rush the passer.

“Yeah, I think that’s something,” Billings said. “Teams really want a pass-rusher to get sacks and crank the pressure for the corners. I think that definitely played a factor.”

Asked how big the chip on his shoulder is after sitting around waiting for the phone to ring for three days, Billings said, “It’s huge. I can’t even explain how huge it is.”

“That’ll just me motivation for him,” said Burney, who also noted that Billings just turned 21 in March.

“Hopefully it stays with him for his entire career, not just one year. He’s that kind of person” Burney added. “I haven’t been around him a tremendous amount, obviously, but he’ll take where he was drafted as a challenge, not as something to be depressed about but as a challenge to prove that people missed him.”