The position group with the most questions heading into 2017 is the offensive line after losing Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth and guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency.
But it’s not just the departures creating uncertainty. Tackles Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher have struggled in their two seasons since being drafted in the first and second rounds, respectively. Bringing back Andre Smith creates another list of questions, such as can the 30-year-old stay healthy and can he make the switch to playing guard.
The Bengals also have to decide if they want to move forward with center Russell Bodine, who is entering the final year of his contract, and whether guard Christian Westerman, last year’s fifth-round pick, can play after putting him on the inactive list for all 16 games last year.
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While restocking the line should be a priority for the Bengals, it’s something they’ll likely address later in the draft rather than sooner. There isn’t any true Top-10 talent available this year, and the Bengals pick ninth. But there could be as many as eight linemen off the board by the time the team picks again in the second round.
For the second part of our series previewing the draft, here is a look at five of the top prospects on the offensive line:
Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Ramczyk has moved to the top of most scouts’ rankings of available offensive linemen.
In addition to his skills, which scouts identify as great strength that allows him to knock defenders of the ball in addition to tremendous quickness that enables him to get to the second level, Ramczyk has history on his side. Since 2011, five offensive linemen from Wisconsin have been drafted in the first or second rounds, including Zeitler.
On the other hand, his own personal history may work against him some as he has just one year of experience going against top competition after transferring from Division II UW-Stevens Point.
Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky
The 6-4, 309-pound Lamp likely will be the highest drafted Hilltopper in school history, an honor that currently belongs to Joseph Jefferson, a cornerback the Colts took in the third round in 2002.
While replacing one first-round guard (Zeitler) with another might sound like a solid plan, it’s not likely to happen unless the Bengals trade down. The Bengals pick ninth and guards rarely go in the top 10 (they got Zeitler with the 27th pick in 2012).
And there’s little chance Lamp, a four-year starter at WKU with 51 starts, is still on the board for the Bengals at 42.
Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
Bolles continues the trend of this year’s crop of top-tier offensive linemen having a history of playing inferior competition, but his story might be the best of the bunch. A lost teenager who was into drugs and had run-ins with the law, the 6-5, 297-pound Bolles was kicked out of his house but before turning his life around, a la The Blind Side, when he moved in with his former lacrosse coach.
Redirected to the straight and narrow, Bolles played two seasons at the JUCO level at Snow College, where he became a top recruit attracting the attention of schools like Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State.
Bolles immediately earned the starting job at Utah and went on to earn first team All-Pac 12 honors. Scouts still question his commitment to fundamentals, but if an NFL staff can drill that into Bolles, he has the upside to become a great pro.
Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
Despite being a consensus All-American left tackle for the Crimson Tide, the 6-6, 322-pound Robinson is projected by many to be a better fit at guard in the NFL.
A three-year starter, Robinson has glowing game film of him dominating some of the best edge talent in the speed-rich SEC, but scouts question his balance and quickness off the snap, hence the projections at guard.
NFL teams also will be digging into Robinson’s background after he was arrested for having a stolen handgun and marijuana in his car. The charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence and Robinson underwent weekly drug tests at Alabama, but the red flag still flies.
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Taylor Moton, OL, Western Michigan
Yet another player entering the league from humble beginnings, the 6-5, 319-pound Moton was a four-year starter for the Broncos, playing tackle his freshman, sophomore and senior seasons and guard as a junior.
Scouts knock him for being a “waist bender” and “head ducker” but say he got away with because he wasn’t facing elite talent in the Mid-American Conference.
His massive size and powerful blocking make him a candidate to move to guard in the NFL.