Offensive lineman not off the table for Bengals’ first-round pick

Cincinnati Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin doesn’t rule out the possibility of drafting an offensive lineman, despite adding three starters in free agency and using three picks last year on that position.

Many mock drafts project Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum as the Bengals’ first-round pick at No. 31 overall even after they signed former Patriots interior offensive lineman Ted Karras with the intent of him replacing Trey Hopkins as the starting center.

Cincinnati also added right tackle La’el Collins and guard Alex Cappa, but Tobin said the Bengals will consider all options that could potentially improve the team now and in the future. The NFL Draft takes place Thursday through Saturday, and the Bengals have eight picks over seven rounds.

“With the O-line, if there’s a guy that improves us that we think will have a good career in this league, we’re not going to pass on him, particularly if he’s the best guy on the board,” Tobin said Friday in a pre-draft press conference at Paul Brown Stadium. “But yeah, sometimes it does come down to a numbers game and you’ve got to be cognizant of what you already have.”

Jonah Williams, the team’s 2019 first-round pick, returns at left tackle, and the Bengals return Jackson Carman, D’Ante Smith and Trey Hill from last year’s draft class.

Carman, a Fairfield High grad, was the team’s second-round pick out of Clemson who the Bengals were hoping could make a smoother transition from left tackle to right guard. Instead, he ended up in a carousel that ended with him and 2020 draft pick Hakeem Adeniji splitting duties.

The Bengals have said they still hope for continued development from Jackson and the other young linemen, and that remains the case for Tobin. As of now, they are expected to compete for the open left guard spot.

“We like all three of those young guys we took, and we think they all could develop and grow,” Tobin said. “We think we’re going to have a good starting five. There’ll be some competition there. And then we think we have really good backups that can come in the game and have proven come in the game and provide winning football for us. So, we’re excited about the group. We’re excited about those three that we drafted last year. We’re excited about (Isaiah) Prince and the development he made this year. I really like the way the offensive line is coming together. I really do.”

Some believe Linderbaum would be too good of an option to pass on if available at No. 31. In the case the Bengals do end up with him, Karras spent most of 2021 at left guard with the Patriots and could easily move back. Tobin said that offensive line coach Frank Pollack and coach Zac Taylor will decide where he plays but noted he can be a very effective center and left or right guard.

The one big knock on Linderbaum that could deter teams from taking him in the first round is his short arm length. Some say that won’t be as big of a deal at center but it is something to consider. Asked in general if arm length is a non-negotiable for the Bengals, Tobin said he doesn’t rule good players out because of any particular trait.

“I negotiate everything,” Tobin said. “So, there are no non-negotiables for me. Again, it comes down to whether the guy has been able to play effectively with whatever trait that he doesn’t have. But yeah, it’s bigger is better, longer is better, faster is better, smarter is better, tougher is better. So every inch you can get is a better analysis. But ultimately it comes down to how the guy plays and can he overcome it where he’s playing right now.”

The one certain focus for the Bengals will be the defensive backs, but where they address those needs will depend on who is available. Cincinnati could use some reinforcements at the safety position, especially considering Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell are not guaranteed beyond 2022, and it’s no secret the team wants to add competition and depth or a possible upgrade at cornerback.

Tobin said there are some good safeties that can play both free and strong, and versatility in that position is a big trait for which the Bengals look.

“It’s a decent safety draft, for sure,” Tobin said.

As for the cornerback position, the Bengals return Chidobe Awuzie and re-signed Eli Apple this offseason, but Apple struggles with consistency and there aren’t many options beyond him on the roster. That makes cornerback a high possibility to be addressed in the first or second round.

Tobin said that position certainly will be an area to look at, but “it’s going to have to be the right guy at the right time.”

“There’s good players,” Tobin said when asked about the corners at the top of the draft. “There’s very good players. I don’t know how many of them we’re going to have access to. … There’s very good players and we’ll see how they compare to the guys who are left at the other positions. We’re not going to force something. We’re going to take what’s given to us at that point.”

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