Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in an eight-part series previewing the Cincinnati Bengals draft needs by position group. Today’s look is at the offensive line.
Roster (contract length): Tackles — Andrew Whitworth (2015), Andre Smith (2015), Eric Winston (2015), Tanner Hawkinson (2016), Dan France (2016), Matthew O’Donnell (2016); Guards – Kevin Zeitler (2015), Clint Boling (2019), Trey Hopkins (2016); Centers – Russell Bodine (2017), T.J. Johnson (2015)
Analysis: No matter whom the Bengals draft in the first round, he won’t be expected to start as a rookie, and that especially will be the case if he is an offensive tackle.
Whitworth and Smith make up one of the top tandems in the league, and there was no drop-off in production when Winston replaced Smith following a season-ending triceps injury in late November.
But all three tackles are entering the final year of their contract. Whitworth is 33, Winston 31 and Smith 28. Whitworth and Smith have battled injuries the last couple of years.
Since drafting Smith sixth overall in 2009, the Bengals have only drafted three tackles, and none higher than the fifth round. So it’s obviously time to restock.
And while the Bengals locked up left guard Boling with a five-year deal last month, right guard Zeitler is entering the final year of his contract.
The coaches love everything about Zeitler, and as good as he’s been, many believe he still has a big upside. The Bengals will make every attempt to sign him and could possibly use the franchise tag on him, as doing so with a guard would come at minimal cost.
Bodine was all but declared the starter on draft night last year and he didn’t disappoint. His rookie season was trying at times, but he got better with each game and made it clear he will be the guy for at least the next three years until his rookie contract expires.
Needs: The injury and age issues at tackle make that arguably the highest priority the Bengals have going into the draft.
And with there being so many quality tackles available, it only makes sense for them to grab a guy in the first round who can develop into a pillar of the line in the future or step in as a plug-and-play option if misfortune strikes.
Adding another tackle on the third day also would make sense, especially if it’s the kind of versatile player offensive line coach Paul Alexander loves. That would prevent the team from having to use another late-round pick on a guard.
Top 5 prospects
1 . Brandon Scherff, Iowa, OT
The Outland Trophy winner as a left tackle for the Hawkeyes has the measurables to play the position in the NFL, but probably will be better suited as a guard.
2. Andrus Peat, Stanford, OT
A Whitworth clone in size (6-foot-7, 315 pounds) and character, Peat would be an ideal choice for the Bengals if he happens to fall to them at 21.
3. Ereck Flowers, Miami, OT
Flowers not only has great size at 6-foot-6, 330 pounds, he has massive make-up with a reputation as a team-first, low-maintenance player with tremendous worth ethic.
4. La’el Collins, LSU, OT
He likely will be the first LSU tackle to go in the first round since 1998, and he would be a great fit in a locker room with former teammates Jeremy Hill and James Wright, not to mention former Tiger tackle Whitworth.
5. D.J. Humphries, Florida, OT
Free and easy movement and a powerful jab make him an ideal pass protector against today’s fast edge rushers, but Humphries still has a ways to go in run blocking.
Doniel Gambrell, Notre Dame College (Ohio), OT
The ultimate sleeper, the 24-year-old Gambrell enrolled at Eastern Michigan in 2009 but left to take a factory job to support his wife and infant son. Ted Ginn Sr. helped Gambrell return to football at Notre Dame in northeast Ohio, where he excelled while also working a third-shift job to make ends meet for his growing family that now features three children.