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Tackles As Advertised At NFL Scouting Combine As Bengals Mull Next Draft Phase

Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 in Indianapolis. (Brooke Sutton/NFL)
Cincinnati Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin speaks during a press conference on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024 in Indianapolis. (Brooke Sutton/NFL)

Even though this elite crop of offensive tackles glittered last weekend to close up shop at the NFL scouting combine, Monday's post-Indy mock drafts still give the Bengals a shot at one of the top ones at No. 18 in next month's draft.

And if the Bengals want to go in that direction (still a big if in an upcoming relentless month of free agency and pro days,) he very well could be on the edge of franchise history. Elias says the last tackle to start for the Bengals on Opening Day was the greatest of them all, Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz, when he made his bow in the 1980 opener against Tampa Bay Hall-of-Fame defensive end Lee Roy Selmon.

Different times. Plus, usually, the Bengals have had the luxury of easing in their rookie tackles. Even Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Willie Anderson didn't start his opener. Super Bowl right tackle Joe Walter was grooming him. Just like Anderson and Levi Jones were able to pave the way for Andrew Whitworth. The most recent first-round tackle, Jonah Williams in 2019, most likely would have got the nod. But he got hurt.

Still ...

"That surprises me," said Munoz on Monday. "There's more than a handful of tackles. I'm excited to see what happens."

What appears to be happening with the mocks is they just can't resist some of the weekend's more explosive performances at other positions.

LSU wide receiver Brian Thomas Jr. vaulted into CBS' top 15 when he took his 6-3, 210-pound frame through 40 yards in 4.33 seconds. Texas defensive tackle Byron Murphy II bolted into the top 13 at with a 4.87-second 40. At the Cincinnati-based Pro Football Focus, Clemson cornerback Nate Wiggins (a 4.28 blur) cracked the top 15.

Five tackles went in NFL com's first 15 with Alabama's J.C Latham the first one off the board, leaving the Bengals a choice of Georgia's Amarius Mims and Oklahoma's Tyler Guyton.

Yet over at CBS, only four tackles were gone with the Bengals staring at Latham, Washington's Troy Fautanu, as well as Mims and Guyton. At PFF, only two tackles are gone as the combine dust settles: Top ten consensus pick Joe Alt as well as Penn State's Olu Fashanu. The rest, led by Oregon State's Taliese Fuaga, are there at No. 18.

Of course, that's two big assumptions as the Bengals typically keep it all close to the vest. There's also a vast field of edge rushers, cornerbacks, and, yes wide receivers.

So that's assuming they're interested in a tackle. And also assuming they rate these tackles as high as pundits such as draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah. The Bengals won't meet to set their final board for about six more weeks and there is plenty of time between now and the pick. Not to mention all the pro days to attend and the 30 Paycor Stadium visits to access.

"I think we'll see a bunch of starters, a bunch of day one starters out of that tackle group," said Jeremiah post-combine, according to Jim Wyatt of "They're all really talented. When you look at that top group of guys, really I would say you're talking about Alt, Fashanu, Fuaga, Latham. I would think those are pretty unanimous, whatever order you have them, those are kind of the top four guys.

"I think that Alt … is the cleanest of the bunch. He's huge. He's long. He just keeps getting better. He doesn't get beat. … Fashanu from Penn State is massive. He has the ideal frame, ideal length. … Fuaga is a really, really clean player for me. He has played on the right side. I don't see really why you would want to move him. I think he is plug-and-play as a right tackle … Latham … is huge. 330-plus pounds. He has torque and power, especially in the run game. He can anchor all day."

And then the are other guys who had huge combines. Literally. Georgia's Mims nearly broke five seconds in the 40 at 6-8, 340 pounds. Throw in a 9-3 broad jump that published reports say puts him in the 87th percentile in that position group since the 1999 combine and, yikes.

Plus, you have to love his enthusiasm for playing with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.

"I would love that. I remember that 2019 run he had," Mims said during his media appearance. "That was dog."

Munoz, a Pac-8 product who followed what was left of the Pac-12 this year, was a big fan of Washington's Fautanu even before he caught his workout on Saturday. His 5.01 seconds in the 40 was the fastest of the top-rated guys to go with a 1.71 in the 10-yard split that was a top ten time, according to, calling him the most dynamic player on the field next to Oregon State's Fuaga.

"There's not a lot of respect for the Pac 12, but the left tackle for Washington is pretty impressive," said Munoz, who has his weight exactly right. "Since they were in the playoffs, I saw a lot of him. Impressive. I watched his workout and they had him at 317 pounds and he was moving pretty well. The guy from Oregon State is also excellent."

Last week at the combine, Bengals offensive line coach Frank Pollack underscored intangibles as his top trait for drafting tackles. And everybody else. But right next to heart is a tackle's feet, and the combine showed these guys seemed to have plenty of feet.

"If they're going to be on the edge, it's going to start with their feet. They've got to have range, got to have very quick feet," Pollack said. "Length helps. Length will help you overcome some of your deficiencies in your feet and your athleticism. Balance is a big one. Being able to bend is a big one. Out there on the edge in space, you're going to face the cream of the crop as far as what this league has to offer."

Pollack can remember coaching a rookie Opening Day tackle only twice. And it was a dozen years apart. Duane Brown for the Texans in 2008 and Mekhi Becton for the Jets in 2020. Both first-rounders. A rarity because, just like it was at the dawn of the '80s, it's the toughest jump of all.

"The game's faster, the opponents they're going against are a lot more technically sound and faster. They're stronger, the game's more complex," Pollack said. "The pressures they'll see are more complex. The volume from a playbook standpoint is more complex."

It was a challenge even for a rookie like Munoz, the third pick in his draft. It's hard to say how he did in that opener nearly 44 years ago. The Bengals lost to the Doug Williams Buccaneers on Sept. 7, 1980 at Riverfront Stadium, 17-12, and the only defensive stat recorded from that game is one interception. Given that Munoz can't remember and his track record in the next 184 games, he most likely did quite well.

"I was facing guys like Lee Roy Selmon, Fred Dean, Cedrick Hardman, Elvin Bethea," Munoz said of that rookie year. "Guys that were 30-35 years old who were at the end of great careers who had great experience. It was a big transition. I was learning quite a bit."

Munoz also wonders about the gap nowadays between the styles of the college and pro games. He came out of a classic old school blueblood program at USC that was defined by its "Student Body Right," running game mentality.

"We had (running backs) Ricky Bell, Charles White, Marcus Allen, but we still worked on pass protection every single day," Munoz said. "Now they're in a two-point (stance) coming into the NFL and they're expected to not only pass block, but run block. It has to be a tougher game.

"The offenses in college are so much more wide open with run-and-shoot-type offenses. You come in the NFL and it's wide open, but you still have to be able to run the ball. I would imagine it's a tough adjustment going from the college to NFL now."

Pollack was heading into his fourth NFL season in 1993 when Munoz retired and saw another change in the O-linemen.

"The biggest change that I've seen is they come out younger. We've had guys at 20 and just turning 21," Pollack said. "It's amazing to me just the experience, what they've been able to experience and be taught in college. Just time on the job is not near what it used to be."

Pollack says he thinks the pros are catching up to the Saturday air shows when it comes to getting offensive linemen ready for the transition.

"It depends on the schools. The offensive systems that they play in," Pollack said. "They're throwing it around as much as anybody in college that we do in the league now.

"The simplistic thing of just being in a three-point stance, you can argue that is one thing that a lot of these guys are never in anymore in college. That's a little unique. More and more teams in the NFL, as much as we're in the (shot) gun, we're going to be in a two-point stance often as well."

Pollack says the ease of the transition corresponds petty much to talent. No matter the position.

"In the NFL it's an adjustment. You get a guy somewhere in the top 10, you are hoping it's going to be a lot smoother transition," Pollack said.

The Bengals have to decide how close they are to a top-ten player when they pick at No. 18.

No matter the position.

But at least the tackles carried the day at the combine and not the other way around.

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