Texas A & M offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi, the man the Bengals took with the 21st pick Thursday night in the NFL Draft, was less than a half from the end of his college career when he suffered a knee injury on Dec. 29 in the Liberty Bowl.
"I took a hit on the side of the knee," Ogbuehi told Sports Illustrated. "Thought it was a sprained MCL so I kept playing."
It wasn't a sprain. It was a torn ACL.
"It was tough, but I knew that everything happens for a reason," he said.
The knee injury meant that Ogbuehi had to miss the Senior Bowl and couldn't work out for scouts at the NFL Scouting Combine.
"He would have put on a show in Indianapolis," said former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah. "He probably would have run in the 4.8's if he was healthy."
The necessary recovery time led to speculation that Ogbuehi would plummet in the NFL draft after being widely considered a top 15 pick.
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But NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock says that the Bengals selection of Ogbuehi in the first round is worth the perceived risk.
"He's a gifted left tackle prospect," said Mayock. "He reminds me of (Jets left tackle) D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Great feet, a lot of upside, and since Cincinnati has (Andrew) Whitworth and Andre Smith, he can get healthy before he has to play."
"I knew for a fact that I was going to be a first round pick," said Ogbuehi via conference call from the NFL Draft in Chicago. "I knew that I would recover well and that it would all fall into place."
The 6-5, 305-pound lineman with nearly 36-inch arms says that he's had range of motion back in his knee for two months.
"I'm jogging right now," said Ogbuehi. "Light lateral movement, jumping. My thinking process is (I'll be ready) by training camp."
Even if that proves to be an overly optimistic timetable, the first-team All-American says the knee injury will not keep him off the field as a rookie.
"I'm going to play this year," he said.
When the Bengals brought Ogbuehi to Cincinnati for a recent pre-draft visit, offensive line coach Paul Alexander ran down the list of successful tackles he's coached with the Bengals including Willie Anderson, Levi Jones, Andrew Whitworth, and Andre Smith.
"Those are the tackles that have played for me, all right?" said Alexander. "And I said, 'I expect you to be just like them.' He got all fired up."
"They all had a lot of success and they all had long careers," said Ogbuehi. "It's a good sign for me. Every guy they drafted in the first round had good careers."
Mayock expects Ogbuehi to have a good career as well – even if it's takes a little extra time to get started.
"He's got such great feet and such length – he's got Pro Bowl potential on the left side," said Mayock.