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Bengals Draft Board Comes To Life In Rookies' First Days

First-round pick Ja'Marr Chase has his eye on the ball.
First-round pick Ja'Marr Chase has his eye on the ball.

The Bengals have a plan for each of their rookies and they've all passed the first test.

The eye test.

"There weren't any disappointments out there and that's always a good thing," says Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin. "They look like they're in shape. There is a plan and design and a hope for all of them, even the college free agents.

"At least we have some preseason games to evaluate them."

The Bengals didn't have that luxury of a preseason last year and Joe Burrow's class still became their most productive band of rookies arguably ever. The Ja'Marr Chase class already has a leg up on them with last Friday's minicamp and this week's workouts in preparation next week's first voluntary camp for veterans and rookies.

Tobin says the design of this Bengals draft wasn't to stock it with seven offensive and defensive linemen. But given the Bengals finished last in generating sacks while allowing the third most, they were delighted the board gave the club its biggest haul of linemen ever. Even more than the 17-round drafts of yesteryear.

"We were looking at other positions and players, but we were true to our grades as the draft wore on," Tobin says. "We never felt like, 'We've got enough good big guys.' We needed help on both line of scrimmages. It worked out that way. There were other guys we were considering and sometimes they didn't last and sometimes the best player was a lineman."

Like the last pick. Kansas State's Wyatt Hubert, the last of three hair-on-fire edge guys they drafted.

"We knew we had to hit that spot. Probably more than once. He was the best available player in our opinion. So why not?" Tobin asks. "At that point, take the guys you have the strongest opinions."

Or take the third-round pick, Joseph Ossai of Texas, the first of the relentless rushers. There were other players they had similarly graded, maybe Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo, possibly North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Dardin, potentially Wake Forest edge Carlos Basham Jr., gone late in the second round to the Bills.

And this is the key thing in an era when everybody has a draft board on their phone.

It's not supposed to be only about positions because everybody's board is different.

"The player always has to be worthy of the pick. Otherwise, you're making a mistake," Tobin says.

"We had a number of guys we liked in that range. Not everybody lasted to us, but Ossai did and it was a fairly easy pick for us. It fit a position of need and it was a player worthy of the pick. The number one thing, is there anybody there worthy of the pick? If the answer is no, you try to move down. That rarely happens. More often than not two or three guys are worthy and now you start picking who fits you best."

That's what happened with their first pick at No. 5. Two guys were worthy. Chase, the LSU wide receiver, and Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell. It came out Chase because the board said so. Being a former teammate of Burrow and already having some intimate knowledge of the Bengals pass game didn't hurt Chase, of course.

"Those are positives. Those aren't the reasons we would take him, but those were definitely on the left side of the ledger. They weren't deficits," Tobin says. "We took them how we felt about them. Just because you didn't take one doesn't mean you don't have a strong opinion or high regard about them. (Chase) was the one we felt was best for us in our situation."

Chase ran around easily Friday. As advertised. But it was a Big Man Camp. Tobin liked how 350-pound LSU tackle Tyler Shelvin moved with all that bulk and the 36-inch arms of rangy East Carolina tackle D'Ante Smith seemed to look all that much longer now that his weight is up to 311 pounds after he was 283 in the Pirates opener.

That 761-pound package came with Tobin doing the heavy lifting in the biggest moment of the weekend. It came a few picks before the Bengals were up in the second round at No. 38.

Tobin agreed to a deal with New England that allowed the Patriots to come up and take Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore at No. 38. In return, the Bengals slid to No. 46 for the extra fourth-round picks that turned into Shelvin and Smith and they still got the player they wanted in massive and mobile Clemson left tackle Jackson Carman.

Tobin didn't want to get into the specifics of the deal he worked with Patriots, but suffice to say a phone call or two came shortly after the second round began and before the Eagles picked Alabama center Landon Dickerson at No. 37.

"At times during the draft, somebody lingers that some (team) has a design on someone and wants to move," Tobin says. "It's nothing that can be predicted and done in advance. You have to be prepared and flexible in real time to get it done. Internally you can be aware of being open to trade back and you're prepared if the opportunity comes up. It's not something that can be done far in advance. Especially in that round."

Even with offensive linemen sky diving off the board (Dickerson at 37, Teven Jenkins at 39, Liam Eichenberg at 42, Walker Little at 45), there were no groans from the Bengals. Their guy Carman was still there. (He seemed to have been near the top of their O-line board.)  Plus, there was another O-line option if someone plucked Carman.

But they didn't.

"We got the guy we had designs on," Tobin says of Carman. "You always want to do enough research to at least have an understanding of external opinion on guys so we know who might linger a little bit longer. If you're dead set on a guy, you normally don't move, but sometimes the compensation is good enough to get you to roll the dice."

As Tobin ponders the 761-pound roll, he says they didn't make the move with more linemen specifically in mind, but they did covet D'Ante Smith's film, range and physical upside and they got it with their third pick in the fourth, the Pats' compensatory pick.

"At that time in the draft, there were enough guys we had strong opinions on that we would like to have," Tobin says. "I don't know we necessarily predicted the positions, but we knew there were a lot of guys that could help our situation and having a couple of picks there would be good. When it came time to pick, we were darn glad to have picks."

There was the sense it was a short board because so many players went back to school and Tobin did say the pool ran out in the late rounds and college free agency. But he'll never turn down an extra fourth, pandemic or no pandemic. In the last five drafts, they've traded down in the second round three times for a total of four picks in the third and fourth rounds.

"Next year, there'll be a draft and a half with the later rounds and free agency back," Tobin says. "You'll always look at that fourth round no matter what year it is or how long the board is going to last."

All ten draft picks have a shot at making the roster when you consider Trey Hill adds depth to a center position while Trey Hopkins rehabs, fellow sixth-round pick Chris Evans has been flashing third-down back tools since the Senior Bowl and Hubert could fit on the edge if the Bengals keep ten defensive linemen.

And an undrafted rookie always seems to make it.

But they've got a preseason again and they're going to use it to find out.

"There's a plan for everybody we brought in," Tobin says. "We'll see what happens, but there's a plan."