With an eye to the future in more ways than one, the Bengals opted for the prototype of the modern left tackle Thursday night when they selected Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi with the 21st pick in the first round even as he recovers from an ACL tear.
"Not many teams," said offensive line coach Paul Alexander, as he pronounced him the best pass protector in the draft, "have the luxury to take the time to break this guy in."
The selection of the 6-5, 306-pound Ogbuehi, 23, of Allen, Texas, reflected just how flexible the club was in their draft room heading into the first round.
After suffering the injury in the late December Liberty Bowl, Ogbuehi reportedly can't practice until August at the earliest and that would very likely put him on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) to start the season. Head coach Marvin Lewis said he had the surgery in January and called it a ninth-month process.
PUP would delay Ogbuehi's first NFL practice until the seventh week of the regular season, which they can more than afford with left tackle Andrew Whitworth, right tackle Andre Smith, and backup Eric Winston in front of him.
But every ACL surgery is different. Left guard Clint Boling had ACL surgery on New Year's Eve and was back for the first day of training camp at the end of July. The Bengals brought Ogbuehi into Cincinnati for a pre-draft visit a few weeks ago; when it's believed he had his knee re-checked.
The draft is a funny game. The irony is the injury gave the Bengals a chance to get Ogbuehi at all after three tackles went off the board in the first 13 picks.
"There's no way we have a chance at this guy if he doesn't get hurt," Alexander said. "He's a top of the draft player…You say 'Wow,' a lot when you watched him," on tape.
After watching tape on him, Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, who once played all five offensive line positions in a game for Cincinnati, agreed with Alexander that Ogbuehi can play all five spots.
"He would have been a top 10 player,' Lapham said if Ogbuehi went into Thursday healthy. "Maybe top five."
Ogbuehi is expected to arrive at Paul Brown Stadium Friday for a 5 p.m. news conference and it's believed he'll be accompanied by his parents, natives of Nigeria who are both nurses. Alexander says the minute they pronounce him healthy, he'll be the extra tight end in the big packages.
"I knew for a fact I'd be a first-round pick," said Ogbuehi, who was in the NFL green room in Chicago when he got the call from Lewis. "And then I know I would recover well and it would all fall into place." It marked the third straight season an A&M tackle had been taken in the first round. Jake Matthews, who played right tackle when Ogbuehi played right guard in 2012, was the sixth pick of the Falcons last year. Luke Joekel was the second pick by the Jaguars in 2013. CBS Sports.com draft specialist Rob Rang says Ogbuehi would have "almost certainly," joined them in the top ten last year if he declared for the draft.
Since he had graduated, it looked like he was going to until the school paid more than $50,000 for an insurance policy to protect against an injury-related slip in his draft stock, according to various reports.
It's the first time the Bengals have spent a first-rounder on a tackle since taking Smith with the sixth pick in 2009. It has usually worked well for them. Since 2002, the Bengals have played with primarily four tackles, Whitworth, a second-rounder in 2006, and Levi Jones, a first-rounder in '02, on the left side, and Smith and Willie Anderson, a first-rounder in 1996, on the right side. Whitworth and Smith are heading into their contract years.
It appears Ogbuehi could play both tackles and guards, although his style seems better suited to the left side. He's "more of an engager than a true drive blocker,' according to Sports Illustrated. But Rang says he's got that unique big-man athleticism so needed against the long, lean pass rushers.
"He is light on his feet and can adjust in space when run blocking at the second level," Rang wrote. "Because of his rare combination of agility and length, is one of those few tackles capable of recovering if initially beaten off the snap."
Some of the gurus say Ogbuehi has to work on his upper-body technique and his balance. Although he struggled with the move to left tackle last year and briefly switched to right tackle before going back to the left side, he'll have time to develop as a rookie. He's got that get-to-the-second-level athleticism the Bengals seek in their zone runs.