With the 2022 NFL draft now just a month away, it is officially mock draft season. Up next in our series we are looking at the Super Bowl runner-up Cincinnati Bengals.
In a normal NFL year, the AFC champion Bengals would be one of the favorites to win the NFL next season. Unfortunately for them, this is not a normal year.
The NFL, and in particular the AFC, is so hotly contested that the 10 win Bengals from 2021 don’t even make the top 10 according to many bookmakers for 2022 – something they will be looking to change with a strong draft class.
Let’s not take anything away from Cinci, they went on an incredible run which let the whole league know ‘who dey’ are. The improvement between 2020 and 2021 was one of the most impressive in recent memory.
The Bengals only won four games in 2020 and looked as though they were years away from challenging for a championship. Fast forward a year and they are one drive away from winning the first Superbowl in franchise history.
There was one glaring difference between the two seasons – Joe Burrow. Now don’t get me wrong, AP offensive rookie of the year Ja’Marr Chase made a huge difference on offense. He wouldn’t have been so impactful, however, if Brandon Allen (or worse) had been throwing him the ball.
Burrow missed significant time in 2020 after suffering a gruesome leg injury, requiring major knee surgery to his left leg mid-season. The blame for the injury has been put by many on the offensive line’s inability to protect their quarterback, something which continued in 2021 with the young QB being sacked a league-high 51 times in the regular season (70 if you include the playoffs).
Luckily for Burrow, the Bengals have committed free-agent resources in 2022 to ensure the QB does not face the same kind of pressure for the third year in a row.
Mike Brown took a step to protect the face of the franchise, signing Alex Cappa, Ted Karras, and La’el Collins. All three are experienced players and immediate upgrades to the line of 2021, allowing the Bengals some flexibility in the early rounds of the draft should they want to look at other positions.
Several positions could use reinforcement if the Bengals are to repeat their AFC championship win in 2022. The most obvious of these are cornerback, tight end, and the interior offensive line.
1.31 (31 overall)
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Thanks to their newfound flexibility, the Bengals draft the defensive side of the ball first by taking Kaiir Elam from Florida.
Elam started 26 games for the Gators in his 3-year college career, finishing with 6 interceptions, 79 tackles, and a fumble recovery. He is a long corner, at 6 ft 2, and possesses the speed to stay with receivers down the field, running a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine.
Elam is extremely physical in coverage and would look to attack the incredible receiver talent he would face in the AFC. He isn’t afraid to make plays on the ball and will no doubt provide fans with highlight-worthy plays throughout his career, regardless of where he is drafted.
The Bengals need reinforcements in the secondary. Too often they rely on players such as Eli Apple to play important downs – remember the game-winning touchdown in the Superbowl?
Elam makes an impact immediately in the Bengals secondary which will be under fire for years to come, with two of the league’s best QBs in the division in Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson.
2.31 (63 overall)
Chad Muma, LB, Wyoming
The Bengals double down on defense, seeing an opportunity to improve the quality of their team from day one of the season and draft Chad Muma out of Wyoming.
Muma is an athletic linebacker who has been labeled as a “tackling machine” by college scouts, recording the most total tackles (142) in the nation in 2021 according to ESPN. His combination of speed and size allow him to meet running backs in the box as well as follow them outside in the passing game.
Muma is excellent in coverage due to the skills he built up as a safety in high school. This will be invaluable for the Bengals, utilizing his athleticism and instincts to drop back and help out against the incredible passing talent in the AFC.
The Bengals gave up the 5th most yards to tight ends in the regular season last year, allowing north of 1,000 yards in the 17 game season. Muma is a three-down linebacker and possesses the ability to stay with tight ends, something which will be appreciated in Cincinnati.
While it may appear the Bengals have depth at linebacker on the roster, it is important to look at the specific contracts. Germaine Pratt is in the last year of his current deal, with both Logan Wilson and Markus Bailey entering free agency a year after Pratt. Selecting Muma in the second round allows for a solidified, three-down linebacker to be on the roster for years to come.
3.31 (95 overall)
Dohnovan West, C, Arizona State
Just because the Bengals improved the offensive line in free agency, doesn’t mean they should ignore it for the entirety of the 2022 draft. At pick 95, West is still available and the Bengals front office pounce on the chance at a potential long-term starting lineman.
West has experience at the collegiate level at both center and guard. This versatility will be appreciated by the Bengals, who are yet to solidify their starting offensive line after so many changes in the free agency period. He is also only 20 years old, one of the youngest players in the draft, providing the potential to be a very important piece of the Joe Burrow era in Cincinnati.
West is not the perfect prospect – no third-round player is. He potentially lacks some strength to compete with NFL defenses, as well as some technical issues in pass protection which the Bengals may look to address. The team would look to develop the youngster and hope he can learn from the high-quality players added to the line in free agency.
There is no certainty on the future of the Bengals interior offensive line and West would be in a position to push for a starting spot eventually, should he improve in some key areas.
4.31 (136 overall)
Grant Calcaterra, TE, SMU
The Bengals lost starting Tight End C. J. Uzomah to free agency in 2022 after playing an important role in the offense which made the Superbowl, scoring 5 touchdowns in 2021. They look to replace him with Grant Calcaterra, a 6 ft 5 tight end from SMU.
An initial look at his college highlights may confuse some into thinking he is a wide receiver, possessing the athleticism and ball skills to be a match-up nightmare for defenders. He also has experience with NFL-level quarterbacks, being a target for both Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield during his time at Oklahoma.
The Bengals did sign Hayden Hurst to a one-year deal in free agency but would benefit from drafting a tight end in the draft to sure up the position in the long term.
The talented TE had concussion issues in college and medically retired from football after the 2019 season at Oklahoma, before returning in 2021 at SMU. This brings with it longevity issues which teams are clearly wary of, but his overall physical attributes and receiving instincts mean he could prove a steal for the Bengals this late in the draft.
Bengals’ 4-Round Recap
In this mock, the Bengals spend their first four picks of the 2022 draft evenly between offense and defense – a luxury afforded to them by the free-agent signings.
They add high-end talent to their secondary to help deal with the abundance of potent offenses they will face in the AFC and look to further bolster the offensive line, aiming to keep star QB Joe Burrow healthy for the entire 2022 season.
If the Bengals can back up a strong free agency period with a draft such as the above, landing four potential starters in the first four rounds, they will be an improved team in 2022 and ready to challenge for back-to-back AFC titles.
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