Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals can be excited despite going 4-11-1 last season. Rookie QB Joe Burrow played like the real deal, even if the team around him isn’t. The 2020 Bengals could have won a few more games but Burrow went down in Week 11 with a torn ACL/MCL. Looking on the positive side, the front office knows where they need to focus on during the offseason to give Burrow a chance to excel in the NFL.

Injuries really derailed Cincinnati last year, shelving starters like Burrow, Joe Mixon, Geno Atkins, CJ Uzomah, and John Ross. It was “Next Man Up” season for the Bengals, and few rose to the occasion. Rookie WR Tee Higgins was in the running for ROY with 908 yards and six TDs (both team-highest). TE Drew Sample saw a significant increase in playing time and receiving stats due to Uzomah’s early exit. The backfield duo of Giovani Bernard and Samaje Perine couldn’t make up for the loss of Mixon and the tempo of the offense suffered.  T Jonah Williams missed a handful of games and Isaiah Prince opted out. The offensive line as a unit was atrocious, allowing 48 sacks (32 on Burrow alone).

The defense was one of the five worst teams against the run. Against the passing attack, they were average at best. In getting to the QB though, they racked in the fewest sacks (17) and the fewest QB hurries (39). The loss of starters Geno Atkins and Trae Waynes didn’t help matters either. As one of the AFC North teams, it’s never easy going against the likes of Roethlisberger, Mayfield, and Jackson twice. Similar to the physical year of 2020, you can take this season with an asterisk. Your franchise guy went down with a nasty leg injury, the offensive line isn’t complete, and the defense suffered from injuries and lack of experience.

Cincinnati took a step in the right direction early in the offseason. They added CB Mike Hilton, Eli Apple, and Chidobe Awuzie to replace the departing Mackensie Alexander and William Jackson lll. Long-time Bengals DT Geno Atkins was cut and they brought in Larry Ogunjobi. WR AJ Green has finally left Cincy after several down years. Burrow’s former college teammate TE Thaddeus Moss was signed in hopes to give their QB a trusty target when in trouble. RB Giovani Bernard was also released after a rough 2020 filling in for Joe Mixon.

These new free agents fill some holes on both sides of the ball but there are still some glaring problems on this roster. So where is there a need for a better, younger starter or just some talented depth? What are the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals draft needs?

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Draft Picks

The Cincinnati Bengals aren’t known to be strong during the draft. More often than not, they struggle between the third and sixth round. They either select a dud or don’t end up keeping a quality player past their rookie deal. The 2021 NFL Draft is loaded at the positions the Bengals need to focus on and they could maneuver quite a high draft grade.

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Draft Needs: OL/OT, WR, EDGE, DT, LB, TE

Offensive Line:

Hakeem Adeniji was the only remaining tackle after Week 15, between an injury and an opt-out. At best, Adeniji is someone who can float between guard and tackle as a backup. 2020 1st-round pick Jonah Williams played well before going down in Week 14. Riley Reiff will be a nice addition on the opposite end at RT. The guard position needs replacing on both sides of the center after Burrow was knocked around too much last year. Michael Jordan has been benched before for poor performance and it seems like it could happen again if Burrow sees tons of pressure early in the season. Xavier Su’a-Filo hasn’t played much and wasn’t stellar when he was on the field. Your guards are there to do just that…guard your QB. C Billy Price is a backup-turned-starter after Trey Hopkins rehabs his ACL. Still, it’s the 2018 1st-round pick’s job to lose.

Sitting at fifth overall, the Bengals don’t need a QB and they can still get a quality WR in the second round. Penei Sewell from Oregon is the consensus here. He can be an NFL-ready tackle or guard that can protect Joe Burrow while also opening holes for the struggling run game. Swell is the best lineman in the draft by a landslide.

First Round Option: Penei Sewell- Oregon

Second Round Option: Samuel Cosmi– Texas

Wide Receiver:

Tee Higgins was a second-round pick last year and nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards. Tyler Boyd is one of the better WR2 in the league. So why is WR still such a need? Auden Tate is the WR3 but there are easily a dozen WRs in this class that could bump him from being a starter. He’s got the height but is just not that exciting as a starter. The non-famous Mike Thomas has seen just 21 targets and Trenton Irwin is the only other receiver on the roster with targets from 2020: just two. Surround Joe Burrow with the weapons and see what magic unfolds from it. Auden Tate and another late-round rookie can help round out a fantastic WR group.

There is still a slight chance the Bengals let everyone down and pass on Sewell, which would be a mistake. There’s no other guard similar to Sewell but Cincy could focus more on giving Burrow weapons as he runs around like a madman in the backfield. If that happens, Ja’Marr Chase is still a good consolation prize. Chase is a true WR1 that could fill the hole that AJ Green once occupied. Higgins and he could line up outside with Boyd at slot, making this one of the more dangerous trios in the AFC. If Swell is picked up at 5, then you can still take Chase’s LSU teammate in Terrace Marshall Jr. Marshall might not be as talented as Chase but he is more versatile.

First Round Option: Ja’Marr Chase- LSU

Second Round Option: Terrace Marshall Jr- LSU

Edge Pass Rusher:

I’ll make this simple. The Bengals had just 17 sacks in 2020. Pittsburgh’s TJ Watt had 15 by himself. Cincy had just 39 QB hurries. TJ Watt had 42…by himself. When you have a young offense, you have to be able to rely on your defense to get the ball back in the QB’s hands. Trey Hendrickson seems like a major signing on paper but there are some red flags. Sure he was second in the NFL with 13.5 sacks last season, but it was just his first year as a starter. The Bengals risked a four-year, $60 million deal on someone who could end up being a one-year wonder. On the other hand, he did also rank sixth with 53 pressures and 37 QB hurries (check those stats above again for clarity). If he is indeed someone who can continue this momentum, the Bengals are in good shape.

Sam Hubbard started 13 games in 2020 and had decent numbers. Khalid Kareem managed to play a full season as a rookie but had just one sack.

Joe Tryon from Washington has the agility and flexibility to be a great edge rusher. The added bonus is he can contribute in pass-coverage as well. Paired with Hendrickson if all things pan out, the Bengals should easily double their sack total.

Second Round Option: Joe Tryon- Washington

Third Round option: Quincy Roche– Miami

Defensive Tackle:

The Bengals decided to cut ties with veteran DT Geno Atkins after missing just about all of 2020. Larry Ogunjobi was signed in the offseason and has youth and speed on his side. Ogunjobi isn’t great in getting to the QB but is solid against the run. DJ Reader is coming off a quad injury and hopes to still regain his speed and form. Atkins leaves a large hole on this defensive line that neither of these two can fill from a leadership standpoint. The depth behind Reader and Ogunjobi doesn’t help either.

Another Washington prospect, Levi Onwuzurike is great in maintaining gap control against the run and can even lend a hand as a pass rusher. Ohio State’s Tommy Togiai is more of a true NT and a powerful block shredder. He won’t get to the QB often but can shut down the run up the middle.

Second Round Option: Levi Onwuzurike- Washington

Third Round Option: Tommy Togiai- Ohio State


When you look at the current depth chart, this secondary seems well-stocked with talent. Trae Waynes is coming off a torn pec and looking to finally make an impact for the Bengals. Chidobe Awuzie was brought in from Dallas. Former Steeler Mike Hilton had a career-best last year and will be an excellent slot corner. Former 1st-round pick Eli Apple hasn’t lived up to his draft status but is still a great rotational player. This seems like a great group but all but Hilton missed more than half of 2020 with some sort of injury. In case any of these guys aren’t the same player or suffer another injury, there’s not much depth past Apple.

Greg Newsome has the makings of a starting outside CB except for one thing…a history of injuries. He never finished a full year, which hurts his stock but is an aggressive corner who attacks the ball and an excellent tackler on all counts. UCF’s Richie Grant is primarily an FS but is similar to Minkah Fitzpatrick. His ball skills stand out and is known for making the big plays at the big moments. He just needs to brush up on being a better finisher as a tackler.

Third Round Option: Greg Newsome- Northwestern

Fourth Round Option: Richie Grant- UCF


Germaine Pratt is the leader of the LBs but isn’t the most exciting. He’s not the fastest or most explosive off the snap and has some concerns in coverage. He’s a sound tackler though who hits with power. The rest of the LBs were drafted just last year; the Bengals drafted three. Logan Thomas (3rd Round) appeared in 12 games but suffered an ankle injury and missed the last three. Akeem Davis-Gaither (4th Round) had the best rookie year out of the three. He was able to appear in all 16 games and made an impact in a limited role: 31 tackles, INT, and a half-sack. He’s got great upside going into 2021 and should see a bigger role. Markus Bailey (7th Round) had just one tackle in 11 games. While the Bengals spent a ton of draft capital on LBs last year, they still need help and have to look to the draft again.

Jamin Davis doesn’t have a lot of experience behind him but has second-level speed and strength to match. He struggles in locking down his decision-making and can get lost in the trenches. Buddy Johnson, however, has the experience as a four-year player and a smart MIKE who excels against the run. Johnson doesn’t have the speed and agility that Davis possesses though.

Fourth Round Option: Jamin Davis- Kentucky

Fifth Round Option: Buddy Johnson- Texas A&M

Tight End:

If it wasn’t for injuries, Cincinnati wouldn’t have to worry about TE much. CJ Uzomah was Joe Burrow’s favorite target, having 11 targets in two games before suffering a torn Achilles. He’s still recovering and might not be available to start the next season. Drew Sample stepped in for Uzomah but is not a TE1. He had 40 catches for 349 and a touchdown but is more comfortable as a true blocker. Thaddeus Moss signed on this offseason and has potential as Burrow’s college TE. Moss himself suffered some injuries last year and is still looking to find his feet within the NFL.

Kylen Granson could have some potential after being a Swiss Army knife for SMU. He can line up in the backfield, as a slot receiver, or in-line TE. He’s not the best route-runner but is versatile with good hands. Ole Miss’s Kenny Yeboah is more of an F-tight end who has a great route tree and blocking ability.

Fourth Round Option: Kylen Granson- SMU

Fifth Round Option: Kenny Yeboah- Ole Miss

2021 Cincinnati Bengals Mock Draft

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