Give Cincinnati credit: At least the Bengals keep trying to find quality OL in the draft

2022 NFL Draft Cincinnati Bengals

Say what you will about Cincinnati’s drafting prowess — the Bengals aren’t deterred by past failures when it comes to drafting offensive linemen.

Consider these sobering facts:

  • Cincinnati has drafted at least one offensive lineman every year since 2001, a total of 32 OL
  • The team drafted 15 linemen between 2011 to 2020, including four in the first round.
  • Out of those 15 OL, 10 are no longer in the league and three are with a different team. Only two are still with the Bengals (2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams and 2020 sixth-rounder Hakeem Adeniji)

It’s more of the same with this year’s three rookie OLs. Former Clemson OT Jackson Carmen was recently replaced in the starting lineup at RG by Adeniji. Fourth-rounder D’Ante Smith is currently a backup and on injured reserve with a meniscus injury. And sixth-rounder Trey Hill has played just 66 snaps on offense as a backup interior lineman.

As for the starting lineup, Williams starts at LT, followed by LG Quinton Spain (undrafted rookie in 2015), C Trey Hopkins (undrafted rookie in 2014), Adeniji and RT Riley Reiff (first round by Detroit in 2012). Reiff and Spain will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.

And yet, despite all the turmoil along its offensive line, Cincinnati is right in the thick of things in the AFC North with a 5-4 record.

Will the Bengals try to protect their investment in former No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow?

Like death and taxes, you can count on Cincinnati taking another offensive lineman in the 2022 NFL draft.

Here are three to watch the rest of the season:

Round 1: OL Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State

The 6-foot-4, 320-pound junior is still considered a guard prospect by most draft pundits, even though he switched to LT in the offseason. That line of thinking may change, though, as Ekwonu is thriving at the position.

The Athletic’s Dane Brugler was so impressed that he listed “the most feared lineman in the ACC” as his No. 5 overall prospect – and as a tackle. Only one offensive lineman, Alabama’s Evan Neal, ranks higher than Ekwonu at No. 4 overall. From Brugler: “No, this isn’t too high for a player with Ekwonu’s explosive power. We knew he was an outstanding run blocker, but I have been blown away by his improvements in pass protection this season (see the Mississippi State tape). With his nimble feet and balanced movements, Ekwonu has not only boosted his draft stock, but he has also proven that he can play tackle and won’t have to move inside. No offensive lineman in this draft class has more upside than ‘Ickey.’”

Ekwonu, though, has his detractors. Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline said last month that he has never viewed Ekwonu as a first-round prospect. From Pauline: “He’s a powerful college LT who projects as a guard for a power-gap system at the next level. He struggles to adjust, can’t handle speed rushers, and gave up a ton of sacks last season (7, I believe). … Ekwonu is very good at what he does — burying opponents into the ground. Yet, the inability to move or cover any amount of area on the field won’t make him attractive come draft day.”

Ekwonu would likely start at RT or at LG for Cincinnati.

Round 4: C Ricky Stromberg, Arkansas

When it comes to the 2022 group of centers, there’s Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum – and then there’s everyone else. Linderbaum, the No. 6 overall prospect in the latest Jake Rigdon-Fanspeak big board, is widely regarded as the best interior lineman in the draft, provided the 6-foot-3, 290-pound junior declares for the draft. He could be a consideration for the Bengals in the first round.

But Stromberg is a rising prospect who will likely move up a spot as the No. 2 center in the next big board update. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound junior has started in 28 of the 30 games he’s played and has been a steady presence for the Razorbacks, with only five penalties in 628 offensive snaps last season.

PFN says Stromberg “has the potential to be a highly sought-after prospect” in the next draft, adding that he could be a Day 2 pick. From PFN: “This ability to put a man in the ground is one of his most impressive attributes. Stromberg has that mauler mentality that separates good from great offensive linemen. He plays the game with violence. While this helps him excel in the run game, he is also proficient as a pass protector.”

Round 5: G Emil Ekiyor Jr., Alabama

The 6-foot-3, 324-pound redshirt junior is another in a long line of impressive Alabama offensive linemen. The Crimson Tide have had 15 OL drafted since 2011. However, only five of them have been guards, with Chance Warmack (2013) the only first-rounder.

Ekiyor has plenty of experience against some of the best competition in college with 22 starts. And he has some positional flexibility, as Ekiyor can also play center (he’s ranked as NFLDraftBuzz’s second-best center). But he’s also had a few struggles – Ekiyor allowed four QB pressures against Tennessee and had a PFF grade of 54.1 in that game.

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