Thursday’s first round of the 2021 NFL draft figures to feature the Bengals standing still at No. 5 and taking one of three players: LSU wideout Ja’Marr Chase, Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell or Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
It’s easiest to rule out Pitts first. The Bengals taking a tight end so high just doesn’t seem likely, plus there is a very real chance Atlanta could take him at No. 4 — he’s that rare of a prospect.
Make no mistake, were Pitts the pick, it would be an A+ move. He’s a solid blocker and can move to different spots, creating mismatches, yet he’s got the elite skill set of a wideout. He’d be elite, make Joe Burrow better and the offense better, too.
More likely, though, is Sewell, a prospect who absolutely bullied the collegiate game at 18 years of age. He’s raw, but the upside is tremendous. The only things working against him right now are NFL teams and the draft class itself. Some teams don’t seem to even have him as the first tackle on their boards and the draft class itself is so strong along the offensive line that a team could reasonably pass on him and find good help later.
Which leaves Chase.
Chase, Burrow’s favorite target during the 2019 title run at LSU. Chase, the guy who put up 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns that season. And Chase, the top wideout this year sometimes garnering comparisons to Julio Jones. He doesn’t have an equal in this class and as far as wideout prospects go, he’s probably as safe as A.J. Green was all those years ago.
We do have to point out that trading down is a very real option too. Should four quarterbacks come off the board over the first four picks, that fifth pick is going to be worth so much. A team like Carolina at eight or Denver at nine might sacrifice a huge haul to move up. Taking a trade would net the Bengals a massive future-minded haul of draft picks, yet still keep them in range for a top-10 prospect.
But that’s the beauty of the Bengals in the first round this year — they can’t really go wrong no matter what they do.
If we’re attempting to project what the Bengals will do, though, the obvious choice is Chase. He’s a rare, rare prospect and has the added bonus of a prior connection with Burrow. The fact other teams are trying to trade in front of the Bengals for him says it all. Drafting him at five doesn’t prevent the team from finding a Day 1 starter of a guard in the second round, or even on a trade back up into the first round.
Final Prediction: Ja’Marr Chase