The Cincinnati Bengals were destined to have one of the most interesting draft classes well before any picks actually got submitted.
Holding that fifth pick and trying to decide between a skill position or an offensive lineman in front of Joe Burrow does that.
Five games in, we now have a better idea of whether the Bengals made the right call (hint: they did) and a better look at how the entire class has performed so far, so let’s dish some grades.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1) catches a pass before the NFL football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
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A+. The end.
But seriously, the Bengals aren’t 3-2 without Chase. His name keeps popping up alongside Randy Moss for a reason. He’s got 456 yards and five touchdowns already with seven plays of 20-plus yards. He’s averaging 19.8 yards per catch. He’s technically on pace to score 17 touchdowns, just like Moss’ rookie season. And with the line improved thanks to draft picks and free-agent signings, it’s even more clear he was the right pick.
Cincinnati Bengals offensive guard Jackson Carman (79) plays in an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Tough start for Carman, who couldn’t even secure the second spot on the depth chart in training camp once he arrived. He was more of a project than expected and only got on the field during the season because of injuries in front of him. Advanced grading like PFF hates Carman’s play so far and he’s indeed been rough, but he’s also shown flashes of major upside and is probably an upgrade over anybody else at this point.
DE Joseph Ossai
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai (58) rushes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a pre-season NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)
Ossai looked like the breakout star of Bengals camp before suffering a season-ending injury during the preseason. He’s greatly missed, with Trey Hendrickson the only guy putting up a consistent pass-rush.
DE Cam Sample
Cincinnati Bengals Cam Sample runs a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp in Cincinnati, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Sample hasn’t made a ton of noise, but he’s been effective when asked to get in games. He’s played just 31 percent of the snaps so far, but he’s been versatile and applied some pressures, returning good value for the draft cost already.
Cincinnati Bengals’ Tyler Shelvin participates in a drill during an NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Saturday, July 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
As expected, Shelvin hasn’t been asked to contribute just yet. He’s got a logjam of strong talent in front of him on the depth chart, yet continues to have a pretty strong long-term outlook.
OG D'Ante Smith
Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle D’Ante Smith (70) looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a pre-season NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Menendez)
Smith spent the draft process putting weight back on his frame but fell to the fourth round. He quickly had the second-string spot on the depth chart despite learning guard on the fly and now he’s next man up with Carman out. There’s an outside chance the fourth-rounder gets a chance and holds a starting job before long.
K Evan McPherson
Aug 20, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Cincinnati Bengals place kicker Evan McPherson (2) kicks a 38 yard field goal against the Washington Football Team during the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
McPherson breezed through a “competition” this summer and has already nailed two game-winning kicks. Recency bias will point to those missed kicks against Green Bay, but he’s been exactly what the team hoped for in the fifth round.
C Trey Hill
Cincinnati Bengals center Trey Hill runs a drill during an NFL football rookie minicamp in Cincinnati, Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Hill hasn’t had a chance to get on the field yet. But his toughness and upside shown in college explain why the team made a point to roster him over veterans during final cuts. He might get that chance soon.
RB Chris Evans
Sep 19, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Chris Evans is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Tre Norwood during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports
Evans hasn’t been asked to do much, but he’s looked great when coaches have gone his way, preseason or regular season. He’s got the blatant upside of being the outright steal of this draft class once coaches decide to use him more. In fact, it’s a little perplexing he doesn’t get more looks, something that could change in a big way as the season continues.
DL Wyatt Hubert
Sep 12, 2020; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Wyatt Hubert (56) celebrates a sack of Arkansas State Red Wolves quarterback Logan Bonner (12) during a game at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Hubert suffered a season-ending injury before his rookie campaign even started, though it seemed like he might have enough to make the final roster.