National Football League

The Cincinnati Bengals can't miss with the No. 5 pick in the NFL Draft, right?

April 26

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist 

The Cincinnati Bengals haven’t won a playoff game in 31 years, which is a long time in anyone’s book and an absolute eternity in the National Football League.

Given that the league’s very structure is set up to promote a certain level of parity and to assist teams that habitually struggle, it goes without saying that some fairly serious episodes of poor decision-making have contributed to the Bengals’ generational tale of woe.

But … we’ll say it anyway, if for no other reason than that heading into Thursday’s NFL Draft, Cincinnati appears to be in a position that’s impossible to screw up, yet plenty of people are wondering if the Bengals will manage to do so anyway.

"I think we're in a good spot in this draft to get one of the guys who is a premier talent," Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin told reporters. "Anybody we take with that fifth pick, the expectation is he's going to come in and help us win immediately and play a big role."

In a sense, the Bengals are holding a No. 1 or No. 2 pick for the price of the actual No. 5 in their possession, a lofty selection earned by a ho-hum 4-11-1 campaign marred by quarterback Joe Burrow’s ACL injury in Week 11.

The pool of players is going to be wide open to them for this reason: At least three or maybe even four quarterbacks are going to come off the board in the opening four picks – and the Bengals, with last year’s top choice Burrow, are covered in that position.

Hence, a significant opportunity. Rarely has the general makeup of the opening picks been so solidified and so skewed toward one position.

Trevor Lawrence is so locked in at the first choice that the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t even keeping up the pretense anymore, and Zach Wilson to the New York Jets at No. 2 seems similarly etched.

While the identity of the San Francisco 49ers' object of desire remains secret, consensus, common sense and the words of their own staff tell us that they made their bold trade-up to draft Jimmy Garoppolo’s replacement at QB.

The only genuine unknown for the Bengals is what is going to happen at No. 4, when the Atlanta Falcons will find themselves on the clock. The need to secure Matt Ryan’s long-term stand-in could see a historic 1-2-3-4 QB run, or else a position player comes off the board.

Regardless, the Bengals find themselves in a spot where essentially everything – and everyone who they feel could help them get better – is in play.

Here is where it gets a little interesting. Locally, there is a fervent desire for the pick to be Oregon’s Penei Sewell, an elite left tackle who potentially would be handed the keys to protecting Burrow’s blind side long into the future.

The Bengals have had some miserable draft experiences, but their very best one came in 1980, when they took left tackle Anthony Munoz and watched him develop into one of the greatest offensive linemen in football history.

Without question, Munoz-themed nostalgia and the wish to see Burrow properly protected are driving the pro-Sewell camp in Cincy.

"It is harder to find an elite left tackle than a high-level wide receiver," Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty wrote. "The limits of Joe Burrow’s saintliness are defined by the apostles lined up in front of him. The man can’t throw from his butt."

Nationally, however, there is just as much advocacy for WR Ja’Marr Chase, and there’s good reason for it. Burrow and Chase had a deep understanding and a mightily productive bond on the LSU national championship team two years ago, and the prospect of pairing Burrow with a dynamic receiving talent is mouthwatering.

"If Sewell is on the board, the Bengals will have a tough decision to make," according to FOX Sports analyst Jason McIntyre, who predicts Chase ends up in Cincinnati. "[But] Chase’s connection with Burrow certainly doesn’t hurt his odds of going [fifth] regardless."

Furthermore, a growing level of intrigue surrounds Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, who many feel might be the Falcons’ go-to, though there are reports that the Dallas Cowboys are highly enamored with Pitts and might seek to trade up. 

For Cincinnati, the only realistic option outside of those three would be to trade down, which is where the Bengals could land themselves in trouble, missing out on a top-level player to grab a bunch of lower picks that don't amount to much.

Tobin’s remarks seem to point away from that outcome, but you never know.

There hasn’t been a lot of fun involved with being a Bengals fan recently. The past decade has seen 25 wins in the past five years and five consecutive wild-card round defeats to precede that.

Things look to be getting better as Burrow blossoms and a greater level of optimism comes with it.

Thursday should offer another step in the right direction, unless the Bengals somehow manage to miss from an unmissable draft situation.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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