The Cincinnati Bengals added an electric talent with the fifth pick in this year’s NFL Draft as they took LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase — reuniting him with former teammate Joe Burrow.
Chase could turn out to be a great player at the NFL level. However, his selection could end up doing more harm to Burrow’s career than good. By selecting him, the Bengals passed over Oregon tackle Penei Sewell, who many believed to be a no-brainer at five.
Burrow looked like the franchise quarterback Cincinnati had been searching for last season. In 10 games in 2020, he threw 13 touchdowns vs. just 5 interceptions before tearing his ACL and MCL vs. Washington in Week 11.
Here’s why passing on Sewell could be a mistake.
In just those 10 games last year, Burrow was sacked a whooping 32 times. According to Pro Football Reference, Burrow only had an average of 2.3 seconds in the pocket before it collapsed. In total, he was pressured on 109 dropbacks, hit 47 times, and hurried on 37.
To put that sack total in that amount of games in perspective, Chargers rookie Justin Herbert was sacked the same number of times — albeit in 15 games. Texans Signal caller Deshaun Watson was sacked 17 more times and hit the same amount, but he started all 16 games.
Enter Penei Sewell.
Sewell only needed two years at Oregon to establish himself as one of the best lineman in the country. Prior to opting out of last season due to COVID-19 concerns, he was named a unanimous first-team All-American in 2019.
During his sophomore season, he was the highest-graded offensive lineman in the nation at 95.5, the highest in Pro Football Focus’ history. In that season, Sewell did not allow a sack and only gave up seven pressures and two quarterback hits.
Sewell’s presence would, certainly, have boosted a Bengals offensive line that has been one of Pro Football Focus’ five lowest-graded in the league the last four years. In 2020, they were graded 30th.
Cincinnati did not completely neglect upgrading their offensive front. Far from it. They signed former Minnesota Vikings tackle Riley Reiff and spent three draft picks as they grabbed tackle Jackson Carman in round two, tackle D’Ante Smith in round four and center Trey Hill in round six. But missing out on one of the top offensive line prospects of the last several years could come back to haunt them.
The situations are not 100% similar, but Burrow’s injury seems reminiscent of the Indianapolis Colts’ inability to protect Andrew Luck. In the six seasons he played, Luck was sacked 174 times and missed all of 2017 rehabbing a shoulder injury. During his somewhat short career, he suffered a laundry list of serious injuries: a lacerated kidney, torn labrum in his shoulder, concussion, partially torn abdomen, torn rib cartilage and ankle and calf injuries.
Once instance of this that comes to mind is former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson’s 2015 draft. The Colts were coming off being blown out 45-7 in the AFC Championship. They had needs at safety and on the defensive and offensive lines. Instead of addressing any of those needs to help the defense and help Luck stay upright, Grigson drafted wide receiver Phillip Dorsett.
Dorsett was traded two years later.
After finally having a capable offensive line for the first time in his career, Luck retired before the 2019 campaign, unable to take rehabbing anymore.
Ja’Marr Chase averaged over 21 yards a catch at LSU in 2019, and there’s no doubt that he, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd can form a dangerous receiving core for the Bengals. But Burrow has to stay healthy and upright long enough to find them.
With Burrow going down with a serious knee injury just ten games into his NFL career, the Bengals should look at the Colts’ failure to protect Luck as a cautionary tale — so they do not make the same mistakes.