The Cincinnati Bengals are an unusual team in this year's NFL draft in that they are in the top-5 and don't need a quarterback. All discussion surrounding the draft has been centered around the crop of five quarterbacks likely to go in the first 10 picks. That leaves the Bengals as the forgotten man at No. 5 overall.
Part of this is because it's Cincinnati and the general population would prefer to dissect the New York Jets taking their umpteenth swing at a franchise quarterback rather than what that team in Ohio is going to do. But the biggest reason Bengals coverage has been relatively limited this draft season is because they really only have one of two choices, which makes for little intrigue. Either they take the best offensive line prospect in the draft and the only one worth taking in the first half of the event who goes by the name of Penei Sewell, or they take Joe Burrow's favorite college wideout Ja'Marr Chase.
That's basically it. Just about every elite positional prospect will be there at No. 5 since the top-three picks are guaranteed to be quarterbacks and the Falcons could very well pick another at No. 4 or trade down with a team that will do the same. If the Bengals want to bolster the league's worst offensive line, Sewell is the only choice. If they would rather give Burrow more talent, it would be asinine to take anyone other than Chase, even if DeVonta Smith and Kyle Pitts are on the same tier of prospect and potential.
From an outside perspective, it seems like picking Sewell would be the wise move. It doesn't matter how many weapons Burrow has at his disposal if he can't get the ball out before he's sacked. I just don't think it's as serious as Mike Tannebaum claims it is when he went on Key, Jay, and Zubin this morning to proclaim the franchise must disband if they chose to pass on the best tackle prospect in the draft.
Obviously it's a bit of dramatic flair for the television masses, but come on. It wouldn't be football malpractice for the Bengals to pass on Sewell. Yes, Burrow was sacked on an astounding seven percent of his dropbacks last year for a total of 32 sacks in 10 games. Yes, that did pretty much directly lead to Burrow's ACL tear. Yes, those offensive linemen were godawful and the Bengals need both an overhaul and influx of talent in the worst way possible.
I would ask, however, that you consider this, reader: the only good offensive lineman on the team last year was Jonah Williams, 2019 first-round pick and starting left tackle. If a team is going to take a tackle in the first five picks, he better be an elite left tackle because good right tackles can be found far easier. Williams is already a good left tackle and is only 23-years-old. There is an opportunity cost to be examined here if Cincy takes Sewell and has themselves two pretty good tackles who could become very good but it's unclear who will be on which side and if they will succeed there.
Operating under the correct assumption that Williams is a good enough left tackle at this stage, that means the Bengals' real issues will come on the rest of the line, both interior and RT. Good players can be found at those positions later in the draft. One does not need a top-5 pick to find a center who can hold down the fort for years to come.
Taking all that into consideration, selecting Chase instead doesn't sound like a bad idea. Elite left tackles are harder to come by than elite wide receivers, but Sewell is a bit of a project prospect. It's not like they'd be passing on Joe Thomas, as far as we know at this point. Chase would give Cincinnati an elite receiving corps and has the skillset to become a top-five receiver one day, an invaluable commodity for a team hoping to bring along a young quarterback. It also (perhaps most importantly) would keep Burrow a happy man. How mad could he be after getting sacked 40 times next year if the Bengals took his best college wideout over a tackle, which is reportedly what Burrow wants anyway?
The biggest flaw in the above explanation is that I assume Cincinnati can draft well in the middle rounds, which history suggests is not the case, especially when it comes to offensive linemen. But it's all to say this isn't as open and shut as Tannebaum would like you to believe. There is nuance. Picking Chase would definitely be the fun option, and picking Sewell would go a long way towards helping Burrow stay healthy and upright. But given the players we're talking about, there just isn't a way for the Bengals to screw this up so monumentally that they fold.