December 18, 2014

Draft Strategy: Offensive Line

The offensive line is not slated for an overhaul like the running backs or linebackers, and it isn’t in need of a significant addition like safety or receiver. But there is still a significant move to be made: re-signing Andre Smith. If the front office cannot get that deal done, then there will be another position of need to address in free agency or the draft.

If you missed them, here are quick links to my draft strategy posts about wide receivers, safeties and cornerbacks, running backs, and linebackers.

Most fans didn’t want Andre Smith when the Bengals drafted him. His weight was concerning, and the images from the Combine were simply haunting. While some still view him as Moobs the Broken-Footed, his play last year was closer to Andre the Giant Right Tackle. I’m not calling him Willie Anderson yet, but as one of the better tackles in the game and heading into his prime years, he is worth the team’s investment.

Opposite him, Andrew Whitworth had knee problems that hampered his play. The team ran behind Smith far more often than Big Whit because it was more effective to do so. It may not be this year, but the team will need to think about drafting his eventual replacement before too long. Unless they choose to give the seemingly forgotten option of Anthony Collins a try. Collins has filled in at both tackle positions in his time as a Bengals with little loss in production. I would welcome an open competition between the two this year. Whit would likely win, but competition can’t hurt.

Moving to the interior, Kevin Zeitler is an obvious lock at right guard for years to come. At left guard, however, the Bengals have an interesting situation. Clint Boling played pretty well for the majority of the season. But the Bengals has a lot of money–$5.35M–invested in Travelle Wharton over the next two years. Will that money buy him an advantage at the starting spot? It’s sharp cheddar to pay a backup. Or will that big contract make him a cap casualty?

The Bengals have already announced that there will be an open competition between Trevor Robinson, the undrafted rookie who did a respectable job for much of the season after taking over from Jeff Faine, and Kyle Cook, the undrafted signal-caller for the past few years who struggled after returning from a knee injury. That promise of a competition means that Cook will not become a cap casualty on the cusp of free agency. But if he can’t win the job over Robinson, could the ax fall at the end of training camp? His salary could buy a quality free agent.

With the young talent on the interior, the war room is unlikely to pick a guard or center until the later rounds, if at all. If talks with Smith do not go well, they could look at taking Alabama’s D.J. Fluker. Or if they have to tag Smith, they could decide to look for a developmental project like Terron Armstead, who set the Combine abuzz by running a 4.65/40.

The front office will not invest big money in anyone but Smith this year, so high priced free agents are out of the question. They may pick up a free agent along the way, but they will likely be content with low draft picks and college free agents. How do you see it?

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