Cincinnati Bengals: 6 bold predictions for the 2021 rookie class

Jack Lane
Ja'Marr Chase (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Ja'Marr Chase (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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Cincinnati Bengals
Joseph Ossai. Mandatory Credit: Texas won 41-34. Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports /

Cincinnati Bengals Rookie Class Bold Predictions

Joseph Ossai will lead the Bengals in sacks as a rookie.

As bad as the Bengals’ offensive line was last year, the pass rush was also woefully inadequate and only got weaker with the offseason departure of Carl Lawson. The Bengals wisely addressed the need in the draft, getting one of the steals of the second day in Texas rusher Joseph Ossai in round three.

Ossai likely cannot replace Lawson from day one, but he brings the same athletic dynamism to the edge rusher position that Lawson gave the Bengals last season. Ossai’s strengths differ from Lawson’s—Ossai wins with speed versus Lawson’s raw power—but both provide much more to the defense as a pass rusher instead of a run stopper.

As a rookie, the Bengals will likely utilize Ossai’s strengths as a dynamic pass rusher while developing his early-down run-stopping skills, meaning Ossai will play almost all of his snaps on primarily passing downs. Being placed in that position means Ossai will likely have the green light to attack his matchup and go straight for the quarterback, giving him ample opportunities to rack up sacks much like Lawson had last season.

In addition to prioritizing Ossai’s strengths, the Bengals supplemented the defensive line in free agency and the draft. The highlight of the free agency class was former Saints’ defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who received a 4-year, $60 million deal to assume the role of primary pass rusher. Hendrickson will be joined on the front line by former Brown Larry Ogunjobi, with Ogunjobi taking most of his reps at the 3-technique defensive tackle position.

During the draft, the Bengals continued to augment the defensive line, starting with Ossai in round three, then adding two fourth-rounders in Tulane defensive end (and Senior Bowl standout) Cameron Sample and LSU nose tackle Tyler Shelvin. The Bengals dipped once more into the D-line well by spending their last pick on Kansas State defensive end Wyatt Hubert, though Hubert projects primarily as a special teams player if he makes the roster.

With this talent infusion on the defensive line, Ossai will not be the center of attention on pass rush downs. Hendrickson, with 13.5 sacks, will command significant blocking from opposing defenses, while Bengals veteran Sam Hubbard should continue finding success stunting inside on pass-rushing downs. Having an EDGE1 opposite him and significant inside help with Hubbard and D.J. Reader, Ossai will likely find himself with a number of clean lanes to the quarterback.

Though Ossai likely won’t reach double-digit sack totals this year, his dynamism off the edge will be a welcome addition to the Bengals’ line this season. Many of the Bengals’ sacks will come by committee, and it would not be surprising to see Ossai be the leader of that committee, even as a rookie.

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