It felt like a foregone conclusion that the Cincinnati Bengals would spend the fifth overall pick on Penei Sewell out of Oregon. After all, the Bengals had an atrocious offensive line the season before that led to Joe Burrow getting injured and missing the final six games of his rookie year.
Instead, the Bengals went in a different direction, selecting Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth overall pick. The selection of Chase was likely because he played with Joe Burrow at LSU during that magical 2019 season and they hoped it’d put this offense over the top.
For the months that followed, however, the Bengals were heavily criticized for passing on Sewell and going with Chase instead. Receiver wasn’t a position of need for Cincinnati and that was the main criticism there.
Chase has struggled with drops in the preseason and it’s been frustrating, to say the least. Fortunately for them, Sewell hasn’t looked much better and had the Bengals spent their first-round pick on him, their offensive line wouldn’t be much better off than it was a season ago.
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports handed out grades to first-round rookies and both Chase and Sewell landed in the disappointing tier. Chase received a D+ from Trapasso while Sewell ended up with a D.
Bengals wouldn’t be any better had they drafted Penei Sewell over Ja’Marr Chase
Here’s what Trapasso said about Chase:
"Three drops on three targets against the Washington Football team. That’s the headline with Chase. And it’s an ugly one. I’m, of course, not ready to bury him yet. Not even remotely close. Chase’s hands were not a problem at LSU. In fact, he dominated in traffic in that epic 2019 of his. Chase has gotten open on a handful of the 10 routes he’s run. His lone catch game on a play I hope the Bengals use with Chase frequently — a quick screen. He’s A.J. Brown-esque after the catch."
Trapasso had this to say about Sewell:
"Every former NFL offensive lineman turned analyst will tell you — flipping from left tackle to right tackle (or vice versa) is a challenge. Like being right-handed and trying to write with your left. And Sewell has looked uncomfortable at right tackle. There’s no way around it. The depth in his kick slide has been almost non-existent. He hasn’t controlled blockers with power and longer rushers have gotten into his frame and put him on roller skates. The “wins” for Sewell have been few and far between. Not playing football in a year then joining the NFL to play a new position has made for a doubly difficult transition for the large, inherently gifted blocker."
Chase’s biggest problem to this point has been that he can’t hold onto the football, which is a very fixable problem. He also has yet to catch a pass from Joe Burrow, as the Bengals’ QB1 hasn’t taken a snap in the preseason yet. Chase also opted out last year so he’s still shaking off the rust that collected while he was preparing for the NFL Draft.
Sewell’s problem, however, is a little more complex. As the blurb above noted, Sewell joined the Lions with the expectation that he’d be their right tackle this year despite playing left tackle at Oregon and, as Trapasso mentioned, it hasn’t gone well for Sewell.
While Chase’s drops are frustrating, it’s an easier problem to fix than teaching a left tackle how to effectively play right tackle.
It made sense for the Bengals to be criticized for not taking Sewell but right now, they might be relieved they didn’t take him.