The general consensus has been the Bengals are in bad need of offensive line help this offseason.
That makes NFL draft analyst Todd McShay's projection of Washington defensive lineman Vita Vea to the Bengals at No. 12 overall an intriguing one.
McShay released his NFL mock draft 3.0 on Wednesday and reversed course from an offensive lineman to a defensive lineman for the Bengals, projecting them to take the mammoth 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea.
There's a lot of time between now and the draft, so the Bengals could certainly try to address their offensive line in free agency, freeing them up to take any position at No. 12. But if the right offensive lineman doesn't fall into Cincinnati's lap, it certainly wouldn't make sense to reach for one because the Bengals certainly have other needs, including tight end, middle linebacker, and even the defensive line.
Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin didn't rule out that possibility.
"Obviously everywhere on our team can be improved. We can improve in the middle, we can improve on the edge, we can improve in the back. That’s what we’re trying to do," Austin said at the NFL scouting combine. "If there’s a big guy there that plays well, yeah, sure, we’ll take him because he’ll make our team better. I don’t know if I’d go out and just get a big guy to get a big guy. If he’s not good, it doesn’t make any sense. He’s going to be big standing on the sideline next to me. You start with the prototypical guy. Here’s what you’d like to have, but here’s what’s available and here’s what’s better."
Austin said his first priority is stopping the run, and Vea would no doubt help out there. He fits the mold of a prototypical NFL nose tackle. However, he's more versatile than that. He was used all along the defensive line in Washington. His ability to eat up blockers and routinely take on double- or triple-teams earned him the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award in 2017.
Having defensive tackle Andrew Billings on the roster could complicate this pick a bit, but it would likely come down to where the Bengals have Vea ranked on their overall board. The Bengals took Billings in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but essentially red-shirted him in 2016 after he got injured prior to the season.
Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin thinks he can improve a lot in his third season.
"I always view knee injuries in the second year back than the first year at almost every position. There are exceptions to that, believe me. Adrian Peterson was fantastic. There are freakish exceptions to that," Tobin said at the NFL combine. "From a rule of thumb, that second year they’re better than the first year. I think there’s untapped potential with Billings. We don’t believe he’s hit his ceiling. He’s going to have to go out and earn it."
But considering the Bengals like to mix and match their defensive linemen and play them in multiple packages, there could certainly be a role for Vea right away. Tobin indicated that at the combine when discussing defensive tackles.
"It’s a position we need. We need defensive tackles to play effectively for us. We need size in there. We have to stop the run. We have to get our opponent off the field. Dare I say make a turnover every now and then. This type of thing has to get better. That’s an important position to get better and that’s something we’re going to look at during the offseason."