La'el Collins looks like perfect fit for Bengals

CINCINNATI -- In addition to the scouts and coaches taking a look at potential pro prospects at LSU's pro day Friday, a key member of the Cincinnati Bengals' offense was on the scene, too.

Andrew Whitworth, an LSU product who calls Louisiana his offseason home, was at the pro day to support the latest crop of draft hopefuls from his alma mater. Arguably Cincinnati's most vocal leader, the veteran Pro Bowl left tackle's words carry weight at Paul Brown Stadium.

In this particular case, it wasn't necessary for coaches and front-office personnel to hear him out. Whether they were there to witness Friday's workout or not, Bengals scouts and coaches already know La'el Collins can play. They know he could be a good fit for them. Anything Whitworth had to add about him would just be a bonus.

"At the end of the day, he can be an excellent guard or he can be a great tackle," Whitworth told ESPN Saints reporter Mike Triplett.

Whitworth should know. Although he's spent the bulk of his nine pro seasons at left tackle, he came to the league with some guard experience. Late in the 2013 season it paid off when left guard Clint Boling suffered a season-ending ACL injury in an early-December game at San Diego. The Bengals moved Whitworth to Boling's spot and pulled their swing tackle off the bench to play fill in for Whitworth at left tackle.

The Bengals ended up having one of their best rushing performances of the season in their next game, a key late-season win. But with Boling's year done, how would they adequately replace him?

Like his coaches, Whitworth sensed the Bengals had no other viable options to fill Boling's spot. So Whitworth volunteered to move there the rest of the season.

It was one of the more brilliant adjustments the Bengals made that year.

As for Collins, an athletic showing at the combine in February proved he ought to be a first-rounder in the draft that begins April 30. Since then, his noted versatility as both an interior and exterior blocker has made him climb even higher up the mock draft boards.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., for instance, didn't have Collins going anywhere on his first 32-team mock draft early this offseason. In his latest mock, though, Kiper had Collins getting picked 16th by the Texans. In his mock for CBSSports.com on Sunday, draft analyst Dane Brugler sent Collins to St. Louis with the 10th overall pick.

"If they can already consider you at two positions, that means they have a high opinion of you," Whitworth said. "To me, it's more of a compliment, because that means they think you're tough and strong and physical, and that you can also play on the edge."

While it's looking more unlikely that Collins will be on the board when the Bengals select at No. 21, he continues to be the ideal first-round selection if he ends up falling that far.

Not only do the Bengals value versatility in linemen, but they value mentoring among players. The LSU tie would be a natural bind for Collins and the 33-year-old Whitworth, who is on the back stretch of his career. Collins could be his eventual replacement and play alongside fellow former LSU teammates Jeremy Hill and James Wright, who were drafted by Cincinnati last year.