If Zac Taylor is to be believed, the Cincinnati Bengals will give plenty of consideration to selecting an Ohio State Buckeye in next week’s NFL draft.
The Bengals currently have five former Ohio State players on their roster, tied with the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions for the most of any team in the NFL – and that’s not even including Joe Burrow, Keandre Jones and Noah Spence, who also played at Ohio State before finishing their college careers elsewhere.
Based on what Taylor said at last week’s Ohio State coaches’ clinic, the sizable number of Buckeyes on their roster isn’t by accident.
“We’ve got tons of Buckeyes on our team. And one thing about Ohio State is whenever we go through the draft, they’ve got plenty of players that are in the first couple rounds that we want, but they’re always gonna get a longer look from us,” Taylor said during his presentation at the clinic. “Yeah, because they’re in the state of Ohio and we want guys that are here and it means something to them, but they just deserve that because all the guys that played for us from Ohio State play at (a high) level. And so every player that comes through here, we take a long look at to make sure we get the right evaluation on them and see if they should be a part of our program.”
Taylor has good reason to want more Buckeyes on his roster after this past season, when the Bengals’ contingent of former Ohio State players were a big reason why they won their first AFC championship in 33 years. Sam Hubbard, Vonn Bell and Eli Apple all made key plays in the Bengals’ AFC Championship Game win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and each of them were starters for the Bengals defense all year long, with Bell and Hubbard serving as team captains. Burrow, who spent three years at Ohio State before transferring to LSU, led the Bengals at quarterback while Isaiah Prince was also the starting right tackle for the playoff run.
“There’s not another team in all of college football that I can put three players from our team making championship-level plays at that standard on here other than Ohio State,” Taylor said while showing clips of the game-changing plays Apple, Hubbard and Bell made against the Chiefs. “There’s no other team I can do that on. So it just speaks to this place.”
Sam Hubbard is among the many former Buckeyes currently on the Bengals’ roster. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY Network)
Taylor believes the coaching those players received at Ohio State helped prepare them for the challenges of the NFL, and that will make him more inclined to want to add more Buckeyes to the roster going forward.
“They’ve already come from a place with very high standards, that championships are expected, and their football character’s through the roof,” Taylor told reporters after the clinic when asked what stands out about players from Ohio State. “Because they’ve worked hard, they care about their teammates, they love the process of practicing and meeting, all the things leading up to the game. So you really know what you’re getting when you take a Buckeye.
“We know that they’re going to be well-coached. I know a lot of the coaches here, they’ve got a history of success putting guys in the league that have success. These guys always play for championships. And so you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re getting when you take one of these players.”
“They’re always gonna get a longer look from us.”– Zac Taylor on Ohio State draft prospects
It helps that Taylor has longstanding relationships with multiple Ohio State coaches including wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, whose playing career with the Miami Dolphins overlapped with Taylor’s time as the Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach. After being introduced by Hartline at the coaches’ clinic, Taylor called Hartline “one of my all-time favorites that I’ve been around.”
Taylor has also known Ohio State head coach Ryan Day dating back to when Day was the quarterbacks coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, when Zac’s younger brother Press Taylor (now the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive coordinator) was an offensive quality control coach for the Eagles . And Zac Taylor feels like Day is someone he can trust when he talks to Day about Ohio State’s draft prospects.
“I’ve known Ryan for a while,” Taylor said. “He’s just so genuine. And so you know what you’re getting from Ryan. And you can just see why his teams have been so successful, is because I’m sure that these guys believe in him and what he’s about.”
Among the Buckeyes who are currently on the Bengals’ roster, Hubbard is the only one who was actually drafted out of Ohio State by the Bengals. Bell and Apple both came to Cincinnati by way of free agency, while Prince was claimed off waivers and Drue Chrisman was signed last year as an undrafted free agent. The Bengals have drafted three Buckeyes since 2018, but two of them – offensive linemen Billy Price and Michael Jordan – are no longer with the team.
Nevertheless, the influx of Buckeyes to Cincinnati over the past four years has been a big change from the previous 23 years, in which the Bengals drafted just two Buckeyes (Daniel Herron in 2012 and Reid Fragel in 2013) after taking both Dan Wilkinson and Jeff Cothran in the 1994 NFL draft.
As for this year’s draft, it’s unlikely the Bengals will have a shot at drafting either of the Buckeyes’ top two prospects, wide receivers Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, given that they aren’t selecting until the No. 31 overall pick following last year’s run to the Super Bowl. The Bengals aren’t in the market to draft a wide receiver early anyway, as they already have one of the NFL’s top starting trios at the position in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
Just about any of Ohio State’s other prospects in this year’s draft, however, could be options for the Bengals – who were represented by director of player personnel Duke Tobin at this year’s Ohio State pro day – if they want to bring another Buckeye to town.
Even after signing three new starting offensive linemen (La’el Collins, Alex Cappa and Ted Karras) in free agency, the Bengals should still be looking to add more talent up front through the draft, which could make either Thayer Munford or Nicholas Petit- Brother an appealing target in the middle rounds. While offensive line is the one position where former Buckeyes haven’t had much success in Cincinnati in recent years, as both Price and Jordan had short-lived tenures with the team and Prince often struggled during his stint as a starter, they hosted Munford – whose versatility to play both tackle and guard could make him a great addition for depth – on a pre-draft visit.
The Bengals could look to draft a new tight end after losing CJ Uzomah in free agency to the New York Jets, and they got a closer look at Jeremy Ruckert – another projected middle-round pick – when he attended the Bengals’ local pro day earlier this week.
On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati will likely be looking to draft a 3-technique defensive tackle, as they have not re-signed free agent Larry Ogunjobi. Haskell Garrett, who also attended the Bengals’ local pro day, could be an option for the Bengals if they wait until the third or fourth round to address that need.
Soon-to-be draft picks at Paul Brown Stadium as the #Bengals hosted players from local schools. Pictured below:
* LB Darrian Beavers (UC/Colerain)
* TE Jeremy Ruckert (Ohio State) spent a few minutes with Mike Brown
* WR Alec Pierce (UC)
* DT Haskell Garrett (Ohio State) pic.twitter.com/hNF7bN74My
—Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) April 19, 2022
The Bengals could also use some additional depth behind Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson at defensive end, which could lead them to look at former Ohio State defensive end Tyreke Smith – who said at OSU’s pro day that the Bengals were among the teams he had spoken with most – in the draft’s later rounds.
Master Teague, Antwuan Jackson and Demario McCall appear more likely to be signed as undrafted free agents than they are to be drafted, but the Bengals did their due diligence on those three Buckeyes by hosting all of them at the local pro day, too.
The Bengals hold all of their original picks in the 2022 NFL draft – which means they’ll be picking near the end of all seven rounds – as well as the New York Giants’ seventh-round pick, giving them eight opportunities to consider drafting another Buckeye next week.