The Cincinnati Bengals Would've Won Super Bowl LVI Had They Managed To Execute This Revolutionary NFL Draft Strategy

Gregory Shamus. Getty Images.

With the new NFL season so close, thought I'd look back on something you, reader/Bengals fan, will hopefully find interesting. 

Over a year ago, I proposed the most ridiculous-but-awesome 2021 NFL Draft strategy. The Cincinnati Bengals were coming off another miserable season in which rookie QB Joe Burrow got pummeled into oblivion. After failing to address the offensive line in adequate fashion during free agency, I feared for his future and felt like Cincinnati was on the brink of squandering a precious season of Burrow's first contract. Exacerbating everything was the fact that the No. 1 overall pick's maiden pro campaign got cut short by a catastrophic knee injury that I don’t think anyone fully appreciates the severity of to this day. It wasn't just a torn ACL. It was a torn MCL on top of "other structural issues."

Cincinnati had the fifth overall pick in last year's draft but faced a legitimate dilemma. Do you take one of the most obvious, can’t-miss offensive lineman prospects in several years in Penei Sewell to protect Burrow? Or do you reunite Joey B with his college teammate, Ja’Marr Chase, and build on their historic production at LSU, hoping it translates to the pros? Cincinnati went the latter route.

At the time, there was also a chance that Florida tight end Kyle Pitts — maybe, no exaggeration, the best prospect at his position of all-time — could’ve been on the board at No. 5. Although the Atlanta Falcons would go on to select him fourth overall, there was real buzz that the Falcons might finally move off Matt Ryan and draft a QB early.

My radical proposal featured the Bengals trading for the rights to the sixth AND seventh overall picks in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Ja’Marr Chase, Penei Sewell and Kyle Pitts. Atlanta drafted Pitts at No. 4, but since the premise of this piece is of the alternate historical variety, let’s play along with a different scenario. Even though, no, I wouldn't trade the glorious run to Super Bowl LVI for anything. Just follow me down this rabbit hole.

Say the same three first picks were made atop last year's draft (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance). Take into account what happened this past season. Knowing what they know now, would Atlanta really not have drafted Mac Jones instead of Pitts? The Falcons posted a 7-10 record, wound up trading Matty Ice to Indianapolis anyway, and now their 2022 QB depth chart is headlined by Marcus Mariota and rookie third-rounder Desmond Ridder. You can at least make the argument that Mac Jones would’ve been the better pick. So, let’s say Jones was the direction Atlanta chose to go, creating the opening for Cincinnati to pull off this insane Chase-Sewell-Pitts trifecta.

I based the trades off of the classic Jimmy Johnson value chart (h/t Drafttek), and even grossly overpaid in both of the deals to make them work. I tested them out in The Draft Network and PFF mock draft simulators at the time. Both accepted them. So don’t completely shoot the messenger here.

The assets sacrificed were as follows, with trade chart values in parentheses:

  • Bengals receive: 6th overall pick (1600) and rights to Penei Sewell
  • Miami Dolphins receive: 2nd round, 38th pick (520); 6th round, 202nd pick (11)
    • 1st-round pick in 2022 (700)
    • 2nd-round pick in 2022 (310)
    • 2nd-round pick in 2023 (276)

  • Bengals receive: 7th overall pick (1500) and rights to Kyle Pitts
  • Detroit Lions receive: 3rd round, 69th pick (245) 5th round, 149th pick (32) 6th round, 190th pick (15)
    • 3rd-round pick in 2022 (145)
    • 1st-round pick in 2023 (600)
    • 3rd-round pick in 2023 (126)
    • 1st-round pick in 2024 (590)


It's quite fun to consider, especially when you think about the team that beat the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. 

The Los Angeles Rams give fewer than zero fucks about draft picks and cash in those premium assets on an annual basis for established veterans. In this hypothetical situation, Cincinnati is instead acquiring three potential franchise cornerstones all at once, all on rookie contracts.

I even went through the trouble of doing seven-round mocks for all three teams involved in these blockbuster trades. I’m not proud of ALL the picks. However, I did have the Bengals drafting Cam Sample in the fourth round, which they wound up doing. Also had cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu AND defensive tackle Alim McNeill to Detroit. You guessed it, the Lions drafted both of them. Even had Davis Mills going to the Motor City. Pretty sure he could've beaten out Jared Goff by now for the starting gig.

Anyway, I’d like to make one amendment to my original trades in retrospect: Rather than giving up the 149th pick in Round 5 (ultimately, the rights to placekicking extraordinaire Evan McPherson), the Bengals instead trade the 139th pick in Round 4 to the Lions (if memory serves, comp picks weren’t released when I first wrote my piece). Or you can just pretend Cincinnati selected McPherson several picks earlier instead of Trey Hill.

In exchange for Pitts and Sewell — and, let’s be honest, probably a Super Bowl — here's an overview of the players/picks the Bengals would be without:

  • From 2021: No Jackson Carman (OL), Joseph Ossai (EDGE), D’Ante Smith (OL), Trey Hill (C), or Chris Evans (RB)
  • From 2022: No Daxton Hill (DB), Cam Taylor-Britt (CB) or Zachary Carter (DL)
  • From 2023: No 1st- or 3rd-round picks
  • From 2024: No 1st-round pick

What would Cincinnati really have been missing in 2021 from this group? As it turns out, very little. Carman has been hot garbage and unable to hack it at any position on the offensive line. Complete liability who looks like a bad second-round pick. Penciled in now as a hopeful left guard starter almost by default. Edge defender Joseph Ossai flashed in preseason but missed the entire year due to injury. D’Ante Smith is a swing tackle. Not pushing for a starting spot whatsoever. Trey Hill is a backup center, and Chris Evans, though talented, was a third-string tailback and couldn’t beat out (all due respect to him) Samaje Perine for more snaps.

So let’s break down 2022’s subtractions. Dax Hill is currently behind Vonn Bell, Jessie Bates and Mike Hilton for any significant/starting role he’d take on at safety or slot corner. CTB is a decent competitor for Eli Apple’s CB2 spot, but expecting a Day 2 pick to unseat an incumbent starter is somewhat of a leap. Zachary Carter is a depth piece on the defensive line and likely won’t contribute much of consequence this year.

If the Bengals had acquired the Chase-Sewell-Pitts trio, here’s what their roster would more or less look like at the moment, assuming 2022 free agency/draft played out the same way (it wouldn't have, I'm aware):


  • LT - Jonah Williams-Devin Cochran (or free agent) / LG - Penei Sewell-Cordell Volson
  • C - Ted Karras-Ben Brown
  • RG - Alex Cappa-Hakeem Adeniji / RT - La’el Collins-Isaiah Prince
  • QB - Joe Burrow-Brandon Allen / RB - Joe Mixon-Samaje Perine-Trayveon Williams
  • WR1 - Ja’Marr Chase-Tee Higgins-Tyler Boyd / WR2 - Stanley Morgan Jr.-Trent Taylor-Mike Thomas
  • TE - Kyle Pitts-Hayden Hurst-Drew Sample-Thaddeus Moss


  • DE1 - Trey Hendrickson-Khalid Kareem-Jeffrey Gunter
  • DE2 - Sam Hubbard-Cam Sample-Wyatt Hubert-Noah Spence
  • DT - DJ Reader-BJ Hill-Josh Tupou-Tyler Shelvin
  • LB - Logan Wilson-Germaine Pratt-Akeem Davis-Gaither-Markus Bailey-Joe Bachie
  • CB - Chidobe Awuzie-Eli Apple-Mike Hilton-Tre Flowers-John Brannon (or free agent)
  • S - Jessie Bates-Vonn Bell-Tycen Anderson-Brandon Wilson


  • K - Evan McPherson
  • P - Kevin Huber
  • LS - Clark Harris

Quick tidbits on Chase, Sewell and Pitts from their age-21 seasons:

  • Ja'Marr Chase was 4th in the NFL in receiving yards (1,455) and 3rd in TD catches (13) in 2021.
  • Penei Sewell surrendered only one sack and five hurries in pass protection in his final eight starts last season after moving from left to right tackle, per PFF.
  • Kyle Pitts was only the second rookie tight end in NFL history to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving.
Giphy Images.

The cap room freed up from not having all those extra players would afford more wiggle room for Jessie Bates’ multi-year extension. If the Bates thing didn’t work out, to fortify the secondary for 2022 in lieu of draftees Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt, Cincinnati could’ve invested in free agents. They’d have had (in my loosest estimation possible, NGL I didn't double-check this) ~$12 million extra in cap space for a total of ~$27 million. 


Here’s who else they could’ve afforded in the defensive backfield. I featured safeties in the event they'd let Bates walk, as opposed to franchise-tagging him like they did in real life. These numbers are from actual contracts signed this offseason, their 2022 cap hits and the outs to hush up all of you worried about (GASP!) being able to re-sign everyone:

  • CB J.C. Jackson ($8M), 5-year deal with an out after Year 3
  • CB Ahkello Weatherspoon ($2.5M), 1-year deal
  • CB Casey Hayward ($4M), 1-year deal
  • DB/S Tyrann Mathieu ($3.4M), 3-year deal, No dead cap for pre-Year 3 release
  • S Marcus Maye ($2.6M), out after Year 2
  • S Jordan Whitehead ($4.2M), out after Year 1

It’s incredible that Cincinnati ran all the way to Super Bowl LVI with the team that was (and largely still is) in place. Even wilder how much of a massive Year 2 jump Burrow made coming off a devastating injury. Imagine if Joe Brr was making those strides with a superior blocker like Sewell protecting him at either right tackle or guard, and if Kyle Fucking Pitts was his TE1 to go with the wide receiver group of Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. Dear LORD! The possibilities!! 

I knew at the time I wrote the Bengals 2021 draft piece that what I laid out in painstaking detail would never happen. They're arguably in a better position for the long haul for not pulling off my daring draft day maneuver. Nevertheless, makes you think. I’m still thrilled with where this team is headed going into 2022. The Super Bowl window is wide-open, contrary to what many doubters and haters on the Internet, in the media, et al. would have you believe. The Cincinnati Bengals are here to stay, baby. Inject all of it into my veins.

Cincinnati faithful, sound off in the comments as to whether you'd rather have the Chase-Sewell-Pitts trio in an alternate timeline and a likely Super Bowl in tow already, or if you're confident the current course will lead to at least one Lombardi Trophy in the near future.

Twitter @MattFitz_gerald for more on the Bengals and other sports