With the 77th and 78th picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Sam Hubbard from Ohio State and Malik Jefferson from Texas.
Great! Hubbard is a defensive end that adds depth to a sneaky area of need, who some projected to come off the board in the second round. And Jefferson can add much-needed athleticism to the linebacker corps. The Bengals may have taken significant steps to upgrade their defense this weekend, which was a major objective coming into the draft.
But I can't help but wonder what would've happened had the Steelers not traded up to the 76th spot to pick Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Would the Bengals have taken him? Well, they showed interest in Rudolph during the pre-draft process, and with two third round picks, including the 78th that they trade up to get, it would have made total sense for the Bengals to do exactly what every other team in the AFC North did in the early rounds, which would've been to use the draft to add their potential quarterbacks of the future.
The Steelers now have the possible heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger in Rudolph, who at 6' 5"and 235 pounds, resembles Roethliserger in build, and who in any other year, might have been taken much, much higher. Some wondered if Rudolph could sneak into the bottom end of the first round, and with the Giants taking Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick in the draft, many speculated that they might take Rudolph with the second selection in round two.
Meanwhile, the Browns have their guy in Baker Mayfield, easily one of the most intriguing quarterback prospects ever, and the Ravens now have Joe Flacco's potential successor in Lamar Jackson, meaning that the team that's been the NFL's most boring in recent years have added a dose of excitement by adding college football's most electric player.
The Bengals have Andy Dalton firmly entrenched as their starter, of course, but they also have a scenario down the road where they'll have to decide whether or not to extend his deal, which will possibly involve paying him far more than he's worth as the market for QB contracts continues to reset. It will be a lot easier to allow Andy to walk if they have his replacement in place. You wonder if that could've been Rudolph.
They could, obviously, take a quarterback on day three of the draft, which is what they did in the fifth round with AJ McCarron in 2014. My buddy James Rapien made this point on air the other day, and I'll steal it: I'd rather the Bengals not take a QB on Saturday, because it'd be a built-in excuse to not take one early next year, when Dalton's long-term status becomes a more pressing issue.
The Bengals have had a productive draft, and as I wrote for The Athletic, overall a good offseason. The team they have now is better than the one that finished last year 7-9, and I really don't think the playoffs are out of the question. But it's interesting how everyone else in their division has addressed the future of the sport's most important position, even if each did it out of necessity. Maybe the Bengals didn't need to take a quarterback early in this year's draft, but thanks to their arch-nemesis, we'll never know if they would have.