The Bengals roster is going to look remarkably different than it did in 2016 with the infusion of free agency and the draft. There will be a plethora of training camp battles for the last few spots and players who made an impact last season may draw the short stick.
QB (3): Andy Dalton, A.J. McCarron, Jeff Driskel
The only question among the quarterbacks is if they keep 3, as they did all of last year following claiming Driskel off waivers from San Francisco. They were preparing themselves for trading McCarron this offseason, but that hasn’t happened. If they decide to send Driskel to the practice squad and risk him getting claimed, it would open up a spot, possibly for the offensive line.
RB (4): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon (R), Cedric Peerman
These four are going to make the team. They will have a three-headed attack with Hill, Bernard, and Mixon, while Peerman will continue to anchor special teams. The only thing that could change this is if Bernard is not fully recovered from his ACL injury and starts the season on PUP.
WR (6): A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross (R), Josh Malone (R), Cody Core
The wide receiver group has some new names into the mix putting two second year players on the block. They have kept six in the past and I don’t expect that to change. Green, LaFell, Boyd, Ross, and Malone are going to make it. The last spot will come down to Core and Alex Erickson. They drafted three players who returned kicks and punts in the draft, and Core contributed on offense last season. This gives Core an edge and some team will benefit by claiming Erickson.
TE (4): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Ryan Hewitt
I considered Hewitt a TE for this roster, but it doesn’t matter how they see him. He signed a 3-year contract extension last season and is a lock. With the injury history of Eifert, Kroft and Uzomah are going to be on the 53 as well, unless rookie 7th round draft pick Mason Schrenk has an unbelievable preseason. He seems destined for the practice squad though.
OL (9): Cedric Ogbuehi, Clint Boling, Russell Bodine, Andre Smith, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston, J.J. Dielman (R), T.J. Johnson, Christian Westerman
The first five are the projected starters at this point, so they are all going to make it. Winston is the veteran leader, Johnson was signed this offseason, they have high hopes for second year guard Westerman, and Dielman was a 4th round pick that has starter potential. The only possible change would be that they keep a 10th lineman, like they did in ’16.
DL (8): Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow (R), Jordan Willis (R), Michael Johnson, Pat Sims, Will Clarke
The defensive line will be the most competitive battle in camp this year. They have a lot of bodies and drafted more last week. The obvious ones are Dunlap, Atkins, Billings, Glasgow, and Willis. I also included Michael Johnson, as he is still the projected starter on the right side. This leaves anywhere from 2-3 more spots. The Bengals lean toward players who have been with the club and in this case, Sims and Clarke. I think Sims’ job is much more in the air though. Wallace Gilberry, Marcus Hardison, and Brandon Thompson will get plenty of consideration. The reason for only eight spots is that Lawson is listed as a linebacker. While that may be an early down spot for the rookie, he can easily put his hand in the ground and rush the edge on third down, acting as the 9th defensive lineman.
LB (6): Vontaze Burfict, Kevin Minter, Vincent Rey, Carl Lawson (R), Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans (R)
Come cut time, I don’t see any surprises in the linebacker group. Burfuct, Minter, Rey, and Vigil are the top four returnees from last season. Lawson is a LB/DE hybrid that slipped to them in the 4th round. The last spot goes to Evans, who will have a big impact on special teams early and could potential play the Emmanuel Lamur spot in nickle sets. His ability to cover has already been lauded over from LB coach Jim Haslett.
CB (5): Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darquez Dennard, William Jackson III, Josh Shaw
The cornerback competition is one of the more interesting ones come training camp time with all of the high draft picks. Pacman and Dre will the presumptive starters at this point. They exercised Dennard’s 5th year option and hopefully he will be healthy this season. Jackson III missed his entire rookie year and he is my projection to start in the slot. This leaves two spots up in the air. I gave Shaw the first one, as he was the nickle corner last season, and has the versatility to play corner and safety. Lastly, I included Wilson in the specialist category as the 6th round selection played both offense and defense in college. He was mainly a CB, but is listed on the Bengals roster as a RB. His real potential impact though will be special teams. He is my projected return man as he score 8 touchdowns in 6 different ways during his time at Houston.
(4): George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem
Barring a Alex Erickson type training camp from an undrafted rookie, these four are the locks to be the safties on the roster. Josh Shaw also can play safety, which gives them another option.
Specialists (4): Jake Elliott (R), Kevin Huber, Clark Harris, Brandon Wilson (R)
Even though the Bengals insisted Elliott will compete with Bullock for the kicking job in camp, you don’t spend a 5th round pick on a specialist and not keep him. Huber and Harris are locks are their respective positions. Wilson, who I talked about under CBs, is the my surprise to make the 53. His versatility allows him to effect the game in all three phases.
Notable Cuts/Practice Squad: Alec Erickson, Bene Benwikere, P.J. Dawson, Jake Kumerow, Mason Schrenk (R), Marcus Hardison, Wallace Gilberry, Brandon Thompson
Currently, I see 10 of the 11 draft picks making the team, as the final pick, Mason Schrenk, on the practice squad. This would be the highest number of first year players in a long time. There will be big decisions at every position, but I see WR, OL, DL, and CB as the most competitive spots. Also, the choice to keep 2 or 3 quarterbacks will impact the entire roster. Obviously, this could all be thrown up in smoke with injuries. Last year, the Bengals lost three impact players to IR and Eifert was on PUP to start the season opening up four spots.