Back on May 2nd, I released my first projection at the 53-man roster. As the Bengals have gone through mini-camp, OTAs, and now training camp, one thing is clear. For the first time in a few years, the cuts that Duke Tobin, Marvin Lewis, and Mike Brown will have to make will be extremely difficult. The competition this year is intensified with battles at every position. While it stings to have players tabbed by other clubs, which certainly looks like it will happen, it shows the depth at the 2017 Bengals have. Here is the 53-man projection heading into preseason game number two.
QB (3): Andy Dalton, A.J. McCarron, Jeff Driskel
The only question is whether or not they decide to keep 2 of 3 quarterbacks. In the past, it has always been two. However, after the last cuts a season ago, they claimed Driskel and kept him on the 53 all year. My belief is that they want him to be Andy’s backup when McCarron is traded or heads somewhere in free agency. However, they could easily try to get Driskel on the PS.
RB (5): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon (R), Ryan Hewitt, Cedric Peerman
Hill, Bernard, and rookie sensation Mixon are no-brainers. I believe Hewitt is a lock as the only true fullback on the roster, as well as two years left on his deal. Although Ced Peerman was a pro-bowler and one of the leaders on special teams, Tra Carson’s making things interesting. But with the loss of Whitworth and Domata Peko in the offseason, Peerman’s veteran presence in the locker room cannot be replaced.
WR (7): A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, John Ross (R), Josh Malone (R), Alex Erickson
They are going to keep six, without question, and with Erickson’s consistency on special teams, they will do whatever they can to keep seven. Cody Core is so highly thought of and Josh Malone’s ceiling and 4th round draft status make them locks. Erickson is the only wildcard in this group.
TE (3): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
The injury to Uzomah has placed Tyler Kroft’s spot as Tyler Eifert’s backup in stone. If the injury is serious enough to keep Uzomah out into the regular season, they could place him on IR-subject to return, and use Hewitt as the third tight end to start the year. This would open up another a spot somewhere else, like on the defensive line, secondary, or at wide receiver.
OL (9): Jake Fisher, Andre Smith, Russell Bodine, Clint Boling, Cedric Ogbuehi, Trey Hopkins, Eric Winston, Christian Westerman, T.J. Johnson
While the offensive line is certainly the biggest question mark on the club, they have a clear top seven. Fisher, Bodine, Boling, and Ogbuehi will be starters along with either Smith, or Hopkins. Winston is the first backup at both tackle spots which makes him a lock. The final two spots will be difficult though. T.J. Johnson and Christian Westerman, a 5th round pick a year ago with potential, have the upper hand, but with the Bengals tendency to keep their draft picks, 2017 5th round pick J.J. Dielman could take a spot.
DL (8): Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Pat Sims, Jordan Willis (R), Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow (R), Michael Johnson, Chris Smith
The toughest decisions when it comes to cuts will be on the defensive line. Much like former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Paul Guenther likes to rotate the line to keep them fresh. Dunlap, Atkins, Sims, Willis, and Billings will be a part of that. Michael Johnson, the “starting right DE” at the time should be a lock, but other guys are making it difficult. Chris Smith, who was traded for in the offseason after receiving praise of former OL Andrew Whitworth, looked great in preseason game one and Ryan Glasgow was a 4th round pick and was quietly disruptive against Tampa Bay. No one will be suprised if Brandon Thompson, Will Clarke, or DeShawn Williams makes the final cut though. This team is REALLY deep on the defensive line.
LB (6): Nick Vigil, Kevin Minter, Vontaze Burfict, Vinny Rey, Carl Lawson (R), Jordan Evans (R)
In my opinion, the linebackers are almost set. Vigil, Minter, and Burfict are the starters and Vinny Rey is an irreplaceable backup at all three spots. Carl Lawson allows them to keep eight on the defensive line with his 3rd down pass rush ability, and may have the highest ceiling of any young player on the defense. 6th round pick Jordan Evans was all over the field against Tampa and will be a key contributor on special teams, but he isn’t a lock yet with P.J. Dawson, and Marquis Flowers right behind him. Hardy Nickerson Jr, and Brandon Bell are popular PS candidates.
CB (5): Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson III, Josh Shaw, KeiVarae Russell
With PacMan suspended for game one, this opens up a spot for someone in the secondary. Kirkpatrick is obviously starting on the outside, with William Jackson most likely occupying the other side against Baltimore. Darqueze Dennard will be the nickle corner, but that is where things get interesting. There are two more spots for week one with three players competing. Shaw and Russell have the experience here, which leaves Bene Benwikere as the odd man out.
S (4): George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem
The back end of the secondary probably has the least question marks of any position on the 53. Iloka and Williams will start, with Smith and Fejedelem backing them up. Iloka started practicing this week after getting injured on day three on training camp.
Specialist (3): Kevin Huber, Clark Harris, Jake Elliott
Huber and Harris are cemented in their spots as the punter and long-snapper, respectively. The kicker spot is somewhat more interesting. Rookie Jake Elliott and Randy Bullock have been toe-to-toe, pun intended, all camp, but the edge goes to Elliott, as the Bengals used a 5th round pick on him.
Ideal Practice Squad: RB Tra Carson, WR Alonzo Russell, WR Kermit Whitfield, TE Mason Schrenk, OG, J.J. Dielman, OL Alex Redmond, DT DeShawn Williams, DL Ryan Brown, LB Hardy Nickerson Jr, LB Brandon Bell
NFI: Brandon Wilson