By 4:00 PM this past Saturday, each of the 32 NFL teams were down to 53 players on their roster. As per usual, more shuffling ensued later. Teams went through each other’s trimmings, upgrading positions where they could, moving other players to clear space, and assembling their practice squads. For the most part, as of Tuesday, teams will open the season with the players they have signed now.
With the cloud of dust surrounding the cut period cleared, the Bengals’ roster appears to be in pretty good shape. This is the first article of a two-part breakdown, going through the entire roster by position group.
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Roster: Andy Dalton, A.J. McCarron
Reserve/Injured: Jeff Driskel
With Dalton and McCarron respectively locked into the starting and backup roles, and no fourth quarterback to compete with Driskel, there wasn’t a lot to watch here. Dalton moved the offense effectively in his last time out against the Redskins, McCarron’s performance over the last two preseason games was sufficient; the lack of a touchdown over 43 pass attempts was disappointing, but the blame for that doesn’t fall squarely on him.
Driskel, if nothing else, was the most interesting quarterback to watch. In his one drive against the Redskins’ reserve defense, he looked like he was operating an entirely different offense. He executed a read-option run play five times, four for positive gains, three for first downs.
Dalton and McCarron aren’t immobile quarterbacks, but the play-calling for Driskel was clearly tailored to him. It’s telling in a couple ways: for one, it would appear that Driskel isn’t fully capable of running the traditional offense, but the coaches preferred making a game plan for him over finding another third quarterback. With Driskel now on injured reserve but a possible candidate to return this season, we’ll see if that remains the case.
Roster: Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon
Practice Squad: Jarveon Williams
Reserve/Injured: Tra Carson, Cedric Peerman
Mixon, a second-round rookie, was a lock to make this roster. Hill and Bernard were ostensibly going to make it barring a trade deal involving either of them.
As much potential as Mixon has, he still made a couple of rookie mistakes in the preseason, including fumbling a handoff from Dalton in Washington that led to a turnover. He has the athletic ability to become a feature back in this offense, but it makes sense to let him earn that role down the stretch rather than immediately clear out the veteran help in front of him.
With injuries having ended the seasons of Carson and Peerman, the fourth preseason game was essentially the Jarveon Williams show. Williams’ preseason performance was a mixed bag – against Washington, he looked like a bigger, slower runner than his 5’9″, 205-pound listing would indicate. He earned 159 yards on 32 touches against the Colts, but Indy’s in year one of a new front office and has among the shallowest rosters in the NFL, especially on defense.
Still, if he’s ever brought up, he’ll likely only be asked to eat time and carries against gassed defenses late in games. For what that requires, he’ll be enough.
Roster: Ryan Hewitt, Cethan Carter
It’s interesting that the Bengals actually designate Hewitt and Carter as H-backs (H-B) on their roster (teams usually aren’t so technical in public listings). While filling the role of a fullback on most teams, the position is also asked to fill a number of tight end responsibilities – as indicated by their ‘tight end’ header on the official depth chart.
Hewitt, the starting H-back in Cincinnati since going undrafted in 2014, will reprise his role in 2017. Carter, seen as a longshot to make the roster, is one of two 2017 undrafted free agents to do so.
A blocking tight end from Nebraska, Carter logged five rushing attempts and 59 receptions over 30 college games, totaling five touchdowns and 826 yards from scrimmage. At 6’3″ and 241, he fits the physical prototype of an H-back, has a high ceiling and has already shown the blocking skills and physicality to contribute down-to-down. If he can avoid the injury bug, he has a chance to become a staple of the Bengals’ offense.
Roster: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, John Ross, Josh Malone
Practice Squad: Kermit Whitfield
Reserve/Injured: Jake Kumerow
Green, LaFell and Boyd are the veteran starters here, with Boyd being the slot guy. Core is the spiritual successor to LaFell, even if he’s not listed as the direct backup. Listed at an identical 6’3″ and 210, neither player is a dynamic threat but both do the little things well. they’re able run blockers, have some box-out ability, and are liked by coaches. Core is also a quality special teams contributor, as most reserve receivers have to be.
Most of what can be said about LaFell and Core holds true for Green and 2017 fourth-round pick Malone. Malone, a top-five receiver prospect going into college, is the closest match to Green’s size/speed combination on the roster. With Green having missed six games in 2016 and heading into his 7th season, Malone is insurance now and a solid developmental prospect down the line.
With Erickson making the roster as a kick returner, 2017 first-round pick John Ross exists in a place on the roster all his own. While the term ‘gadget player’ would unfairly minimize Ross’ skill set as a receiver, he isn’t likely to supplant Green, LaFell or Boyd in the rotation because he isn’t similar to any of them. Still, Ross is among the fastest players in the league, and the Bengals will find a way to feed him the ball. If it weren’t for durability concerns, he could definitely be on the depth chart as a kick returner.
Roster: Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
Reserve/Injured: Mason Schreck
With only four tight ends heading into the preseason and Schreck requiring an IR designation, there was once again no competition for a roster spot here.
Entering a contract year in 2017, a number of eyes around the league will be closely watching Tyler Eifert. A first-round pick in 2013, Eifert was a breakout star in 2015 and can dynamically improve the Bengals’ offense when healthy. Having yet to play through a full 16-game season, Eifert stands to gain a lot from the Bengals or another NFL team if he stay ahead of the injury bug.
Kroft and Uzomah, both Cincinnati picks from the 2015 draft, provide the Bengals’ offense with a full lineup of big bodies at the position. While Uzomah is a plus run-blocker and Kroft is a sufficient one, neither have produced much as pass-catchers in Eifert’s absences. This is subject to change with both players only heading into their third year, but with any luck Eifert will stay on the field and it won’t matter.
Roster: Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Andre Smith
Practice Squad: Kent Perkins
Ogbuehi and Fisher are both recent first-round picks that should have their best football ahead of them. Thankfully for the Bengals, both performed well enough in the preseason to earn their starting gigs. Both will take some lumps over the season, but at this point in their development there shouldn’t be an egregious amount.
Smith, up until recently listed as a guard by the team’s official site, proved to be the best swing tackle option. A former starter at right tackle before a brief stint with the Vikings, Smith is as good of a veteran backup option as the Bengals could ask for.
Roster: Clint Boling, Trey Hopkins, Christian Westerman, Alex Redmond
Practice Squad: Cole Toner
Boling, now the longest-tenured lineman on the Bengals, should also be the most consistent one this year. After playing through injury for a majority of 2016, he should be an anchor at the left guard spot this season.
Hopkins, a player who’s stuck on the roster for potential over production for several years now, saw practice snaps at a number of positions in camp. Even if he were to stumble as a starting right guard, he’s capable of spot starting at any position along the line if injuries require it.
Westerman, a 2016 fifth-round pick, had a chance to win the starting right guard spot going into camp. It’s conceivable that he has another shot at it sometime during the 2017 season, and certainly down the line. Redmond appears more likely to be a career backup, but he isn’t completely without upside.
Toner, a pickup from the Arizona Cardinals after final cuts, was a surprising omission from their final roster. A 2016 fifth-round pick, Toner has split time along the interior line in the offseason. If his name is ever called, it’s likely to be mentioned that he went to Harvard.
Roster: Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson
Heading into a contract year, Bodine has to play substantially better in 2017 than he has in past years with the Bengals if he wants to continue being a starter in the NFL. In three years of holding the position for Cincinnati, he’s been available for nearly every snap but hasn’t played sufficiently. While he’s benefited from a patient and/or stubborn front office, he’s unlikely to be retained if he appears to hold back a retooling starting line.
Aside from Johnson, Trey Hopkins is capable of taking snaps at center. Toner, who took snaps at center in OTAs for the Cardinals, could end up at the position long-term if he sticks.
–Andy Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32