Cincinnati Bengals: Pre-Camp Roster Prediction
Quarterbacks (3): Andy Dalton, Jason Campbell, AJ McCarron
Not much to discuss here either. It’s a foregone conclusion that these three quarterbacks will be on the roster with very specific roles: Dalton will be the starter, Campbell will be the mentor, and McCarron is in training.
Running Backs (4): Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead, James Wilder Jr.
There’s a youth movement at the position this year. Bernard and Hill are roster locks and will spearhead the running attack. Burkhead is a hard working running back who is smart and a role model for his peers. He’ll be a backup, but he’s earned much praise from coaches and colleagues during his brief time with the team. Due to his intelligence and team-first attitude, I’m going to say he is willing and able to make an impact on special teams, which will play a factor in the decision making here. Wilder Jr. will be in a fight for the final spot with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman. Peerman will lose his spot as several other younger players, who offer more versatility such as Shawn Williams and Jayson DiManche, can take over the leadership role Peerman assumes on special teams. Vincent Rey, a captain himself, will still be with the team and is able to mentor these younger players on special teams, hence negating Peerman’s impact. Wilder Jr. is a more complete runner than Green-Ellis yet makes his living by being a physical, imposing runner. He should be able to earn those same difficult yards Green-Ellis does while offering fresher legs and an ability to break a longer run.
Wide Receivers (5): AJ Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Dane Sanzenbacher, Cobi Hamilton
The first four here are the roster locks. I expect Sanu to have a larger role in the offense this year while Sanzenbacher may work his way into games using his slot and clutch-catching abilities. Due to a lack of versatility and a roster loaded with potential, the Bengals may be forced to move on from the one-trick pony that is Brandon Tate. He’s been a solid returner for years, but lacks the ability to scare opposing teams while returning and, this year, the Bengals may have a few players who can either equal or better his production while offering versatility elsewhere. The battle will come down to Cobi Hamilton and James Wright who are polar opposites in a way. Hamilton is clearly the superior receiver having shown his abilities during practice last year. If he can show some ability on special teams, then the fifth spot should be his. Wright is the opposite. He was drafted for his special teams ability but gained little experience as a receiver in college. Upon his selection, due to Hill’s off-field concerns, I even thought for a minute that he was selected to ensure a smooth transition for Jeremy Hill to the NFL as Wright was a respected leader on Hill’s LSU team. But no team would use a sixth round pick in this capacity and I believe his selection may be evidence that the team is looking to improve the special teams unit while replacing a few veterans. If Wright can show some ability as a receiver he could win the spot over Hamilton. In the end I believe this battle may be decided by factors outside of the receiving group. Can the team can develop a special teams core without relying on the contribution of this fifth receiver? Does the team feel they have enough receiving options outside of this fifth receiver and do they need to increase the talent on special teams? I’d be very surprised to see another team sign Wright from the Bengals practice squad to their 53-man roster, but I wouldn’t be so surprised if another team did so if Hamiton were on this squad. Because of this, I believe the Bengals will keep Hamilton on the roster and place Wright on the practice squad to best ensure the retention of both players while the team evaluates its needs as the year goes on.
Tight Ends (3): Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Orson Charles
Assuming the health of the tight ends these will be the three on the roster. It’s because of Eifert’s ability to split out wide I believe the team will feel comfortable going with only five wide receivers this year; it just makes sense to emphasize a weapon like Eifert all over the field. Charles moved into the HB role last year and I believe he’ll play duel duty this year as a backup TE and HB at times. He, along with very capable blockers such as Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead, will provide enough lead blocking to negate the idea of using a roster spot for a full-time fullback. This team has emphasized versatility for some time now and this will be another example of this emphasis.
Offensive Line (9): Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Tanner Hawkinson, Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Mike Pollak, Russell Bodine, Marshall Newhouse, Trey Hopkins
The first seven players on this list are roster locks in my eyes, barring injury concerns for Clint Boling, but his rehab seems to have been going well. Newhouse is in a singular battle with Will Svitek for the backup swing tackle duties. But with Newhouse’s experience and younger age I believe he wins this battle; the team also prioritized his signing early in free agency this year, which was a rarity in a very quiet off-season. This leaves one final discussion. Will Svitek or Trey Hopkins. The Bengals made Hopkins signing, following the draft, a priority and have since given Hopkins every opportunity to shine. This battle will really come down to Tanner Hawkinson’s ability though. Hawkinson added strength this off-season but his best attribute has a least been his agility. Although he’s been given looks at guard, if he can continue to show ability at tackle also, then the team would probably prioritize further guard depth considering Boling’s injury and having tackle clearly covered. This would leave the door wide open for Hopkins to grab the ninth lineman roster spot.