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Bengals Training Camp Breakout Players: James Wright

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Nov 30, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver James Wright (86) runs with the ball as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Johnthan Banks (27) defends during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-13. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver James Wright came to the Cincinnati Bengals via the 2014 NFL draft along with fellow Louisiana State product, running back Jeremy Hill.  Wright’s rookie campaign was an up-and-down one.  As a seventh-round selection, few expected Wright to make any impact in his inaugural season. Actually, many fans were perplexed by a selection that was largely based on special teams prowess; Wright was primarily a special teamer at LSU while he sat behind Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. on the Tigers’ depth chart.

Nevertheless, James Wright managed to get onto the field last year as an offensive player after several wide receivers sustained various injuries.  Wright had his breakout game in Week 12 against the Buccaneers.  He caught three passes (on five targets) for 59 yards, which included a 30-yard gain in the fourth quarter of the eventual win.  Unfortunately, Wright sustained a knee injury, which kept him out for the remainder of the regular season.

Heading into 2015, the outlook for James Wright depends on one’s perspective.  On the one hand, it can be argued that Wright finds himself in a difficult position.  Although his spot on the roster is likely safe due to his special teams ability, the return of Marvin Jones presents another hurdle between Wright and the field.

With that said, the Bengals’ wide receiver depth chart is anything but set.  Jones did indeed establish himself as the front runner for the starting job opposite of dynamo A.J. Green, yet, until he proves otherwise, health will remain a concern going forward.  It’s also worth noting that a single productive season hardly ensures great production going forward.

Then there’s Mohamed Sanu.  Sanu’s outlook is about as opaque as it gets.  After showing well briefly during his rookie season, he sustained an ankle injury that ended his 2013 season.  When A.J. Green sustained an injury of his own, it was Sanu who stepped up.  He produced at a great rate in the first half of the season, though the increase in targets exposed Sanu’s issue with dropped passes.  He finished the year with nine drops (good for fourth in the NFL) and possessed one of the league’s highest drop percentages (drops/targets) at 9.2%.

Sanu then inexplicably fell off the face of the earth (field may be more appropriate) when Green returned.  His production nearly ceased to exist in the second half of the season.  As promising as Sanu seemed initially in 2014, his second half performance raises just as many concerns.

This uncertainty leaves Wright with a unique opportunity.  NFL pundits and many fans will overlook the second-year receiver when training camp kicks off later this month, but this would be a mistake.  Wright’s spot on this team is secure due to quality special teams play.  But fans and pundits alike should remember that the Bengals saw something in the reserve collegiate player, and his performance, albeit brief, in 2014 showed they may have been right about Wright.

Make no mistake about it, James Wright is a player to watch during training camp this year.  He may be ready to flourish in his second season.

Next: Defense is the Lynchpin for the Bengals

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