Every Bengals supporter, whether a super fan or just a minimal fan, is excited for the new class of rookie Bengals.
In the Marvin Lewis era, only a handful of rookies has contributed early in their rookie season or even career. Marvin Lewis and coaching tend to have the rookies learn from the veterans and then eventually start near the end of their rookie contract. Although this has occurred in the recent years, I expect some changes to happen this year.
The Bengals haven’t had a top 10 pick since the 2011 NFL Draft when the Bengals took A.J. Green #4 and he ended up being the No. 1 receiver immediately. The Bengals (sadly) have had a top 10 pick again and they expect the player to make an immediate impact to get them back to the playoffs.
John Ross, WR
Although John Ross wasn’t the ideal pick for many Bengals fans in the first round, it’s definitely a pick that can make an impact right now. John Ross won’t be the immediate No. 2 receiver going into training camp, he’ll have to prove it and earn it. Although, Ross definitely has the opportunity to take the spot going into the season. The Bengals didn’t draft Ross in the top 10 to sit him on the bench to “learn.” They drafted him to be the playmaker he is.
If Ross proves to be healthy, he should be the No. 2 receiver. His speed and route running would make him a matchup nightmare. His presence on the field changes the scheme the defense has to play. The ability to run fly routes will force teams to keep a safety deep at all times and hopefully open up passing lanes for Andy.
Let’s say Ross does take the No. 2 spot early in camp. Expect him to have a good season. Not exactly a Pro Bowl year but, nevertheless, a productive season for a rookie.
Projected Rookie Statistics: 840 receiving yards, 7 TDs
Joe Mixon, RB
Joe Mixon is a special case, at the least. He was one of the most controversial picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. Mixon has all the talent in the world but his off-the-field concerns caused him to fall in the 2nd round to the Bengals. Some were infuriated with the pick (Let’s try not to get into that) but some were quite excited.
Mixon has the chance to come in and immediately start, due to his talent. Jeremy Hill has been the starter for the past three years and hasn’t been that productive since his rookie season. If Mixon can prove in training camp and in the preseason that he’s capable of what was seen on tape at Oklahoma, watch out NFL.
Looking at film of Mixon, he’s a mixture of Giovani Bernard and Hill in one running back. He’s got the ability to make people miss, stiff arm them and beat them with his speed. Not only does he have the amazing running ability, he’s got amazing hands and the ability to run routes like a receiver. If he’s given the keys to the starting job with the Bengals, expect him to be the superstar he has the potential to be.
Projected Rookie Statistics: 1,050 rushing yards, 9 TDs / 240 receiving yards 2 TDs
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Jordan Willis, DE
Many were surprised to see Jordan Willis fall to the 3rd round but the Bengals were ecstatic. Willis was projected to be a 1st round pick or early 2nd rounder but ended up falling all the way to the 3rd round. Willis, although a bit undersized, can straight out rush the quarterback. He finished with 11.5 sacks in his senior year for the Wild Cats, ending his college career quite productively.
According to NFL Draft Profile:
"“Excellent change of direction ability to stay in the hunt. Finishes tackles, rarely allowing runners to escape grasp. Pursuit will not stop until the whistle blows. Proficient with hands. Hands are strong and control the action. Well-schooled with excellent stack-and-shed ability. “"
Willis won’t be expected to start immediately and most likely won’t be starting unless the Bengals make a drastic change. But, expect him to take some snaps from Michael Johnson early and be an early contributor. He won’t exactly have DOY numbers but I believe his numbers will be enough considering play time. The Bengals, low-key, have a great D-Line rotation after having an atrocious one before. Adding Willis to the puzzle just makes the rotation much better and complete, keeping fresh legs all the time.
Projected Rookie Statistics: 5.0 Sacks, 18 Tackles
Carl Lawson, OLB/DE
The Bengals have rarely changed positions of players immediately after drafting them. Carl Lawson is an exception. He’s got the ability to play linebacker and defensive end. His versatility will definitely help him get playing time. Possibly more than new teammate Jordan Willis.
"“We’re going to use him in both areas. Right now, he’s working half as a linebacker and half as an end in nickel situations. I’ve always said the more you can do, the better. …”"
The Bengals are in love with Lawson and there’s good reason to be. His ability to be a versatile player who can stay back in coverage and also rush the passer will only help him. He’s exactly what they wanted to do with James Harrison in the 2013-14 season. Hopefully, he can be a success story. The only downside about Lawson is his injury history which includes him missing games due to an ACL tear and hip injuries in college. In the upcoming season, expect Lawson to get some play time early. But, probably not as much. Yet, enough to get some reps in.
Projected Rookie Statistics: 3.0 Sacks, 23 Tackles