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Which Bengals Rookie WRs Will Make the Roster?

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TALLAHASSEE OCTOBER 7: Wide receiver Auden Tate #18 of the Florida State Seminoles catches a pass for a touchdown over defensive back Dee Delaney #3 of the Miami Hurricanes during the second half of an NCAA football game at Doak S. Campbell Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
TALLAHASSEE OCTOBER 7: Wide receiver Auden Tate #18 of the Florida State Seminoles catches a pass for a touchdown over defensive back Dee Delaney #3 of the Miami Hurricanes during the second half of an NCAA football game at Doak S. Campbell Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images) /
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Now that the NFL Draft has passed, a hard reality sets in. Not all these guys will make the team. Which of the WRs the Bengals acquired will make the cut?

The Cincinnati Bengals added four new rookie wide receivers recently via the draft and rookie free agency. While wide receiver was apparently not a priority for the team, they still brought in some camp competition. The Bengals selected Florida St. wide receiver Auden Tate in the seventh-round. They also signed Alabama WR Cam Sims, Temple WR Adonis Jennings, and UNLV wide receiver Devonte Boyd in the undrafted free agency. There’s no chance that the Bengals will keep all four of these rookies, but at least one should make the 53 man cut.

When analyzing which of these wide receivers is most likely to make the final cut, it’s important to understand how the Bengals treat the wide receiver position. Usually, the Bengals keep six receivers on the final roster, but they’ve made exceptions for seven in the past. In fact, the Bengals held seven receivers last season, although two did not record a catch.

At least four of these receivers will make the roster. Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green headlines this group, but wide receivers Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, and John Ross will be on the roster next season. Brandon LaFell’s contract would allow the Bengals to cut him for only $1 million in dead cap, but that’s unlikely. His contract is just $4 million next season, and he provides reliability to an inexperienced wide receiver core. Tyler Boyd and John Ross both represent significant draft capital investments, so they will make the cut as well.

To dissect the position, let’s assume the Bengals will keep seven wide receivers going into 2018. Aside from Green, LaFell, Boyd, and Ross, the Bengals had Josh Malone, Cody Core, and Alex Erickson on the team last year. Core was the other receiver with zero catches, but Malone and Erickson did little more. Malone had only six catches all year but did record a touchdown. Erickson had 12 catches and a touchdown, and also manned return duties. Erickson returned over 90% of kicks and punts but didn’t record a touchdown. All three of these guys will likely have to compete with the four rookies to keep their spot in camp.

Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals /

Cincinnati Bengals

What most of these receivers bring to the table is big play ability. Malone and Core are the two “50-50 ball” players on the roster, but rookies like Tate and Sims could challenge them. Malone and Core have scarily similar measurables, as they are both 6’3″, 205 pounds, with sub-4.5 speed. Given that redundancy, I don’t expect to see both Malone and Core on the roster next season. Neither made a statistically massive impact on the team last year.

Based on last year’s results, it seems Malone is ahead of Core on the depth chart. Malone was a fourth-round pick last year – not an inconsequential amount of draft capital – and made the most of his opportunity. He rarely saw the field, but played excellently in the second matchup against Pittsburgh, reeling in a deep touchdown pass. Core, on the other hand, didn’t catch a single pass. He dealt with injuries during the year, but that lack of production stands out. The Bengals could easily replace him with a bigger-bodied receiver who could specialize in red zone work.

Both Tate and Sims are 6’5″ and over 210 pounds, giving them a size advantage over Core. By being more of a red zone threat, that differentiates the skill sets of Tate and Sims versus Malone as well. Malone’s size and speed combination make him extremely dangerous as a flanker between the 20s, while Tate or Sims’ brute physicality is more of an asset once inside the 20. Their skill sets are more complementary than Malone’s and Core’s. I expect Tate to edge out Sims in camp and take Core’s spot. The Bengals invested draft capital in Tate, and Tate was a more effective red zone receiver in college than Sims. Therefore, Tate should be ready to contribute to this team next season, even if it’s just in a limited role.

As for Erickson, his skills are almost precisely opposite Malone or Core. Erickson is a smaller receiver at 6’0″, 190 pounds, and excels primarily on short and intermediate routes. Erickson’s elusiveness makes him a quality yards after the catch (YAC) guy as well. The Bengals used him as a wide receiver last year (12/180/1 stat line),  but brought him in as a kick and punt returner too. Erickson had good ball security on special teams but didn’t dazzle in any way. He did not score a single special teams touchdown all year, which was fairly disappointing.

Since Erickson did not produce very well on special teams last year, his job should be up for grabs. Second round pick Jessie Bates may return some punts next year, but primary competition will come from fifth-round pick CB Darius Phillips. Phillips flashed at Western Michigan and had a nose for the end zone. In addition to multiple pick-sixes, Phillips scored 5 special teams TDs during his career. The Bengals likely drafted Phillips to be both a depth corner and a special teams weapon.  If Phillips shows out in training camp, the Bengals could easily cut Erickson.

Should the Bengals move on from Erickson, that opens a potential spot on the roster for another rookie? While the Bengals could easily go forward with six wide receivers, adding a seventh for extra depth seems smart considering the injury risk on this roster. I don’t expect both Tate and Sims to make the roster, so I’ll exclude Sims from this competition. That leaves Jennings and Boyd. Jennings and Boyd are similar physically, with Jennings at 6’2″ and 190 pounds and Boyd at 6’1″ and 180 pounds. Both also ran roughly 4.6 seconds 40-yard dashes, which is just a little slower than Erickson.

While the two are very close skill-wise, I think I prefer Boyd, and expect him to edge out Jennings for Erickson’s spot on the roster. Jennings played at Temple – not a Power 5 conference school – and yet failed to record 100 career catches. He dealt with injuries each year of college, and even when he was on the field, wasn’t the primary weapon for the Owls.

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Boyd, coming out of UNLV, didn’t play nearly the same level of competition as Jennings, but put up considerably better numbers. Boyd was a versatile threat for UNLV, ranging from 10 catch games to 3 touchdown games. Often, FCS players don’t get to prove themselves in college, so Boyd should get his chance to flash in front of Bengals coaches during training camp. If he impresses as I expect, Boyd has a legitimate shot to make the roster.

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