While the Cincinnati Bengals are taking part in OTA’s, we are making predictions on which players will make the final 53 man roster cuts.
The Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers should see some improvement, most of which will come from the players on last year’s roster. That improvement starts at the top with A.J. Green. Green put up solid stats again last season, racking up 75 catches for 1,078 yards and 8 touchdowns. The Bengals rely on Green’s consistency each season, and last year was no exception. He is a guarantee for over 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns next year.
However, Green does need to improve on last season to maximize his impact on this Bengals team in 2018. While his stats from last year are nothing to frown upon, 2017 was one of Green’s worst season. Aside from 2016 (when he missed 6 games due to injury), 1,078 yards was his lowest yards total since his rookie season. Similarly, Green had a dismal catch percentage, hovering around 54% – almost 10 points lower than his career average. Even though Green was a top 12 wide receiver last year, he needs to reestablish himself as a truly elite pass catcher.
To best facilitate a rebound season for Green, the Bengals need to settle on a wide receiver opposite Green. The most likely options are recent draft picks John Ross and Tyler Boyd. Ross, taken 9th overall last season, was supposed to be the second threat on this team, but his rookie year was massively disappointing. However, Ross was injured most of the year, so 2018 will hopefully be his first healthy season. Ross’ speed alone will be a major boost to the receiving core, and he should get a chance to flash his full skill set.
Boyd was not quite as high a pick as Ross, but he was a second rounder just two years ago. Boyd and Ross are very different players – Boyd relies on his route tree and his quickness whereas Ross can utilize his speed and elusiveness in the open field. The two could play together with Green in 3 receiver sets. Boyd, though, can challenge for the second receiver spot. His stats from last season – 22 catches for 225 yards and 2 touchdowns – don’t excite, but he, like Ross and Green, has the opportunity to improve.
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Behind these top three receivers, veteran Brandon LaFell and second-year player Josh Malone should be locks for the roster, too. LaFell has been in discussions as a potential cap casualty, but his salary is only $4 million. For the experience he brings to the receiving core, that number is rather manageable. LaFell can step in as a starter if there are injuries, or play situationally in the slot. Malone, on the other hand, is a pure deep threat. At 6’4″ with sub-4.5 speed, Malone is dangerous along the sidelines. He showed what he’s capable of against Pittsburgh last year when he reeled in a deep touchdown. Malone is the best deep threat (besides Green) on the roster, so he should safely make the team, too.
The roster crunch comes for the last two spots. I presume the Bengals will keep 7 receivers (which they did last year), so there are several players vying for two spots. The two guys who were on the roster last year are Cody Core and Alex Erickson, both of whom will compete to make the team. One of the Bengals’ 2018 seventh round picks, Auden Tate out of Florida St., will also fight for his spot on the team. UDFAs Kermit Whitfield, Devonte Boyd, and Ka’Raun White. Of these six players, only two can make the team.
Given the Bengals’ struggles in the red zone last season, I expect rookie Auden Tate to make the team. Tate was a dominant force in the end zone at Florida St. due to his massive frame. At 6’5″, 228 pounds, there are very few receivers bigger and more physical than Tate. In his two years of college ball, he recorded 16 touchdowns. New OC Bill Lazor can utilize Tate’s physicality in order to boost the Bengals’ red zone efficiency. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tate gets 4-6 touchdowns next year because of his effectiveness in the end zone.
For the last spot, I believe Cody Core edges out Erickson and the UDFAs. Core has eerily similar measurables to Malone, making him an effective threat on the outside. However, Core also does some work in the slot. His physicality combined with his quickness on short routes is really hard to defend in 3 and 4 wide receiver sets. Core did not record a catch last season, but he wasn’t forced into action particularly often. This year, Core could surpass LaFell as the situational slot receiver, as he’s the more talented player.
Unfortunately, Erickson, Boyd, Whitfield, and White will all likely miss the roster. Erickson primarily functioned as the kick and punt return specialist last year but did not flash at all. He didn’t record a special teams touchdown all year and wasn’t particularly dynamic as a receiver, either. Erickson doesn’t have the upside that other receivers on the roster have, and there are other players on the roster who can handle special teams duties. As for the UDFAs, there isn’t a clear path for any one of them to make the team. None of them have unique skill sets, so they won’t be able to set themselves apart in camp.
Going into 2018, the Bengals wide receivers look like they will improve over the 2017 core. To recap, our projected final wide receiver group looks like this: A.J. Green, John Ross, Tyler Boyd, Brandon LaFell, Josh Malone, Cody Core, and Auden Tate.