4 best Bengals rookies from preseason opener vs. Cardinals

Jeff Gunter, Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Jeff Gunter, Cincinnati Bengals. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals lost their preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, but there are still plenty of encouraging notes to take away from that game.

Joe Burrow was spotted running warmup sprints with his teammates before the game and looked healthy after undergoing an appendectomy last month. When Brandon Allen went down early in the game, backup quarterbacks Jake Browning and Drew Plitt stepped up and led the passing attack.

Overall, the game could be described as a sloppy affair as the Bengals were flagged for 11 penalties that cost them 104 yards.

Still, the game provided much-needed experience for a handful of rookies who got their first taste of the NFL last Friday.

Here are four of the best Bengals rookies from the first preseason game.

4. Kendric Pryor

Zac Taylor claimed that Kendric Pryor has been the “most improved” player since the spring, and after his preseason performance against Arizona, it’s not hard to see why.

Pryor recorded a team-high four catches for 89 yards and one touchdown, averaging 22.3 yards per catch. He generated scintillating sparks with backup quarterback Jake Browning and earned the second-highest grade of wide receivers after Week 1 of preseason. The Bengals’ starting wideout lineup is pretty much set in stone, but Pryor could become a surprisingly useful asset if he keeps performing this well.

3. Zach Carter

‘Tis the season for hasty preseason predictions, and many are already expecting rookie defensive tackle Zach Carter to do great things.

Last Friday, Carter impressed coaches with “his pass rush, his consistency and his athleticism” and made it easy to forget that it was his first game at a new position. After the game, Carter told reporters he “belonged out there,” and indeed he did.

Back in college, Carter flaunted his pass-rushing prowess on the edge, and it seems the Bengals found a good fit for him as a defensive tackle who also provides a significant boost to the pass-rush.

With opponents likely double-teaming sack artist Trey Hendrickson, Carter could enjoy quite a productive campaign in 2022.

2. Jeff Gunter

More rave reviews for another rookie Bengals defender: Jeff Gunter.

The seventh-rounder has been having an impressive training camp thus far, and he continued his fine trajectory with a sack and two quarterback hits against the Cardinals. As a late-round pick, Gunter will be competing for a final roster spot come September, but as long as keeps up the production, a depth role should be all but his.

With both Zach Carter and Jeff Gunter developing well in the defensive system, the Bengals’ D-line appears to be in good hands.

1. Daxton Hill

All eyes this preseason will be on Daxton Hill, who has been tentatively touted as Jessie Bates’ replacement next year.

If Bates gets traded or walks in 2023 (which feels extremely likely), the Bengals will pin much of their hopes on Hill to keep the team’s pass defense elite. The 2022 first-rounder possesses the speed and ball skills to make an immediate impact in Year 1, and his performance against the Cardinals marks an encouraging start to his NFL career.

Hill posted one tackle and one pass defended but showed off his big-play ability in the backfield, holding his own against Arizona’s reserve wideouts. Hill still has a long way to go before he can fill Bates’ shoes, yet he’s shaping up nicely to serve as a starting-caliber safety come September.

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Let’s hope these rookies continue their run in Cincinnati’s next preseason game against the New York Giants.