The Cincinnati Bengals did a good job of acquiring talent once the draft was over with several undrafted rookie free agents out to prove they belong in the NFL. The cruel reality is that only a couple have a real shot of making the final 53 this year. Here are two who, as the roster stands right now, with the best chance at making the roster.
Bengals UDFA: Jaxson Kirkland
Former Washington Huskies offensive lineman Jaxson Kirkland is in a perfect situation to make the Bengals team after going undrafted. Once considered a first-round type prospect, he inexplicably fell out of the draft only to land on Cincinnati’s welcoming doorstep.
Before the draft, Pro Football Focus ranked Kirkland 165th overall. NFL Draft Buzz put his overall scout’s ranking at 182. Mock Draft Database was the lowest on him, and they had him going off the board at 240.
However, last year, Kirkland was thought of as one of the best offensive linemen in the 2022 draft.
Unfortunately for him, the offensive tackle’s declaration for the 2022 NFL Draft was rescinded because of an ankle injury. Kirkland returned to Washington for the 2022 season and performed every better than he did in the 2021 campaign. According to PFF, Kirkland gave up zero sacks while allowing fewer pressures and QB hits on more pass block snaps in 2022 than the year prior.
Kirkland does a great job at getting on the edge on sweeps and pulls while demonstrating great hustle and want to. This also shows up on screens for the running back. He shows he can get to the second level well when run-blocking linebackers. He is even capable and fast enough to get out on wide receiver screens from his guard position, but Cincinnati will not want to do that with him too often.
The guard plays with excellent strength at the line of scrimmage in both the run and pass. Kirkland does a good job of extending his arms after initial contact against those large humans known as defensive tackles while pass-blocking. He gets excellent push at the point of attack when run blocking.
The former Husky recognizes blitzes well and can handle them while pass-blocking. Kirkland is eager to and does a great job of ‘finding work’ in pass protection. However, he will need to be more vigilant about the “do your job” aspects of playing in the NFL. He can get locked onto a defender and miss one coming from another direction if he is not careful.
Kirkland is very good at passing off stunts and twists but could be more consistent in that area. This is something that will improve working in between two veterans if he gets that opportunity. Also, Kirkland is a leader along the offensive line, making calls from the guard spot and letting his left tackle know exactly what the responsibilities are.
This UDFA is in a great situation as far as his competition is concerned for the backup role at left guard behind Cordell Volson. The Bengals appear to have Jackson Carmen in the right tackle competition. If Kirkland is competing against Ben Brown or Max Scharping, you should expect Kirkland to come out on top, if it is indeed a question of who is better. But one thing we know about the NFL, it is not always a meritocracy.
Kirkland's ability to play tackle is something that he has over his guard competition as well. With that said Kirkland should not be satisfied with simply making the roster. He has a real opportunity to push for the starting left guard position if afforded the opportunity to do so. This is something that he is surely aware of which is no doubt part of the reason he is in the Queen City.
Bengals UDFA: Jacob Saylors
Another way to make an NFL roster as an undrafted rookie free agent is to provide an area of expertise at something that may be lacking from others in your position group. Enter Jacob Saylors.
None of the running backs get this far not being able to carry the ball. One of the ways to set yourself apart from the pack is to make sure the coaching staff can count on you to be a competent pass-blocker. Especially if you are playing for a team whose quarterback takes a lot of hits.
Cincinnati did an excellent job in the draft by targeting and selecting Chase Brown out of Illinois. Brown is a do-it-all-back who is an excellent pass blocker as well.
Saylors also gets the job done in this area. He showed time and time again that he could be trusted to protect the passer on blitz pickups. Furthermore, he was a good enough blocker at ETSU for the coaching staff to use him as a lead blocker on quarterback draws from time to time.
The Bengals are aggressively trying to replace what they lost when Samaje Perine signed with the Denver Broncos. The acquisition of Brown, Syalors, and Calvin Tyler Jr. is evidence of this. Additionally, pass-blocking might be a reason why we have not seen as much of Chris Evans as we would like. His absence from the lineup has been curious.
If the Bengals decide to hold on to four running backs, Saylors pass blocking could be the principal reason that he sticks around. One would have to think that Saylors is in a battle with Evans and Tyler Jr. for the fourth running back spot.
Another area where Saylors can provide depth is as a kick returner. Special teams is an obvious area where UDFAs can and must make a name for themselves.
Saylors finished last season with 1,314 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He added 21 receptions for 159 yards and one receiving TD.
The other undrafted free agents have a chance to stick with the team as well. Their climbs up the depth charts however appear to be ostensibly more daunting. Tyler Jr., Devonnsha Maxwell, and Shaka Hayward are more UDFAs who could push for a roster spot if what they showed in college translates to the field this off-season.
It is difficult to make an NFL roster as an undrafted rookie free agent. The task becomes more challenging when the team is stacked with talent like the Cincinnati Bengals have. Let’s wish all of the undrafted guys the best of luck as their NFL journey begins. Hopefully, their success will help lead the Bengals back to the AFC Championship game and beyond this upcoming season.
We love the Bengals 3,000. Who Dey?!