With the Cincinnati Bengals beginning to pivot toward preseason games, Cincinnati’s coaching staff and fans alike can see what players show flashes of talent, and which might not make the final roster. Whether the reason is the player’s contract being too expensive or poor play on the field, numerous players are cut to meet the required 53-man count by August 30th.
However, NFL teams also stash developmental players that are young and cheap on their team to balance out contracts for the elite talents that bring hefty price tags with them, leading to lackluster players making the roster. Let’s take a look at three of these players that are likely to make the final roster, but are far from being a diamond in the ruff.
In Zac Taylor's first draft as Cincinnati’s head coach, the Bengals had a major question mark at the tight end position. The often-injured Tyler Eifert, who led all tight ends with 13 touchdowns in 2015, was on a one-year prove-it deal to determine if he can stay healthy.
Eifert was joined by C.J. Uzomah, a fourth-round project in 2015, who had never eclipsed 500 yards. In the second round of the 2019 draft, Taylor decided to trade back and select a tight end that could bring some stability to the group.
Although his plan was sound, the pick was not.
Cincinnati selected Washington prospect Drew Sample with the 52nd overall pick, a player projected to be a fourth or fifth-rounder career backup, barely making the projected top-10 tight ends in the draft class. Sample hailed from the same football program, the Washington Huskies, that saw the Bengals whiff on John Ross III just two years prior.
While Zac Taylor chose to overlook the elite Pro Bowl-talented wide receiver class of the second and third rounds in 2019, he opted for a run-blocking tight end, one of Sample’s projected strengths. In 2018, Sample had the highest run-blocking grade of all FBS tight ends with at least 300 snaps, but unfortunately, that did not translate to the NFL.
In his limited use in 2022, he finished with a net of -2 yards, his most productive season seeing only a single touchdown. Cincinnati re-signed Sample on a one-year deal for the same reason the front office drafted him: uncertainty at the tight end position. He looks to be the backup tight end behind free agent Irv Smith Jr., the projected tight end four from that 2019 draft class.
Sample never established himself as the alpha run-blocking tight end that many Cincinnati fans wanted out of him for such high draft capital. With his PFF grade capping at a substandard 61.4 during his sophomore campaign, Drew Sample is not even a consideration as a receiving weapon in this high-flying offense.
The 6’5”, 255-pounder will likely be utilized as a fullback for the remainder of his contract before he is cut loose from the team for good. He has consistently made the roster due to the team’s desperate need for a tight end, but his below-par skill is catching up with him. Expect this to be the last year for Sample in orange and black.