Cincinnati Bengals: 12 Wideouts, 6 Spots, 1 Question
With the 2012 NFL Draft now finished and the best undrafted free agents already scooped up, the Cincinnati Bengals find themselves in an interesting situation.
Going into training camp, there are currently 12 receivers who consider themselves Bengals. The norm for the number of receivers on an NFL roster is six.
That leaves just one question: Which six receivers will get the nod?
A.J. Green is an absolute menace of a receiver.
Averaging over 16 yards per catch in 2011, Green was one of the most feared deep threats in the NFL.
Combine that with his 1,057 receiving yards (17th in the NFL) and his seven touchdowns (tied for 21st) and Bengal fans have a lot to be proud of in the receiver's rookie year.
Of all the receivers the Bengals have at their disposal, Green is certainly one of the few guaranteed a spot on the roster. This year's draft was about providing QB Andy Dalton more targets and finding a complement for Green.
Andrew Hawkins was a new name on the roster last year. A standout for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, he was signed and than released on waivers before being picked up by the Bengals.
Hawkins had 23 receptions for 263 yards last season. The numbers aren't overwhelming, but he was a standout player who made some big plays.
His speed sets him apart from the other receivers on this list: he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. By comparison, the fastest player in the 2012 Combine ran a 4.33.
Hawkins has established himself within the Cincinnati organization so expect to see him make the roster come August.
Jordan Shipley is a good number-two receiver.
In 2011, he would have been the Bengals' first choice for the role. Shipley is a ruthless competitor, which pairs well with his 6'0", 188 pound-frame. His hands are very good, and he is able to adjust well to bad throws.
In his rookie year 2010, Shipley caught 52 passes for 600 yards and three touchdowns. Problems arose in 2011, though, when in September he tore his ACL, effectively ending his year.
There have been serious questions about whether he will recover from the injury and be as effective as he was in 2010. Currently, everything looks good—Shipley states that he is feeling much better, and he is practicing with the team.
Shipley has more NFL experience than most receivers on the team, so his presence on the roster will be vital. He'll have to earn a starting spot, however, and the competition is tough from this year's draft class.
Mohamed Sanu was a target for the Bengals prior to the draft.
That he fell to the third round makes him an absolute steal.
His 40 time in the combine was a little underwhelming, but the receiver out of Rutgers makes up for it with excellent strength and route running. He also has great hands, having caught 115 passes for 1,206 yards in 2011.
Going into the draft, Sanu looked like the clear choice to partner with A.J. Green. For as much value as the Bengals see in him, I'd be very surprised if Sanu is not on the 2012 roster.
I thought Sanu was a steal in the third round...until Cincinnati picked up Marvin Jones in Round 5.
Matt Miller rated Jones as the ninth best wideout in a deep receiver class, higher than first round pick A.J. Jenkins.
Jones wasn't high on the Bengals radar until it became clear he was falling in the draft. Picking him up made Cincinnati's draft class even better.
Jones is a fast receiver who ran a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine. He's got good—not great—hands and solid route-running skills. He also has great awareness and adjusts well to bad throws.
Jones caught 62 passes for 846 yards in his final year at California.
Armon Binns has gotten the attention of the Bengals coaching staff after impressing in his time with Cincinnati's practice squad.
Binns is prototypical wide receiver, standing at 6'3" and weighing 210 pounds.
Binns went undrafted in 2011 before being signed and later released by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With a 30-inch vertical and a 4.5 40-yard dash time, Binns is certainly athletic. He led the Big East in receiving yards per game and receptions per game. He brought in 75 passes for 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final year at the University of Cincinnati.
Although not as highly rated as Sanu and Jones, Binns has garnered the favor of the Bengals staff. He's not a lock on a roster spot because he lacks NFL experience and doesn't have the raw athleticism of Sanu and Jones.
Binns has a lot to prove if he hopes to make the roster.
Brandon Tate is an interesting player.
Selected in the third round out of North Carolina by the New England Patriots in 2009, he looked like a promising receiver and return specialist. He currently holds the NCAA record for combined return yards over his collegiate career.
He played well enough in New England. In his second season, he caught 24 passes for 432 yards with 3 touchdowns. He also had over 1,000 return yards and two return touchdowns.
He was, however, released by the Patriots at the end of the 2010 season.
In Cincinnati, he's been less impressive. Taking over as the primary returner for Adam 'Pacman' Jones, he scored just one TD out of 107 return attempts.
Tate was an okay receiver in New England, averaging 18 yards per attempt. But, in Cincinnati, he hasn't been targeted once as a wideout.
Although he has more NFL experience than any other receiver on the roster, Tate hasn't had a chance to build a chemistry with Andy Dalton. His position as a returner is also in danger since Jones, now that depth at corner has been restored, may resume his return responsibilities.
Tate stands a fairly good chance of making the roster given his experience and what he was able to do with New England, but I don't expect him to be on there for the entire season.
Tate might just get cut or see a move to the practice squad.
Ryan Whalen was a sixth-round pick out of Stanford in 2011.
Whalen is a strong, smart receiver who is good at finding holes in the defense. However, he's slower than most—slower even than Sanu.
Whalen, in his time at Stanford, was Andrew Luck's favorite target. In his final two years, he brought down 98 receptions for 1,365 yards and six touchdowns. So, he's got some potential.
Whalen was featured in just four games in 2011 and made just four catches for a measly 27 yards. Obviously, he hasn't had a lot of opportunities, but he also hasn't shown the kind of ability desired in a starting NFL receiver.
Given that he is one of the least naturally talented receivers the Bengals have, I don't expect Whalen to make the final cut, despite his NFL experience.
Vidal Hazelton hails from the University of Cincinnati. He played at USC, as well.
Hazelton is tricky player to figure out. At 6'3", 216 pounds, he's a big, tall receiver who could create mismatches playing at the number-two receiver spot.
He's fast, and he's a good route runner, but he's struggled with injuries for several years. As a result, he made just six catches in his lone season with the Bengals.
Because of his tremendous upside, Hazelton will very likely make the practice squad and then, if he shows the talent scouts initially saw in him, he could make the roster by 2013.
The Bengals have signed several undrafted free agents:
Justin Hilton, Indiana State
A decent receiver with a good work ethic. Hilton lacks the talent to make it at the NFL level but could find a place on the practice squad.
Kashif Moore, Connecticut
The undersized Moore has great jumping ability and speed. That said, the competition will be too fierce for him to see playing time except on special teams or in packages similar to the ones Andrew Hawkins saw in 2011.
Taveon Rogers, New Mexico State
Fast and around the ideal size, Rogers has raw talent but is so unpolished that he's unlikely to find more than a spot on the 2012 practice squad.
Probable Roster Invitees
On most NFL rosters, there are six wide receivers. The Bengals could make an exception and carry a seventh—but that's doubtful.
My picks for the Bengals six receivers are as follows:
No matter how it sorts out, the Bengals are lucky to have so many talented players from which to choose.