Cincinnati Bengals: Grading the Entire 53-Man Roster for 2012-13
The 2012 Cincinnati Bengals' final roster is now in place.
The ever-brutal roster cuts have come and gone, and brought with them some surprises alongside many expected departures.
The final squad is one chock-full of youth, with 16 players in their first or second year. Head coach Marvin Lewis has taken a number of gambles in 2012, and questions remain on both sides of the ball.
Quarterbacks: Andy Dalton, Bruce Gradkowski
Andy Dalton well and truly exceeded expectations in 2011. Despite having his rookie year in Cincy written off as a rebuilding year, Dalton led the Bengals to a 9-7 record and a wild-card playoff berth.
Dalton's successes have played a part in changing the QB culture in the NFL. Thanks to his successes, the concept of sitting for a year is rapidly becoming extinct.
"The Red Rifle" had a tepid preseason, with his supporting cast depleted and momentum nowhere to be seen. However, before having his preseason Week 4 cut short, Dalton and the offense started to click.
It has become clear that his accuracy and arm strength have improved over the break. Given his first full offseason and some new weapons, we should see continued success for Dalton in Cincinnati. If his receivers and runners stay healthy, the offense can be potent.
Bruce Gradkowski sits behind Dalton on the depth chart, and there isn't a man alive who looks better with his cap backwards, holding a clipboard!
Gradkowski is all heart and does all he can to get the job done. His scrappy style of play isn't always pretty, but he can step into a game in a bad situation and keep things close, or even grind out a win.
The journeyman QB has put points on the board this preseason and has helped rookies such as Marvin Jones to flourish. He's a solid character guy who knows the system and knows Jay Gruden. Gradkowski is a real asset to the football team, playing or not.
Running Backs/Fullbacks: C+
Running Backs: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, Cedric Peerman
Fullback: Chris Pressley
The Bengals have a plethora of running backs with a multitude of talents, but they lack an elite runner. The preseason has shown us that without Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott healthy, the run game flat-out stinks.
Green-Ellis is expected to start on opening day and will provide the Bengals with a credible red-zone threat and a fumble-proof pair of hands.
Scott appeared to have his hand heavily strapped on the sidelines in Indianapolis, and his return in time for the opener looks unlikely. Scott thrived as Cedric Benson's relief back last year and will hopefully do the same for Green-Ellis when he returns.
Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman put in a valiant effort, but their mirror-image fumbles in preseason Week 2 exposed them. Their value comes not in their every-down ability, but in their specialties: third-down/passing attack and special teams, respectively.
Chris Pressley remains unchallenged at fullback. He is big, bad, fearless and willing to work hard. His contribution will be the driving factor in the success of the four runners mentioned previously.
Pressley has opened some nice holes this preseason, and he will be heavily relied on to do the same in the coming weeks.
Wide Receivers: B-
Wide Receivers: A.J. Green, Brandon Tate, Andrew Hawkins, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Armon Binns, Ryan Whalen
A.J. Green headlines the wide receivers group in what will undoubtedly be another season of spectacular catches for the Pro Bowl wideout. Green will see plenty of attention from opposing defenses in 2012, but given his level of play last year, he will be hard to stop.
Behind Green, the Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers are a concern.
Brandon Tate hasn't lined up at WR in the regular season since 2010. He came touted as a game-changer on special teams, but failed to live up to the hype despite breaking franchise records.
Tom Brady can turn a mediocre receiver into something special, and Tate is an example of that. He sits atop the depth chart due to his level of game experience, which in itself shows just how inexperienced this group is as a whole.
Marvin Jones has impressed this preseason with some athletic grabs and a solid work ethic. However, his work has come against second-unit defenses, and he has yet to see a pass from Andy Dalton, which may limit his value to the first team.
Andrew Hawkins and Mo Sanu make for an intriguing combination in the slot. Sanu brings size and speed to the table while Hawkins brings veteran savvy, agility and a safe pair of hands. Sanu took a giant step forward with his 80-yard game in Week 4, but as with Jones, he has yet to see any work with Dalton.
Both Tate and Armon Binns will share the No. 2 slot on opening day, but neither has seen much of anything during the preseason. It is clear that Dalton will look to Green-Ellis, Jermaine Gresham and Green before he looks to Tate or Binns.
The Bengals have more WRs than they know what to do with, and it seems that they too are just as stumped as we are.
Tight Ends: A-
Tight Ends: Jermaine Gresham, Donald Lee, Orson Charles
The Bengals tight ends are the most promising section of the offensive unit heading into 2012.
Jermaine Gresham looks to be one of Andy Dalton's primary weapons on offense this year. With a season's worth of chemistry between Dalton and him, Gresham has the potential to take a leap this year.
While the Bengals wait for someone to emerge opposite A.J. Green, Gresham will see a significant amount of targets. A former first-round pick, Gresham will be looking to show why he was drafted 21 picks higher than tight-end-of-the-moment Rob Gronkowski in 2010.
Veteran tight end Donald Lee follows behind Gresham and brings with him supreme blocking ability. Lee and Pressley are two of the most impressive blockers on offense, and there's no doubt they'll be put to work this season.
In Gresham's absence, Lee has shown himself to be a seasoned pro. He gets positive yardage and has one of the safest pair of hands on the roster. He has been and will continue to be counted on to breathe life into stagnating drives as he has done on numerous previous occasions.
As expected, Orson Charles makes the roster ahead of Colin Cochart. The 2012 fourth-round pick out of Georgia may not have the size of Lee and Gresham, but he can create mismatches with killer speed and pure playmaking ability.
Charles is a willing blocker and likely will see his only field time come in that form this season. However, he gives the Bengals their TE of the future and could provide an electric tandem with Gresham in 2013 and beyond.
Offensive Line: B
Offensive Line: Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Jeff Faine, Kyle Cook, Anthony Collins, Trevor Robinson, Dennis Roland, Travelle Wharton (IR)
The offensive line has undergone a significant transformation since the playoff loss in Houston.
Nate Livings, Mike McGlynn and Bobbie Williams have moved on, while Travelle Wharton and Jeff Faine have climbed aboard.
Wharton looks like he's done for the year with a severely damaged knee, thrusting talented second-year player Clint Boling into the limelight.
An injury to starting center Kyle Cook followed shortly after, and with Boling, his backup, now starting at left guard, the Bengals have been forced to add veteran Jeff Faine, who will start on opening day without having played a single snap in the preseason.
Andre Smith looks to continue his career-saving 2011 form, but has lurched between bulldozing opponents and being manhandled in the preseason.
Similarly, highly respected veteran Andrew Whitworth has struggled to play consistently. After being praised as one of the best left tackles in the game, Whitworth failed to back it up in 2011 in what was a quiet year for him.
Both Smith and Whitworth have the ability to be real forces on the offensive line. They have started slowly this preseason, but there is reason to believe they will step up at crunch time.
Kevin Zeitler and Boling have injected youth into the guard positions and have been a pleasant surprise thus far. Boling's stage-fright in 2011 seems a thing of the past, while Zeitler has justified his 2012 first-round selection.
Defensive Line: A
Defensive Line: Geno Atkins, Devon Still, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims (PUP), Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers, Michael Johnson, Jamaal Anderson
The Bengals defensive line boasts an impressive lineup in 2012.
Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins is intent on putting together a monster year, and his early form has been promising. He sets the bar for his teammates and embodies the philosophy of Mike Zimmer's no-frills, "no-name" defense.
Domata Peko is the heart and soul of the defense. A man of impeccable character and with a great attitude, Peko has rallied the defense time and time again. He brings a veteran presence to an increasingly youthful defense and thrives in divisional matchups.
Atkins and Peko are backed up by promising third-round rookie Brandon Thompson and second-rounder Devon Still, the latter of whom has manhandled opponents in the preseason.
2010 second-round pick Carlos Dunlap and 2009 third-round pick Michael Johnson line up on the outside. The aging but still effective Robert Geathers backs up Dunlap, while journeyman Jamaal Anderson rebounds from being cut by Atlanta and Indy to back up Johnson.
Linebackers: Rey Maualuga, Manny Lawson, Thomas Howard, Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey, Dan Skuta, Dontay Moch (SUS)
Rey Maualuga has been sidelined with injury once again, but will be ready to go when the Bengals head to Baltimore Sept. 10. Maualuga quickly has become a leader on the defense, but has yet to put together a full and convincing season. Now in a contract year and with Vontaze Burfict receiving plaudits, Maualuga needs to have a big year.
Roddrick Muckelroy's departure proved to be the surprise in this unit. Despite putting in a valiant effort, Muckelroy was cut in favor of UDFA Vontaze Burfict, whose hustle and playmaking ability shined through in the preseason.
Weak-side linebacker Thomas Howard led the team in tackles in 2011, and brings professionalism and consistency to the unit. He is one of the more solid free-agent pickups in recent Bengals history. Look for him to continue his good form, while Vincent Rey will play back-up and has looked serviceable thus far.
Manny Lawson lines up on the strong side for the Bengals in his second year in Cincinnati. Lawson started 15 games in 2011, and brings the same consistency and professionalism that Howard emits. Lawson improved as the year progressed, and this should continue.
Multi-purpose Dan Skuta sits behind Lawson and could start in the opener following Lawson's groin injury against the Packers. Skuta is the embodiment of hard work and giving your all, and has improved in spades this offseason.
Dontay Moch sits on the suspended list, and his role with the team remains enigmatic at this point.
Defensive Backs: B
Defensive Backs: Nate Clements, Leon Hall, Jason Allen, Terence Newman, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Taylor Mays, Jeromy Miles
IR: Brandon Ghee, Shaun Prater, Taveon Rogers, Robert Sands, Tony Dye
The Bengals secondary has underachieved throughout the preseason given the multitude of talent on the roster.
Leon Hall and Nate Clements will start on opening day. Hall is coming back from a torn Achilles, and his speedy recovery has been a marvel. However, his play has been rusty to this point. A healthy Leon Hall will give the Bengals secondary a monumental boost.
Nate Clements is beginning to slow down with age, but remains a solid and consistent back despite a lack of elite speed. 2012 may be his swan song as a Bengal given the drafting of Dre Kirkpatrick, and if he wants to court interest elsewhere, Clements needs a big year.
Dre Kirkpatrick has more than fallen behind this offseason. Sidelined with a leg injury and suffering a further setback that will see him out for even longer, it seems Kirkpatrick will not contribute in a meaningful sense until at least after the bye week.
Terence Newman and Jason Allen give the Bengals the credible depth they lacked in their postseason loss in Houston. Returning Adam Jones will be given a smaller role this year, primarily in the nickel, and he should thrive under less pressure.
Reggie Nelson headlines the safety group and continues to make Jacksonville look foolish for letting him go. Nelson is smart, makes adjustments well and gets to the ball with ease.
Taylor Mays replaces Chris Crocker at strong safety and has grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons this preseason. His hits on Maualuga and Burfict have already caused problems, and they have done little to erase views that Mays is all brawn and no brains.
Special teams monster Jeromy Miles and the so-far-disappointing George Iloka grab the back-up spots, with Clements likely to factor in as well.
Special Teams: A
Special Teams: Mike Nugent, Kevin Huber
Mike Nugent was one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL in 2011. He missed a total of five field goals and no extra points. He crushed a 48-yard field goal in the preseason finale, all but confirming that he's in for another good year.
Not to be outdone, Kevin Huber showed off on a 50-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the Indianapolis 1-yard line. Huber has been a solid punter for the Bengals and shows no signs of changing any time soon.
Collectively, Huber and Nugent headline an impressive and undervalued special teams unit.