Cincinnati Bengals: Still Searching for Answer at Wide Receiver

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIMarch 9, 2017

CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 25: Mohamed Sanu #12  of the Cincinnati Bengals catches a touchdown pass during the NFL game against the Oakland Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the league in A.J. Green. The problem is that ever since last season, they continue to search for a complimentary answer at the position.

Cincinnati thought it had its player in 2012 third-round draft selection Mohamed Sanu. Unfortunately, Sanu suffered a stress fracture in his foot during practice and will miss the rest of the season. This could not have come at as worse time as the Bengals are in the hunt for a playoff berth.

So, where do the Bengals look now with Sanu out?

Earlier in the season, Cincinnati tried its hand with veteran receiver Brandon Tate. Tate developed zero chemistry with quarterback Andy Dalton and only recorded nine receptions out of 19 targets for 135 yards and a touchdown.

Tate was too erratic on the field to truly be a consistent target at the position.

Next in line was former University of Cincinnati standout Armon Binns. Binns proved better than Tate as he recorded 18 receptions on 29 targets for 210 yards and a touchdown on the season.

However, inconsistency proved to be an issue with Binns as well and he was yanked from the starting lineup.

Before the Week 7 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, 2012 fifth-round selection Marvin Jones was supposed to get his first start of his career. That had to be put on hold as Jones was injured before the game.

Enter Mohamed Sanu.

Sanu proved right away that he has the potential to be that receiver that Cincinnati has been looking for since the days of T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Like T.J., Sanu catches the ball well over the middle, has great hands and does not fear contact. He is big and strong and provides a consistent target for Dalton.

Sanu’s numbers were not gaudy while he played this season, but he made his touches count.

He recorded 16 receptions on 25 targets for 154 yards and four touchdowns. Sanu was also responsible for 10 first downs.

These numbers show that Dalton was very comfortable relying on Sanu when it mattered most. That is exactly what you want out of a possession receiver.

Another huge positive for Sanu is his ability to play both the outside receiver positions as well as the slot. He is versatile and can be moved around in the same fashion as Green to create mismatches.

Aside from his pass-catching ability, Sanu was also used in the backfield and carried five times for 15 yards, two of which were for first downs.

Certainly no one has forgotten the opening drive in Week 3 against the Washington Redskins when Sanu took a direct snap and launched a perfect ball to Green for a 73-yard touchdown.

With all of his versatility, Sanu is certainly one of the biggest losses the Bengals have suffered this season.

So who is next in line?

With Sanu out this past week in San Diego, rookie Marvin Jones got the start. He is recovering from injury and still needs to get used to the speed of the game, but he was held virtually useless against the Chargers.

Jones was held to just two catches for 20 yards. Also, one high-but-catchable pass thrown by Dalton bounced right off his hands and was intercepted.

Jones seems to have a tough time getting separation as he has recorded five receptions out of nine targets for 46 yards. Out of those 46 yards, only one came after the catch.

This job will still be Jones to lose for another game or two this season as he continues to step into the role.

In the meantime, Dalton will have to rely heavily on tight end Jermaine Gresham and slot receiver Andrew Hawkins to get the job done without a legitimate number two receiving threat.

There is always a possibility that Stanford product Ryan Whalen will see more reps with the first-team offense as well.

After all of the fuss was made last season about finding a wide receiver to compliment Green, the Bengals find themselves back to square-one.

Whether it is Jones, Whalen or someone else, there needs to be another receiving threat in the Bengals starting lineup soon. Without one, a run to the playoffs gets much more difficult for this young team.