Cincinnati Bengals: Rookies with the Best Chance to Start on Day 1
The Cincinnati Bengals didn't have a lot of holes to fill going into the 2013 NFL draft. They were really drafting for depth and for the future, evident from some of the raw prospects they picked. Some are wondering if this will be the first year in over a decade in which at least one draftee doesn't start. Is that really the case?
When thinking of who has the best chance of starting in 2013, five names come to mind.
5. T.J. Johnson, C
T.J. Johnson, the center out of South Carolina, isn't likely to start for the Bengals this season, but he could. The incumbent Kyle Cook could do with an upgrade and Johnson just might be the guy.
Johnson's tangibles aren't great and isn't the most technically gifted player, but he possesses a great football IQ. Kyle Cook and Trevor Robinson will have something to say about that as the three of them fight over the spot, but given an impressive training camp, he could start. For now, he's likely just going to be a practice squad player with a roster spot in his crosshairs.
Chance to start: 10 percent
4. Margus Hunt, DE
Estonian Margus Hunt was easily the most impressive physical specimen in the 2013 draft. Hunt led all DEs in 40-time and in bench press at the combine. He's very lacking in football experience, though, having only played for five years.
Hunt is an extremely raw prospect, and there's no way he'll even get a whiff at a defensive end rotation that includes Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap. "The Eastern Block" is going to strut his stuff on special teams where he is an absolute monster.
In his career at SMU, Hunt blocked 17 kicks. I fully expect him to be a valuable special teams member at some point in the season, but his unpolished technique might leave him waiting till midseason to show what he's capable of.
Chance to start: 20 percent
3. Giovani Bernard, RB
Coming out of UNC, Giovani Bernard is an impressive running back in what was ultimately a weak draft class for running talent. He's quick and elusive, not to mention a very capable receiver. He'll see a good chunk of the carries in Cincinnati's backfield.
But will he start? Most likely, no. Incumbent BenJarvus Green-Ellis was solid, not great, last season posting over 1,100 yards. BJGE isn't an amazing back but has more experience than Bernard and has already won the trust of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. For now, Bernard looks like he'll be more a complementary change-of-pace back to Green-Ellis.
Chance to start: 35 percent
2. Tyler Eifert, TE
Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame and Zac Ertz of Stanford were neck-and-neck when it came to the debate of who was the better tight end prospect. Then the combine happened and Eifert went ahead and led TEs in every category. 40-yard time, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, you name it, Eifert led.
He's not just all tangibles, though. He's a smart player and an incredible receiver. Paired with his impressive size and his growing improvement as a blocker, he could see starting time.
Standing in his way is Pro-Bowler Jermaine Gresham. Coming out of Oklahoma, Gresham has been Andy Dalton's second favorite target on the team and has over 1,200 receiving yards and 11 TDs in the past two seasons. Despite all that, he's drawn the ire of fans for his dropped passes (he had six in the regular season).
Eifert is undoubtedly a better receiver, but Gresham's experience and proven talent might prove too much for the rookie to take the starting job. Eifert's best hope is for two-TE sets, but when it comes to the depth chart, he'll likely be No. 2 this season
Chance to start: 40 percent
1. Shawn Williams, S
Shawn Williams, the third rounder out of Georgia, undoubtedly has the best chance of starting this season. He's not the best safety the league's ever seen, and he's not the most talented, but he looks like he'll definitely be an improvement for Cincinnati.
Williams was the shot-caller for Georgia's backfield and a solid leader. That's what separates him from competitor Taylor Mays. In the last few games last season, Cincinnati brought back veteran Chris Crocker who, like Williams, called the plays for the defense.
But what Williams really has going for him is not his strengths, but Mays' weaknesses. Mays was given a chance to win the starting job last season and lost it quickly due to absolutely reckless play and poor decision making. If Williams brings his intelligent, physical play with him to Cincinnati, he'll win the starting job.
Chance to start: 80 percent
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