For the first time in a while—maybe ever—the Cincinnati Bengals have arguably the best wide receiving group in the NFL, certainly in the AFC North. With two-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green as the top receiver, the rest of the depth chart is up for grabs.
Ten other receivers are competing for the remaining spots. Last year the Bengals kept seven but it remains to be seen how many will make the roster in 2013.
Wide receiver coach James Urban thinks he has the best receiving group in the league and, after a recent team practice, he went on record (via The Cincinnati Enquirer) saying just that: “And I mean that. Our 11 I will stack up against anybody else’s 11.”
Here we’ll take a look at those eleven and what each of them contributes making the Cincinnati wideouts debatably the best in the league.
A.J. Green’s 162 catches second in NFL history to Marques Colston for most receptions in a player's first two NFL seasons.
As eye opening as that may seem, it might not even be his most impressive streak. Beginning in early 2012, A.J. Green caught a touchdown in nine consecutive games (10 overall during that stretch), the longest single-season streak in Bengals history (Carl Pickens had a streak of 10 games, but his began the end of the 1994 season and ended in the 1995 season.)
Green is an elite receiver for several reasons: footwork, route-running, hands and speed to name a few. We see all of these traits exhibited in this play.
While part of the reason Green got so open was because of an apparent defensive miscommunication—it looks like the corner was in a cover two scheme, expecting some safety help over top—he takes advantage of the breakdown as any elite receiver should.
For 2013, Green is anticipating different coverages, thanks to the presence of newly acquired receiving talent like rookie tight end Tyler Eifert.
After catching a touchdown in OTAs last week, Green credited the opportunity to Eifert’s presence on the field (via bengals.com) in a two-tight end set: “If we were in three-receiver sets, the safety would have been coming over the top of me. But I was one-on-one.”
Mohamed Sanu's arrival in Cincinnati last year was greeted with the expectations that come from having put up 115 receptions for 1206 yards in a single season, which he did as a junior at Rutgers in 2011.
But as a rookie with the Bengals in 2012, Sanu didn’t catch a ball until Week 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But once he got his feet wet, Mohamed quickly made it clear why the Bengals spent a third-round pick on him. Sanu got a chance to see the field when Andrew Hawkins was injured and he capitalized on the opportunity, catching his first NFL touchdown pass against the New York Giants in a pivotal Week 10 win.
Sanu went on to catch seven passes for 51 yards and three touchdowns over the next two games. Against the Oakland Raiders, A.J. Green attracted so much attention from the Oakland secondary that Sanu was able to slice through the middle of the field against one-on-one coverage and make an incredible one-hand catch in the end zone.
It was almost as if the Bengals were riding a Sanu-wave: A three-game stretch in November in which he scored four touchdowns helped Cincinnati gather some momentum toward the postseason.
(After the Raiders game, Sanu would be sidelined for the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his foot.)
Sanu will compete for the second receiver spot this year. He has a knack for getting open and can operate from the slot as well as on the outside. He should also benefit from the presence of rookies Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert, whose talents should allow the Bengals offense to deploy a greater variety of formations and looks.
Hamilton may be a rookie sixth-round pick, but he already finds himself comfortable in Cincinnati (via Bengals.com):
I feel like I'm no sixth-round pick. I don't feel like that. With [former-Arkansas head coach Bobby] Petrino, a lot of it is the same terminology. A lot of the stuff is not a brain freeze for me" (Bengals.com).
Hamilton has stepped in and exceeded expectations, receiving praise from throughout the coaching staff.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden chimed in on the rookie from Texarkana:
Physically, he’s exceeded expectations as well. He's bigger than I thought he was...He's taller. He's got good stride to him, he's got good hands, he's tough...He's a smart kid. He's a bright kid. He hasn't messed up anything yet.
Hamilton’s durability, size and willingness to go across the middle make him a viable option for the Bengals' second receiver spot. It hasn’t hurt that he’s picked up the offense so quickly. Both Hamilton and Sanu have the skill set to make the kind of impact as the No. 2 receiver that Cincinnati hasn’t seen since T.J. Houshmandzadeh was in town.
Nothing really matters until the pads are on, but on this play Hamilton gives Cincinnati fans a lot to look forward to: hands in traffic, balance, toughness, vision and speed.
While he’s listed at 5’7”, Andrew Hawkins is nothing short of an impact player. Though he missed part of the 2012 season to injury, he still managed to pull in 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns.
Of those 51 catches, 24 were for first downs, ranking him third on the team behind Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham. His elusiveness (as seen in this video) makes him a serious threat to defenses, especially in third-down situations
Hawkins will compete to win the starting job as the slot receiver. Hawk may struggle to get snaps in the 2013 offense, however; if tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert are now being used as receivers in two-tight end alignments, the slot receiver will be the odd man out.
Marvin Jones was used sparingly throughout much of the 2012 season, although he did not play until late in the season. He scored his first and only NFL touchdown in the second quarter of the Week 17 matchup against the Ravens.
Jones’ speed is his biggest feature. In this play, that speed demands the respect of the defender, which allows Jones the opportunity to stop on the dime and catch this preseason-game touchdown.
Jones will be leaning on his speed to help him climb the depth chart. I expect him to make the final roster.
Brandon Tate was a free agent in 2012 but signed a one-year deal for this upcoming season. Going into his fifth year, Tate is used primarily as a return specialist. He pulled down 13 catches in 2012 for 211 yards and this touchdown.
The Bengals acquired Sanzenbacher midseason last year to fill out an injury-riddled roster. Thus far, he’s drawn comparisons to former Bengal Jordan Shipley for his ability to find holes in the defense (via Bengals.com).
Thus far in OTAs, Dane has impressed the coaching staff, including receivers coach James Urban:
He has a tremendous feel for the game...[He] understands how to get open, and as important as anything playing the slot, he knows when he is open.
The former Buckeye will compete for a roster spot but could find himself on the practice squad.
Whalen saw limited time in 2012 at the receiver position, hauling in seven catches for 53 yards.
"Coaches love the precise route-running of Ryan Whalen," according to Cincinnati.com. He also competes on special teams. Whalen will compete for one of the final spots on the roster and could end up on the practice team.
Roundtree joined the Bengals as an undrafted free agent from Michigan. He wasn’t initially on the Coach Lewis' radar but, as the saying goes, game recognizes game: “Roy showed up when I was watching a lot of the defensive players in the Big Ten play," Lewis said in a recent press conference. "He made some contested catches, some runs after the catch.” (via Bengals.com)
Roundtree will also compete for the last remaining wide receiver spots and is a likely candidate for the practice squad if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster.
Former Eastern Kentucky wide receiver Tyrone Goard will also compete for a roster spot. At EKU he finished in the top 10 in career receiving yards (1,842) and touchdowns (24).
Goard will compete for one of the last receiver spots and is a practice-squad candidate if he fails to make the final roster.
Receiver Taveon Rogers was converted to a cornerback during the last training camp before sustaining a shoulder injury that lande him on the injured reserve. Now he’s healthy and back at wide receiver.
Having missed a year, I hope Rogers returns to his New Mexico State form, but it’s just too early to tell.
Projected Depth Chart
- Ryan Whalen
Roy Roundtree, Taveon Rogers