With only weeks until the preseason begins, the Cincinnati Bengals and the rest of the NFL will have to start making their final cuts for the 53-man roster. For the most part, we can anticipate who will make up 95 percent of the team.
Then there's the other five or six slots that are always up for debate. Those spots are occasionally filled with veteran journeymen, career backups, or the undrafted rookie whom, every now and then, makes a huge impact.
Such could be the case in the Queen City this season. There are approximately five slots that could supply some surprise in 2013.
I'm not sure how much of a dark horse Rex Burkhead is, because he seems to be a popular option to be the team's third running back. However, with the depth Cincinnati has at the position, we'll call him a dark horse.
Burkhead was drafted out of Nebraska in 2013 with one of the Bengals' sixth-round selections. He had some quality statistics as a Cornhusker, mainly in 2011 where he scored a whopping 15 times and accumulated 1,357 yards.
As a sixth-round selection, Burkhead hasn't garnered much attention. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard are locks to take the top two spots at running back, but Burkhead will be competing with Cedric Peerman and maybe Bernard Scott, injury pending.
It may not be easy, but the first-year man may be able to pull out a roster spot.
DeQuin Evans is going to be an interesting NFL project. He only played two seasons at the University of Kentucky, the last one coming in 2010.
Now, he has signed with the Bengals, and, as would be expected, he's the last defensive end on the depth chart. Naturally, Cincinnati is loaded at the position.
However, Evans had some good workouts (see the video) and could impress coaches at training camp. Is he going to do well enough to take over the starting job? Not a chance.
But if he does well enough, he could compete for time with Margus Hunt and Robert Geathers.
Shaun Prater was actually drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by Cincinnati, but never saw the field.
Now, he's in his sophomore year in the NFL and is in a position to earn himself some playing time. He remains a dark horse simply because of the depth the Bengals have in the secondary, but if the last couple years are any indication, that could break down pretty quickly.
Prater will be challenging the likes of Terence Newman and Adam Jones for playing time behind Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick. As of now, there's no reason to believe he will do so, but now that he's fully healthy and seemingly ready to play, it will be interesting to see if he can answer the call.
The only time that Dane Sanzenbacher has seen any sort of substantial time in the NFL was in 2011, when he caught three touchdowns for the Chicago Bears.
Cincinnati signed him to the practice squad toward the end of last season, and he really hasn't made any affects thus far. Worse still for the former Ohio State Buckeye, there's a laundry list of receivers ahead of him on the depth chart at this time.
Beyond that, you have to look at his upside. He has previous experience and success in an NFL uniform, something that he can compare to with the rest of the receivers. Cincinnati has a very young receiving corps, and that could wind up working in Sanzenbacher's favor over someone like Brandon Tate.
It isn't likely, but the long name could be on the field come Week 1 against his former team.
I am extremely intrigued to see what kind of showing Onterio McCalebb has at training camp.
McCalebb joined the Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 2013. He was signed as a running back from Auburn. However, the team has decided to move him to cornerback, where the team felt he would be a better NFL fit.
With his speed, I have no doubt he can succeed, but McCalebb is facing an uphill battle. He has a solid coach in Mike Zimmer, but with little defensive experience over the past few seasons, it will be hard to instantly learn the NFL way.
No matter how difficult, it seems McCalebb seems determined to learn. The Bengals—while deep at the position—don't have anyone incredibly talented at cornerback outside of Leon Hall (Dre Kirkpatrick's performance pending). Should the need for help in the secondary arise, the young rookie could benefit.