The Cincinnati Bengals' rookies come into training camp with the most daunting task looming for any first-year player—produce in front of a national audience. Their entire journey into the NFL will be documented by the film crew of HBO's Hard Knocks.
Earning a roster spot on a team is hard enough, but accomplishing this feat in the national spotlight brings its own challenges.
No matter if a certain rookie was a first-day selection or just happened to squeeze onto the 90-man roster as an undrafted free agent, these players will all have to endure the added pressure.
The Bengals are loaded with talent this year, which will make final cuts all the more difficult. Some of these rookies will be involved in intense roster battles between themselves and with veterans.
The Hard Knocks cameras will be there to capture it all—the highs and the lows. These talented rookies could very well make the Bengals' training camp one of the most exciting to watch in 2013.
- College: Notre Dame
- Draft Status: Round 1
- Height: 6'6''
- Weight: 251
- College Production: The top college tight end in the 2013 draft, Tyler Eifert was a certified monster while at Notre Dame. Even as a second-string tight end during his redshirt freshman year, he was able to produce 27 catches for 352 yards and two touchdowns. Upon becoming a starter, Eifert finished his junior year with a team-best 50 catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns—stats that would allow him to win the Mackey Award for the nation's top tight end.
Analysis: The Bengals drafted Eifert with the 21st selection in the 2013 draft because he was the absolute best player available. The addition of Eifert creates an abundance of opportunities for the Bengals offense this season.
Paired with Jermaine Gresham, Eifert could quickly become a threat in a two tight end set—something that the Bengals have not been able to use effectively in the past. Eifert becomes a big, tall security blanket for quarterback Andy Dalton, who needs to find more stability in this third season with the team.
Eifert has already become a household name among Bengals faithful, and he has a great chance to do the same at a league-wide level.
- College: North Carolina
- Draft Status: Round 2
- Height: 5'8''
- Weight: 202
- College Production: Giovani Bernard was everywhere as a Tar Heel. As a redshirt freshman, Bernard rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns on 239 carries. He added 45 receptions for 362 yards and one touchdown. A shift in offensive mentality was made before the 2012 season; however, that did not stop Bernard. He produced 1,228 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 184 carries, along with 47 receptions for 490 yards and five touchdowns. If that is not impressive enough, he added 16 punt returns for 263 yards and two scores on top of that.
Analysis: Bernard is exactly the type of running back that the Bengals wanted, which is why they went after him so early in the draft. More of an explosive feel was needed on the offensive side of the ball, and Bernard is the back that can provide that feature.
Not only is Bernard a potential every-down back due to his stocky frame, but he has the ability to run between the tackles as well as generate enough burst to get to the edge.
He will be used as a receiving threat as well. Bernard can provide a nice security blanket for Dalton as an underneath option out of the backfield. He can also split out wide and create mismatches against opposing defenses as a receiver.
After all of that, he is still able to work as a punt returner on special teams. This is clearly a do-it-all player, and the Bengals could not be happier with his addition to the team.
- College: Southern Methodist
- Draft Status: Round 2
- Height: 6'8''
- Weight: 277
- College Production: Margus Hunt moved to the United States from Estonia in 2007 without any football experience. Due to the disbanding of SMU's track and field team, he moved on to football. Hunt was ranked first on Bruce Feldman's Annual Freak List due to his size, speed and athletic ability. In 2012, Hunt accumulated 31 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and one interception. He also finished his collegiate career with an astounding 17 blocked kicks.
Analysis: Despite Hunt's freakish athletic ability, he needs a good amount of time to develop into an NFL-caliber defensive end. That alone makes him a perfect fit for the Bengals.
Due to the amount of depth on the Bengals defensive line, Hunt will be in no hurry to contribute on that side of the ball. This will allow him to work with his position coach and veterans to hone his craft before needing to take the field in excess.
Until then, Hunt will most likely be used on special teams. It should be interesting to see if he can carry over his knack of blocking kicks from the NCAA to the NFL.
- College: Georgia
- Draft Status: Round 3
- Height: 6'0''
- Weight: 213
- College Production: Shawn Williams is a hard-hitting safety that flourished in college when put inside the box. Being such a solid tackler, Williams led the team with a total of 72 tackles in his junior year. He also finished the season with four interceptions. During his senior year, he was well known for calling his teammates "soft" after some poor performances. He is a natural leader and does so by example—he finished his senior year with 98 tackles.
Analysis: The free safety position has been a question mark for years now in Cincinnati. The Bengals already have one of the best strong safeties in the league in Reggie Nelson. Williams has been brought in to complement Nelson immediately in the defensive secondary.
Williams may have the most on his plate out of all newcomers this year. He is the only rookie that is expected to come in and produce in a starting role for the Bengals this season.
He is already a textbook tackler and stout against the run. The coaching staff is now improving his coverage abilities to allow him to be a complete player at the safety position. Being a natural leader, Williams could be the steal of the draft if he continues to improve against the pass.
- College: Texas A&M
- Draft Status: Round 4
- Height: 6'1''
- Weight: 229
- College Production: To properly gauge Sean Porter's dominance in college, his junior year becomes the prime example of what he is capable of accomplishing. In that scheme—one he was very familiar with—he recorded 79 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. His defense switched schemes before his senior season and his production fell slightly. He finished with 66 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and one interception. Although his numbers dipped, he did improve in coverage while in that scheme.
Analysis: Porter's experience in college makes him a prototypical weak-side linebacker. He was able to use his athleticism and speed to make himself a prime pass-rusher in a 3-4 scheme as well as a good coverage linebacker in a 4-3 scheme.
The Bengals run a hybrid of a 4-3 defense that uses many different looks. Porter has the potential to start as a role player—moving around the field to utilize his strengths—and developing into a starter at linebacker within a year or two.
Cincinnati got a steal here by using its fourth-round pick on Porter due to a dip in production his senior year. He is very capable of reproducing his outstanding junior-year performance, and Mike Zimmer is just the defensive coordinator to get it out of him.
- College: Kansas
- Draft Status: Round 5
- Height: 6'5''
- Weight: 298
- College Production: Tanner Hawkinson was expected to play tight end when he arrived at Kansas because it was his high school position. Instead, he was moved briefly to defensive end before ending up at offensive tackle. He played both the right and left sides, earning first-team Freshman All-American honors. He was awarded with All-Big 12 second-team honors after his senior season. He also holds the University of Kansas records for games started and consecutive games started.
Analysis: Hawkinson impressed the Bengals coaching staff very early during rookie minicamp. It was there that he was able to flash his versatility and move between all five spots on the offensive line.
He continued that trend during OTAs due to injuries to starters on the offensive line. Hawkinson continued his impressive showing by taking first-team reps on multiple positions on the line.
Hawkinson is well on his way to making the final 53-man roster this season and working as a backup to multiple positions on the offensive line. He has a similar build to current left tackle Andrew Whitworth and could be the heir apparent.
- College: Nebraska
- Draft Status: Round 6
- Height: 5'10''
- Weight: 214
- College Production: During Rex Burkhead's junior season, he flourished in the Nebraska backfield and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after an impressive season that included 1,357 yards and 15 scores on the ground while adding 21 receptions for 177 yards and 2 touchdowns receiving. Burkhead dealt with injuries throughout his senior year, causing his draft stock to take a big hit.
Analysis: Many Bengals fans and NFL pundits are already referring to Burkhead as Brian Leonard 2.0. That could be the case, as both players share very similar skill sets.
With the Bengals seemingly moving away from the traditional fullback position, Burkhead could see a transition to an halfback role in 2013, which would allow him to become a threat in multiple facets of the offense.
He will have a battle ahead of him to make the final roster, but the odds are in his favor because of his versatility as a blocker, rusher and receiver.
- College: Arkansas
- Draft Status: Round 6
- Height: 6'2''
- Weight: 212
- College Production: Cobi Hamilton was able to benefit from his long, lean frame and exceptional speed as a wide receiver for the Razorbacks. He had a breakout senior year in which he recorded 90 catches for 1335 yards (14.8 YPC) and five touchdowns. This earned him first-team All-Conference honors as well as third-team All-American honors.
Analysis: Cobi Hamilton has already been impressive during offseason workouts. The coaching staff is overjoyed with the intensity and skill set that he brings to the Bengals wide receiver corps. In fact, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden had some very complementary words about Hamilton during an interview on Bengals.com:
He'll challenge to make the squad and become a player. Cobi's an exciting guy. 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. In Arkansas he ran a lot of crossing routes so we knew he wasn't afraid to go across the middle. We like Cobi. We're impressed with what he's done so far.
Garnering that type of praise so early on for a sixth-round draft pick is quite impressive. If Hamilton keeps up this type of production through training camp and the preseason, he may be a lock as one of the wide receivers on the Bengals' final 53-man roster.
- College: Ohio State
- Draft Status: Round 7
- Height: 6'8''
- Weight: 308
- College Production: Reid Fragel has a roller-coaster tenure at Ohio State. He began as a receiving tight end during his freshman year. He later moved to more of a blocking tight end during his sophomore and junior years. When Urban Meyer came to Ohio State, he realized the lack of talent at the offensive tackle position. Fragel was moved there and started all 12 games during his senior season. He is a very quick learner and was able to make huge strides in his new position.
Analysis: Reid Fragel could be a late-round steal for the Bengals. He has tremendous upside, and is extremely athletic for an offensive tackle. He has a great chance to make the final roster as a backup right tackle to Andre Smith.
The Bengals could experiment with Fragel as an extra offensive lineman—and eligible receiver—when using an unbalanced line in 2013. Given his roots as a tight end, he could be a very sneaky weapon in certain packages while he continues to develop his skill set at the NFL level.
- College: South Carolina
- Draft Status: Round 7
- Height: 6'4''
- Weight: 310
- College Production: T.J. Johnson was known for being a very durable player during his tenure at South Carolina. He started every game during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, setting a new Gamecocks' record for starts over a career. He was named to the Coaches All-SEC second-team after his senior season.
Analysis: Johnson provided some great workouts over the course of the combine and his pro day. He bolstered his stock enough to warrant the Bengals to take a flier on him in the seventh round of the 2013 draft.
He will have a very tough climb if he is to make the final roster in 2013 with Kyle Cook and Trevor Robinson securing spots above him on the depth chart. However, Johnson could be a great candidate to stash on the practice squad for a year. This will allow him some time to develop, and he could challenge for a role on the active roster in 2014.
Bengals undrafted free agent list via NFL.com.
Indiana DT Larry Black Jr., Stanford CB Terrence Brown, New Mexico-Highlands OLB Jordan Campbell, Central Oklahoma LS Bryce Davis, Southern Illinois OLB Jayson Dimanche, Kentucky DE DeQuin Evans, Eastern Kentucky WR Tyrone Goard, Arkansas State LB Brandon Joiner, Auburn RB Onterio McCalebb, Michigan WR Roy Roundtree, Oklahoma State PK-P Quinn Sharp, Minnesota CB Troy Stoudermire, Auburn OL John Sullen, Virginia Tech LB Bruce Taylor
Of all undrafted free agents the Bengals brought in to work out during offseason activities and training camp, there are a handful of honorable mentions that actually have a shot at making an impact during training camp.
Onterio McCalebb: This Auburn running back was converted to cornerback by Cincinnati in attempt to increase his longevity in the NFL. He has a small frame, but has incendiary speed. He should compete for the role of kick return specialist against incumbent veteran Brandon Tate.
Jayson DiManche: DiManche may be a name that could show up on the final 53-man roster this year. He was given the second-highest signing bonus of all undrafted free agents ($15,000). Obviously, the Bengals are enamored with what he potentially brings to the table. He is a speed freak and is the edge rusher that the Bengals were hoping to get with Dontay Moch. Pay attention to this rookie during Hard Knocks.
Jordan Campbell: A transfer from USC to New Mexico highlands, this linebacker has become an instant favorite with the Bengals fan base. He has a big uphill battle if he is to secure a spot on the final roster; however, he will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents over the course of training camp.
Brandon Joiner: A linebacker trend is developing here. Joiner is now able to live his dream of being an NFL linebacker after legal issues put a halt on his plans. Now he is ready to make his mark. If his athleticism remained intact during his incarceration period, he may have a shot at the final roster.
Roy Roundtree: This wide receiver from Michigan has big-play ability written all over him. He has a very deep position to contend with, but will be given plenty of opportunities to shine over the course of training camp and the preseason. He is certainly a name to keep an eye on.