Report Card Grades for Cincinnati Bengals' Undrafted Free Agent Signings
The 2014 NFL draft has concluded and teams are finally heading back to the field with old and new players alike. The excitement of training camp and preseason will primarily emanate from the newly drafted players and high-priced additions, but that spotlight can always be stolen by an undrafted free agent or two.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, there are no high-priced free-agent additions to watch for. There is an intriguing draft class but only one or two players who are expected to make immediate impacts during their careers.
With that in mind, the focus leading up to the season should focus further down the depth chart where the undrafted free agents will begin their journey to potential greatness.
Fullbacks Ryan Hewitt and Nikita Whitlock
By bringing in both Nikita Whitlock and Ryan Hewitt as undrafted free agents, the Bengals have taken an odd approach to the fullback position.
Neither Whitlock nor Hewitt are true fullbacks from college. Hewitt did play fullback at Stanford, but he needs to add weight if he is going to be one in the NFL. Whitlock on the other hand is an undersized defensive lineman who is converting to the position in Cincinnati.
In Whitlock and Hewitt, the Bengals have two very different skill sets.
By bringing in a smaller receiving option who can move around the field, Hewitt, and a bigger, bull-dozing defensive tackle convert who will likely never see the football thrown his way, Whitlock, the Bengals are trusting in the talent of these individual players.
If they had brought in players with similar skill sets, they could easily just put them in competition with each other for a potential roster spot. Instead of the individuals competing in this situation, what style of player the Bengals want will play a major role.
Orson Charles, the fullback currently on the roster, is more similar to Hewitt, but the requirements of the position may change in Hue Jackson's offense.
Cumulative Grade: B
Running Back James Wilder Jr
James Wilder Jr. is one of the Bengals more interesting free-agent signings. He was never the feature back at FSU, and he comes out of college with both character and durability concerns. However, there is definitely NFL-caliber ability there.
Wilder would likely have been selected late on in the draft if he had stayed out of trouble off the field. The Bengals have a proven track record that they can get the most out of players with off-field concerns.
He is a decisive runner who relishes contact and plays with good burst. His power is good for his size, and he keeps his legs moving through contact. The only concern over his running style is how he will react to more carries against bigger defenders on the next level.
Wilder doesn't have great long speed, so his potential on special teams appears limited.
The Bengals brought in Jeremy Hill in the second round to fill the role on offense that Wilder would likely fit into, that of a complementary change-of-pace runner. Hill, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Rex Burkhead will be Wilder's primary competition for the backup spot behind Gio Bernard.
Each of those players will feel more confident of their spot entering training camp, but Wilder is talented enough to potentially offer a more well-rounded game during the preseason. If he can do that, then a roster spot could easily be his.
Running Back Jeff Scott
Because of his physical dimensions, Jeff Scott is unlikely to ever get a legitimate chance to be a running back in the NFL.
He is 5'7" and 165 pounds, but he has 4.4 40-yard dash speed and can be very elusive in space. Scott has the potential to be a receiving back, but his best chance of making the Bengals roster this year will be as a returner. Scott had 33 kick returns for 714 yards and 17 punt returns for 249 yards, two touchdowns.
However, it should be noted that the majority of those returns came early on during his time at Ole Miss.
Scott will have a chance to make the roster, but he will need to beat out Brandon Tate. Tate was an average returner last season, and he is a veteran who doesn't have any potential to contribute on offense. Scott's quickness could make him a more effective punt returner initially, while he could develop as a kick returner.
Safety Isaiah Lewis
Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis likely expected to be drafted last week. When he wasn't, the Bengals were quick to snatch him up.
Lewis is a strong safety without great physical tools, so it's easy to understand why he wasn't in demand for NFL teams. In spite of his role and lack of physical talent, he is a technically good safety with good awareness and instincts.
It's unlikely that Lewis makes this team because the Bengals are particularly stacked at the safety position, but he is a good camp body to have in case multiple injuries hit. Lewis would be the ideal practice-squad player if he isn't picked up by another team when released.
Wide Receiver Colin Lockett
Colin Lockett out of San Diego State University is unlikely to compete for a wide receiver spot with the Bengals. Instead, he will be viewed as a special teams returner with the potential to immediately compete with Brandon Tate on kick returns and punt returns.
Lockett is a much better kick returner than punt returner, but Tate isn't an exceptionally good punt returner either so he should have an immediate chance to usurp him.
Wide Receiver Alex Neutz
Buffalo wide receiver Alex Neutz is a raw prospect with the potential to be an NFL starter.
Neutz has good hands with impressive size and relatively good athleticism. He will need to make the most out of his 6'3", 214-pound frame if he is to overcome his raw route-running ability and lack of straight-line speed.
The Bengals don't really have a receiver like Neutz on the roster. Mohamed Sanu is the closest player to someone with his skill set other than A.J. Green. That should work in his favor with his attempts to make the roster, but he's definitely facing a tough task.
Guard Trey Hopkins
Trey Hopkins out of Texas could prove to be a steal for the Bengals as an undrafted free agent.
Hopkins is listed at 6'3" and 307 pounds. His size and strength allowed him to be effective as a right tackle and left guard in college. Hopkins has the size to be a tackle, but he doesn't have the athleticism. His speed in his drop and quickness to reset his feet leaves a lot to be desired.
On the interior, where Hopkins likely projects on the next level, his skill set should allow him to develop into a starting-caliber player.
To counter his lack of size, Hopkins shows off good awareness in pass protection and uses leverage and positioning to be effective as a run-blocker. The Bengals have a number of players who are vying for spots at guard, so Hopkins will likely be a practice-squad player at best.
James Davidson, Linebacker
James Davidson is a good athlete who needs to be developed for a few seasons before getting a chance at landing a final roster spot. He showed some versatility in college, but that could work against him as he looks to carve out a role on the next level.
Curtis Feigt, Tackle
Curtis Feigt is 6'6" and 307 pounds. He is a German national who moved to West Virginia in 2007. He started two seasons at right tackle and has NFL size and strength but lacks the quickness to be a quality starting tackle in the NFL.
Dan France, Guard
Dan France started three seasons at right guard for Michigan State. He has good size and relied on his intelligence to be effective in college, but he lacks the ideal athleticism to crack a deep offensive line group in Cincinnati.