Early Projections for Cincinnati Bengals' Final 53-Man Roster
With the 2014 NFL draft in the rearview mirror, the Cincinnati Bengals are going to have some extremely tough decisions to make in the coming months. You can only go into the season with a 53-man roster, and it's going to be a heck of a task trying to figure out who the best 53 are.
The secondary is loaded with younger players like Dre Kirkpatrick, Shawn Williams, and now, Darqueze Dennard. And it is stocked with veterans like Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, and Adam Jones. Then comes George Iloka and Taylor Mays—do you see where it's suddenly difficult to make cuts?
On offense, the Bengals drafted another running back this year and signed an undrafted free agent. So where will that leave BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman?
These are just a few of the questions that the Cincinnati front office will will have to address as the 2014 regular season approaches, and it doesn't make it easier for the brain trust that the Bengals are coming off what could a be a very successful draft. So the expectations are going to be high once again in the Queen City.
Which 53 guys can we expect to see come early September?
Quarterbacks (3): Andy Dalton, Jason Campbell, A.J. McCarron
Running backs (4): Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Cedric Peerman, Orson Charles (FB)
Wide Receivers (7): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Brandon Tate, Mohamed Sanu, Dane Sanzenbacher, Ryan Whalen, Cobi Hamilton
Tight Ends (3): Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, Kevin Brock
Offensive Linemen (8): Andrew Whitworth, Clint Boling, Trevor Robinson, Kevin Zeitler, Andre Smith, Tanner Hawkinson, Russell Bodine, Marshall Newhouse
Defensive Linemen (9): Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Will Clarke, Devon Still, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Brandon Thompson, Carlos Dunlap, Robert Geathers
Linebackers (6): Jayson DiManche, Rey Maualuga, Vincent Rey, J.K. Schaffer, Vontaze Burfict, Emmanuel Lamur
Secondary (10): Darqueze Dennard, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick, Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Reggie Nelson, Shawn Williams, George Iloka, Danieal Manning, Taylor Mays
Special Teams (3): Clark Harris (LS), Kevin Huber (P), Mike Nugent (K)
It won't take long for the AJ McCarron rumblings to begin—it will take one bad game, maybe even one interception from Andy Dalton, who's no longer the adored quarterback he was back in 2012. The fans in Cincinnati have grown increasingly impatient with the Red Rifle, and it won't take much to jump-start calls for the rookie signal-caller from Alabama.
Heading into his fourth year, Dalton will no longer be able to hide behind the excuse of inexperience. I would bet my house that Dalton will sign an extension before the season begins, but if he does not, it's do or die for him. Make no mistake—McCarron was not drafted to be groomed as Dalton's replacement.
No, he is nothing more than a bargaining chip for the negotiation process. Is it possible that he's starting for Cincinnati in 2015? Sure, if somehow Dalton isn't re-signed, which is the beauty of McCarron being a fifth-round pick. He won't chew up a huge amount of money and there's always potential for McCarron to be a surprise star in the NFL. No one thought Russell Wilson would be who he is.
For the 2014 season, though, Dalton will receive as much time as it takes to prove his worth. The veteran Jason Campbell will be his backup. Theoretically, McCarron will "compete" for the third-string job with newly signed Matt Scott, but to leave the two-time national champion off the 53-man roster would cause an upheaval within the fanbase.
Dalton's clock is ticking, but there's at least 16 games left on that clock.
Coley Harvey of ESPN.com reported that cutting BenJarvus Green-Ellis would save $2.5 million in cap space for the Cincinati Bengals this season. Despite that, Harvey says, "the Bengals remain committed to having him on the roster and have said they will make sure he gets every opportunity to prove he belongs."
You'll notice on my full roster, Green-Ellis is not one of the four running backs. With Jeremy Hill being a younger version of the Law Firm, I can't see the sense in holding onto Green-Ellis for another year, swallowing what he would wind up making to play only 1/3 of the downs.
Giovani Bernard proved to be a star last season, using quick moves both in the running game and passing attack. He is going to be the starter come Week 1, no matter who is still on the roster.
Expect the rookie, Hill, to see ample time as well. He is going to be a solid power back, the proverbial downhill-rolling snowball that can't be stopped once it starts. At LSU last season, Hill averaged an impressive 6.9 yards per carry (which came on 203 carries), topping 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Orson Charles, despite offseason trouble, is likely to remain the starting fullback as he continues his transition from tight end. Cedric Peerman will stay on the roster mostly due to his prowess on special teams.
With Hue Jackson running the offense, this group of guys, no matter how many make up the roster, are going to put up some big numbers.
It was reported by CBS Sports' Larry Hartstein on Monday that Dane Sanzenbacher is likely to be the Bengals' slot receiver this season. Hartstein also noted that Marvin Jones is beating out Mohamed Sanu for the team's number two receiver position.
We all know who is going to be the number one receiver, as A.J. Green is one of the top three receivers in the league. He has played the biggest part in whatever NFL success Andy Dalton has enjoyed.
As for the other six receivers, the competition seems pretty open. As mentioned before, it appears the speedy Marvin Jones is going to continue to be a big part of the Bengals offense after he posting 10 receiving touchdowns in 2013. He largely outperformed Mohamed Sanu, who was drafted ahead of Jones in the 2012 Draft. Jones put up over 700 yards, while Sanu managed only 455.
Still expect to see Sanu get plenty of snaps, as his physical style of play is still desirable.
It will be interesting to see how Sanzenbacher reacts should he receive more playing time. He showed some promise with the Chicago Bears in 2011, when he caught 27 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. In two seasons with Cincinnati, he's largely been overshadowed by Green, Jones, Sanu and the tight ends. But there's still the potential for Sanzenbacher to become a Wes Welker-type slot man, should the Bengals commit to using him there.
Brandon Tate, Cobi Hamilton, and Ryan Whalen will likely be dressed and ready on Sundays, but, barring injuries, I wouldn't expect them to see much action.
After underwhelming in his rookie season, Tyler Eifert could be ready for big things in 2014. With Jermaine Gresham being in a contract year and showing no signs of re-signing with the team, the focus should be on getting the ball to the Notre Dame standout.
Following a five-catch performance against New England in Week 5, Eifert failed to catch more than three passes in any of the remaining 12 games (playoffs included). He caught no passes in the Wild Card Round game against San Diego, an unacceptable performance for a big presence like Eifert.
Gresham is still going to see a number of passes come his way, as he has consistently been a pretty big part of the Bengals' offense since his arrival in 2010. Unfortunately, 2013 was not his shining season, as he set career lows in catches and yards and matched a career low in touchdowns.
Dalton is not really being a big downfield thrower, and Eifert and Gresham both catch the ball across the middle pretty effectively. The two tight ends must help out their quarterback by moving the chains and fighting for yards after the catch.
I've listed the Bengals as having eight offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, which may seem over the top, but after the injuries plagued the line last season, it wouldn't shock me to see the team overload and protect their investments (Dalton, Bernard, etc.)
Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are a couple of the best tackles in the league and are going to be the big dogs up front. Kevin Zeitler is quickly becoming one of the better guards in the NFL after two solid seasons.
The left guard and center positions pose a little more concern. Clint Boling has been decent since capitalizing on the preseason injury to Travelle Wharton back in 2012. Decent, but not good. Trevor Robinson really hasn't had ample opportunity to make a judgment, but that is still a good reason to keep a backup just in case.
Enter Tanner Hawkinson and rookie Russell Bodine, both of whom could find themselves starting if someone struggles. Bodine is at a special advantage as he can play any of the three middle positions.
Despite a couple of question marks, this line is stacked very well overall. With one of the best insurance policies in the league in Whitworth, Dalton should be able to thrive behind his gargantuan linemen.
It's always hard to elaborate on the special teams, but Cincinnati has one of the better units in the league. They were huge in winning a couple games last season, playing perhaps a bigger part than the offense in those two victories.
So long as Kevin Huber can keep from getting his bell rung again, he will continue to be a top-10 punter in the league—he planted 24 punts inside the 20-yard line in 14 games last season.
Mike Nugent hit just over 81 percent of his kicks, landing a 54-yarder as his longest.
Perhaps the most pressing concern entering this season will be the health of standout defensive lineman Geno Atkins. Atkins, who tore his ACL against the Miami Dophins on Halloween last season, has been arguably the best at his position over the past two seasons.
If he comes back healthy, the defensive line should be able to continue to terrorize opposing offenses, despite the loss of Michael Johnson. On the ends, Carlos Dunlap has been fantastic since being drafted in 2010, collecting 27.5 sacks in his four seasons with Cincinnati.
Wallace Gilberry is likely to start at the other end position, but keep an eye on Margus Hunt and this year's third-round pick Will Clarke. They are going to be on the field plenty as well.
Domata Peko, one of the longest-tenured Bengals at this point, is likely on the back nine of his career, but he has consistently been an effective pass-rusher during his time. I expect that he'll be on the field quite often, but Brandon Thompson and Devon Still certainly have earned playing time.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has inherited arguably the best defensive line in football today. With a healthy Geno Atkins, they could single-handedly make this a winning ball club.
As of now, the CBS Sports depth chart shows Vontaze Burfict, Rey Maualuga, and Jayson DiManche as the starting linebackers in Cincinnati. While Burfict and Maualuga are shoe-ins (though I'm not in agreement on the Maualuga selection), DiManche has a lot of competition to be the starter on the strongside.
Brandon Joiner, Emmanuel Lamur, and even late-round selection Marquis Flowers could pose a challenge to DiManche, but his biggest competition is going to be Vincent Rey.
This is not to knock DiManche, who is a good tackler and defender overall, but Rey was extremely impressive filling in due to injuries last season. He racked up 57 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery while playing in an extended role.
These are numbers that the rest of the linebackers cannot match. Make no mistake, DiManche and Lamur, in particular, should see time, just not as starters.
Questions have risen about this corps (not named Vontaze Burfict, at least) over the last couple of seasons, but with the departure of James Harrison, Rey just may be the answer to those questions.
As you examine the back four of the Cincinnati defense, it's difficult to make cuts and trim the fat. This isn't the case due to an overload of talent, but rather, a lack thereof.
Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for what Danieal Manning and Terence Newman have done throughout their careers, but what they have left to give is in question. Still, they will be on the 53-man roster.
Expect standout veteran Leon Hall and first-round pick Darqueze Dennard to start at cornerback, while Reggie Nelson and George Iloka should start at safety. Iloka, the starting strong safety, will have a lot of guys breathing down his neck for the position. Manning, along with Taylor Mays and second-year man Shawn Williams will be looking to make a name for themselves.
This was the part of the lineup that really needed to be addressed this offseason, and it was a downright steal to find Dennard available at No. 24 earlier this month. With Dre Kirkpatrick fading further into obscurity, it's becoming more crucial that Dennard excel.
Will Cincinnati have 10 guys from the secondary on the roster? It's not real likely, but with the many question marks and potential for injury, it would be a wise decision. Kirkpatrick and Dennard are young, Leon Hall has proven to be fragile, and you don't know what you'll get from game to game with Newman or Adam Jones.
There's a lot of juggling to do in the secondary for coordinator Paul Guenther, but I can't wait to see what he does.