Cincinnati Bengals: Way-Too-Early 53-Man Roster and Depth-Chart Predictions
While the team didn't always take the expected route, it did make moves to get better in several rounds and used the rest to take players it likes and thinks can help the roster down the road after a little development.
The draft just ended, but it's never a bad time to take a step back and look at the full roster and then project how the final 53-man roster might shape up with the new guys in place.
For a perennial player contender like the Bengals, some positions don't have any sort of competition whatsoever. Others, such as both the offensive and defensive trenches, have some serious work to do in order to figure out where things go from here.
Within, let's project Cincinnati's final 53-man roster with the new faces in place.
This might not come as a surprise, but nothing changes for the Bengals at quarterback after the draft.
Andy Dalton remains the starter and, if the Bengals are lucky, healthy for an entire season. There isn't a competition otherwise, though it will be interesting to see how he fares without Hue Jackson as offensive coordinator.
AJ McCarron remains the primary backup. Cincinnati was never going to entertain the thought of a trade, especially because it doesn't typically keep three quarterbacks on the final roster.
The normal duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard is sure to return at running back for the Bengals next season.
That said, the team could use more of a committee than expected with a hodgepodge of names, after Hill struggled to hold onto the ball and be effective last year. Given Bernard's size, Cedric Peerman could get some run outside of his key role as a special teams leader.
Rex Burkhead is the random element here. A gadget guy who can catch passes and line up in the slot, he's a lock for the roster given, the team's desire to get him more involved.
Wideout was one of the most important positions for the Bengals to address in the draft after losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to free agency.
The team went with Tyler Boyd out of Pittsburgh in the second round, and he'll get the nod as the starter in the slot, sharing duties with James Wright. Brandon LaFell will line up across from A.J. Green and in theory help move the chains, though he's coming off a down year and an injury.
Brandon Tate sticks around as a glue guy who helps on special teams and knows the offense well. Conversely, Mario Alford is a developmental big-play threat who could see more run this year, especially if injuries plague the depth chart. He's also a candidate to take returner snaps.
Look for sixth-round pick Cody Core to land on the practice squad while he develops.
Cincinnati went big on tight end in last year's draft to ensure big-play weapons with upside behind Tyler Eifert.
It's just what the Bengals have in Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah. The former is a pro-ready player who can help in base packages next year, while the latter is more of a project worthy of stashing and developing.
Eifert, so long as he can stay healthy, will eat the lion's share of the snaps, though Kroft could see significant usage based on need thanks to the major shuffling at wideout.
Like tight end, the Bengals aggressively attacked offensive line in last year's draft, knowing full and well the front office wasn't going to bring back right tackle Andre Smith.
Veteran and elite left tackle Andrew Whitworth will man the left side of the line once again, with sophomore Cedric Ogbuehi taking over Smith's duties on the right side. Fellow 2015 draftee Jake Fisher will act as a primary tackle backup, as will reliable veteran Eric Winston—though both can take snaps at guard should injury occur.
Speaking of guard, the duo of Clint Boling on the left and Kevin Zeitler on the right also makes a return. Developmental player Trey Hopkins serves as a swing backup there alongside the aforementioned tackles.
Center is the weak point of the line, with Russell Bodine still getting the nod at center. T.J. Johnson looks like the odd man out after the Bengals grabbed underrated interior lineman Christian Westerman in the fifth round of the draft. A technician, Westerman might be able to push Bodine for the starting job as a rookie, though chances are there isn't another major change for at least a year.
Defensive end was a major area of need going into the 2016 draft after the Bengals lost Wallace Gilberry to free agency.
Alas, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson return for another year, feeding off Geno Atkins in the middle.
The problem rested behind the starting two. Margus Hunt almost lost a roster spot last summer due to injury and failing to meet lofty expectations. Will Clarke, seemingly a Johnson clone, hasn't had enough run yet to justify giving him the boot.
Given the need for more rotational depth, it seemed likely the Bengals would add help in the draft. Cincinnati seems to think otherwise about the situation, which means Hunt and Clarke get a chance to prove themselves and the team might ask Marcus Hardison (listed as a tackle) to slim down and play on the edge.
Cincinnati entered the draft bloated at defensive tackle for a 4-3 team yet still could have used an upgrade next to Atkins.
With Domata Peko and Pat Sims losing effectiveness with age, many expected the Bengals to nab an upgrade. They did so in emphatic fashion, grabbing the steal of the draft with Baylor's Andrew Billings in the fourth round.
A monster of a player who can do it all, Billings figures to steal Sims' roster spot when final cuts roll around. Peko isn't going anywhere thanks to his leadership value, and the Bengals don't figure to want to give up on Brandon Thompson just yet. Hardison was drafted last year and is a guy they'd probably like to see more of as well.
Expect Billings to rotate in at tackle often as a rookie.
Cincinnati already trimmed some of the fat at linebacker before the draft with A.J. Hawk's release and then filled the open slot almost right away with third-round rookie Nick Vigil.
Vigil is going to have a hard time seeing the field, though, with Vontaze Burfict still manning the weak side and the newly signed Karlos Dansby handling things on the strong side.
Behind the starters, Paul Dawson still looks like a starter of the future, and Marquis Flowers has versatility worth keeping on the roster. Vigil and Dawson might someday start in the base defense with Burfict, but not in 2016.
Given the small percentage of snaps that inside linebackers see in Cincinnati's defense, the Bengals don't have a reason to keep many guys in the middle once they cut down to 53 players.
Rey Maualuga's role hasn't gone anywhere, and he's the surefire starter. Given what the team asks him to do and how he accomplishes it, the Bengals didn't have a reason to seek an upgrade.
Ditto for Vincent Rey, who has proved time and again he can come in when asked and perform in adequate fashion, though his real critical impact comes on special teams.
|4||William Jackson III|
William Jackson III was the surprise for the Bengals this year, a first-round pick who could wind up being the best cornerback in the draft once hindsight kicks into the equation.
One problem—he isn't going to see the field a ton as a rookie. Dre Kirkpatrick is now the No. 1 corner and in a contract year, so he'll see as many snaps as reliable veteran Adam Jones. With Leon Hall gone, Darqueze Dennard will round out the starting trio.
Cincinnati likes to have an extra defensive back on the field most of the time, so WJ3 will get some run. But so will a versatile guy like Josh Shaw, a sophomore. These two will work in with a dash of Chris Lewis-Harris and one of several interchangeable safeties.
The Bengals lost Reggie Nelson to free agency, but it was an expected development the team had prepared for over the course of the past few years.
George Iloka remains a starter on one side and one of the league's more underrated players. Next to him, Shawn Williams figures to slot in and get a chance to prove himself, although the coaching staff really likes the sophomore ball hawk by the name of Derron Smith.
Taylor Mays is a wild card here after re-upping with the team. He's more of a depth player who can come in and serve a hybrid linebacker-safety role as he has in the past. This likely moves a guy like seventh-round rookie Clayton Fejedelem to the practice squad.
Either way, Cincinnati won't keep more than this, especially when all guys can play interchangeable roles based on the situation.
|Kick Returner||Adam Jones|
|Punt Returner||Adam Jones|
|Long Snapper||Clark Harris|
Expect something else on special teams?
The Bengals have had this winning formula in place for years and didn't see a reason to change it in Chicago. Mike Nugent is above-average, Kevin Huber flirts with elite, and Clark Harris is the glue guy who keeps it all consistent.
Returner is a fun conversation because Jones is one of the best in the league. He'll still get the nod as starter, but expect a mix of Mario Alford, Giovani Bernard and Brandon Tate as well, since it's important for Jones to stay healthy to play corner as the defensive secondary undergoes more change.
53-Man Roster Projection
Here is the projected roster:
|44||William Jackson III||CB|