There are 12 wide receivers on the team, more than any other position, which makes it hard to put them all in one article. Last Thursday, I wrote about the tall guys (A.J. Green, Armon Binns, Marvin Jones, Vidal Hazelton, Justin Hilton, and Mohamed Sanu), whose heights range from 6'4" to 6'2". This piece has the short guys (Brandon Tate, Ryan Whalen, Jordan Shipley, Taveon Rogers, Kashif Moore, and Andrew Hawkins), whose heights range from 6'1" to 5'7".
Brandon Tate was the team's punt and kick returner last year, and was harshly criticized by Bengals fans, despite setting a franchise record in total punt return yards. Ryan Whalen finally received some playing time late in the season when Andre Caldwell went down to injury, and literally caught everything thrown his way. Jordan Shipley posted the best statistics of any rookie receiver in the AFC in 2010, but he tore his ACL in week two of the 2011 season. Taveon Rogers was the NCAA's leader in all purpose yards last year, with an incredible 2356 yards gained from receptions and kick returns. Kashif Moore hasn't been extremely productive in college, but he placed in the top ten wide receivers in every single workout at the NFL Combine, putting him on the map for many teams. Finally, Andrew Hawkins, the 5'7" underdog, stepped up for the Bengals with some clutch receptions last year, and his quickness and agility is among the best in the entire NFL.
|2011 Stats||Receptions||Kickoff Return AVG||Kickoff TD||Punt Return AVG||Punt TD|
Brandon Tate is one of the hardest players to evaluate on the entire roster. He didn't record a single reception last year, only running a handful of routes in emergency situations. He was with the Patriots last year for training camp, but was waived in final cuts, and three teams (Bengals, Cardinals, Jets) made a waiver claim for him. Because he came in a little late and was going to be the team's punt and kickoff return man, the Bengals really didn't even give him a chance on offense. Now, with the rookies still adjusting, he is neck and neck with Armon Binns for that coveted second starting spot. Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden gushed about him during OTAs, citing his athletic abilities and new-found confidence. Tate has admitted that he's "trained really, really hard" in the offseason, and quarterback Andy Dalton likes what he has seen from Tate as well.
Said Dalton of Tate, "I'm excited about him. He's done a good job. You can tell he's put in the work this offseason. He's running around well, and right now it's just getting everybody on the same page."
So, where did Tate come from? How has he gone from being solely a return man, to a leading candidate to start next to A.J. Green?
Here's a short history of Tate's career with the University of North Carolina and the New England Patriots. He returned kicks and punts in all 4 years for the Tar Heels, and was so productive that he holds the NCAA career return yardage record, with 3523 yards. He became the ninth player in NCAA history to return a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown in the same game. In his junior and senior seasons, he emerged as a true deep threat wide receiver and great complement to Hakeem Nicks. As a junior, he averaged 19 yards per reception, and totaled 1765 all purpose yards, with 7 touchdowns.
In his senior season, Tate started to make his case as a possible first round selection, by making more big plays than Hakeem Nicks. Tate averaged an astonishing 23.5 yards/catch, and was on fire in the return game too. He was averaging 27.7 yards/return on kickoffs, 22.6 yards/return on punts, and even rushed for 143 yards on 11 carries. His elite speed and ability to re-angle his momentum while staying in a full sprint were proving too much for defenders on all parts of the field. But, it all got cut short when he tore his ACL and MCL in his right knee in his sixth game of the year. Despite a slow rehab process that didn't allow him to participate in workouts the NFL Combine, and testing positive for marijuana at the combine, he was still seen as a "possible second- to fourth-round pick".
The Patriots still took him in the third round though, placing a risky long term investment in a guy who was raw as a wide receiver and coming off a major knee injury. He didn't see the field until week 7, then mysteriously suffered another knee injury in week 9, and was placed on IR. In his second season, he 'started' 10 games, but Tom Brady hardly looked at him. He was on the field for 552 offensive snaps that year, but only received 43 targets. Wes Welker and Deion Branch received 227 targets. In his 24 receptions, he managed a healthy 18.0 yards/catch, and three touchdowns, but it was clear he wasn't a focal point of the offense. Tate did a good job of getting downfield quickly and getting open on deep routes, but his route running was suspect and he didn't really get much separation with other types of routes.
So, what to make of Tate? He's a wild card. He only has 70 career receptions. That's college and the NFL. He has the speed and deep threat capability, but he's just never been relied upon before as a wide receiver. He's reportedly been doing well in OTA's, but, in my opinion, he looks like a totally different player than he was at UNC, where he was explosive, bouncy, aggressive, and a playmaker. His biggest asset now is that he can run really fast in a straight line, and make slight changes in his direction without losing any speed. And after much thought, that's why I think he'll make the team. He is the team's best non-AJ-Green deep threat. Tate and Armon Binns complement each other well. Tate can work deep routes, while Binns is more of the possession receiver. Tate is perfect for corner routes, fly (go) routes, post routes, and slant routes. Binns can turn his hips better, and present a tall, hard-to-defend target out of his breaks. I think Binns is perfect for drags and outs, and probably curls too. But, that's all my personal speculation. We'll see who can actually catch the ball in preseason and training camp. If Tate does make the team, I think he'll lose snaps to Marvin Jones as the year goes on. Marvin Jones is the second best non-AJ-Green deep threat, and he presents far more versatility. I projected 40 targets and 25 receptions for Marvin Jones, and that's because I think he'll take Tate's job halfway through the season. If that doesn't happen, I would give those targets to Tate alone.
2012 Projection: 30 targets, 15 receptions, 240 yards, 16 yards/reception, 2 touchdowns.
|2011 Stats||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Yards/Rec||Touchdowns||INT (while thrown to)||QB Rating (while thrown to)|
I feel bad for Ryan Whalen, because I think he has done everything right while on this team, but his odds of making the 2012 roster are very low. The team lost Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell, but they replaced them with essentially four players. They drafted Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, and suddenly Armon Binns is contention for starting, while Jordan Shipley returns from injury. That really hurts Whalen's (and Andrew Hawkins's) chances of making this roster.
Whalen literally caught every ball thrown his way in 2011 (even including two more catches in the wild card playoff game), some of which were clutch third down conversions. He has very good hands, and compensates with lack of vertical speed with his great agility and knack for making tough football plays. He is much more quick than fast, and scouts fear that he isn't capable as a deep threat, and can't get much separation in man coverage.
Here's what wide receivers coach James Urban said about Whalen when he was drafted last year.
This is the guy that Stanford was looking for when it was third-and-six in a key game. This kid is a winner. He plays the game the way you want it played. He’s tough, he’s physical, and he’s the kind of guy you want in your meeting room and on your team.
Whalen came in and did his job when Andre Caldwell went down to injury, but the lack of potential with Whalen, and superior physical ability of the new wide receivers that have been brought in, he probably will get waived on final cuts. Whalen is a very good slot receiver who can sit in zones, but the Jordan Shipley and Mohamed Sanu can do it just as well too.
He does have the ability to contribute to a team somewhere, and that's why many have picked him to go to the Indianapolis Colts. The former Stanford product would be rejoining his college quarterback, Andrew Luck, on a team devoid of wide receiver talent. The Colt also have the first pick in waiver claims.
2012 Projection: Waived.
|2011 Stats||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Yards/Rec||Rec TD||INT||QB Rating|
Jordan Shipley was drafted by the Bengals in the third round back in 2010, and had an incredible rookie season. He was the team's slot receiver with Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens working the outside. He had 611 snaps on offense, with a whopping 390 of them coming from the slot. No player in the entire league had more slot snaps than that. He led all AFC rookies with 52 receptions (tied with Jermaine Gresham), and Pro Football Focus deemed that he didn't drop a single one.
When 2011 rolled around, he was expected to be the slot receiver again, while A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson worked the outside. Andre Caldwell was the 4th receiver, who supposedly had the versatility to back up all three players. Well, Shipley was lost for the season in the third quarter of game 2, and Caldwell became the slot receiver. And Caldwell sucked at it. He had literally zero chemistry with Andy Dalton. Dalton threw 7 picks while targeting Caldwell.
What you should take away from 2011 is that not just anyone can man the slot. Shipley ran consistent routes, had good hands, and enough agility to get open. He wasn't asked to best press coverage much, but he ran great routes against man coverage and was definitely a zone buster. Run forward. Stop. Catch the ball. That's what Shipley did so well as a rookie.
He can be very elusive, but he didn't really show it much while with the Bengals. He mostly caught the ball and fell down as a rookie, because Palmer didn't throw to him in space much. In college, he returned 3 punts for touchdowns, with a great 12.5 average on 30 total punt returns. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against No. 1 ranked Oklahoma. The Bengals have always given him punt return snaps during training camp, and he's a candidate to replace Brandon Tate as the team's punt returner this year. He did return a punt 64 yards down to the one yard line in the Bengals 2010 preseason opener.
Shipley is fearless when he runs across the middle of the field, and is great at catching the ball in traffic. But, that can also hurt him, literally. He takes a lot of hard hits, and his 188-pound frame doesn't take it well. He suffered a concussion against the Browns in his rookie season, and he tore his ACL last year in week two last year. His small frame also hurts him as a blocker, and against jams at the line of scrimmage. He can't hold leverage against many defenders, and gets re-routed easily. In Shipley's only full game of 2011, Browns' nickel cornerback Dmitri Patterson absolutely smothered him. Patterson was up in press coverage (at the line of scrimmage) on about 30 of Shipley's 35 offensive snaps, and Shipley struggled to get open. Patterson almost had an interception, but he let it fall through his hands. The only reception he made came when Shipley pulled a nifty little double move (anticipating Patterson would shadow him across the middle), and he finally got some separation. In Shipley's eighteen snaps in week two (was injured early in the third quarter), Broncos nickel cornerback Jonathan Wilhite was in press coverage on Shipley for most of the game. Shipley received a cushion on seven total pass plays, and was targeted five times out of those seven plays. He didn't get a single target while in press coverage! His struggles against press coverage bother me. He needs to get more separation. He doesn't have that A.J. Green height or ballhawking ability to overcome a lack of separation.
I think having a good backup slot receiver is very important to have on this team, in case Shipley goes down to injury again. He says that he's "really close to 100 percent", so I doubt he will get placed on the PUP list to start the season. He is very good at what he does, but generally if the defender isn't on the line of scrimmage. In the end, Shipley probably makes the team as the primary slot receiver, and he has a very good chance of becoming the punt returner. However, that puts him at injury risk. So, having a good slot guy like Mohamed Sanu will be important long-term for the Bengals. Andrew Hawkins and Ryan Whalen are both very adept slot players as well, but they might not make the team.
In 2012, I think Shipley splits the slot duties with Sanu. Sanu (6'2", 215 pounds) has the size and strength to beat press coverage easily, and he uses his body as a shield to keep defenders from making a play on the ball. If they do become the team's slot receivers, it will be interesting to see how Sanu and Shipley can be used against different defensive looks.
2012 Projection: 60 targets, 40 receptions, 400 yards, 10 yards/reception, 2 touchdowns.
|2011 Stats||Receptions||Yards||Yards/Rec||Rec TD||Kickoff Return Yards||Kickoff AVG||Kickoff TD|
|College - 12 games||59||1048||17.8||9||1318||25.8||3|
Rogers was very productive in his final year at New Mexico State. His total all purpose yards actually ranked as the best in the entire NCAA, with 196 yards per game.
He was very dangerous as a kick returner, averaging 26.5 yards/return in his college career. He had three kickoff return touchdowns in 2011, and even broke the school record for kickoff return yards twice. In one game in 2010, he returned six kickoffs for 219 yards. As a junior in 2011, he returned eight kickoffs for 246 yards, breaking the record again.
Rogers is summarized as a "big play threat with big time speed", and his numbers back that up. 17.8 yards per reception and 9 touchdowns is definitely evidence to his big play capability.
At the New Mexico State Pro Day, Rogers turned in a 40-yard dash of an incredible 4.33 seconds. That would have matched the best time at the NFL Combine, which Rogers wasn't invited to. Rogers cone and shuttle times weren't fast though, which makes you think he is more of a straight line speed guy. The scouting reports seem to confirm that. His head coach says that he once ran a 10.3 100 meter dash, which is unbelievable. I literally don't believe it. He wouldn't have gotten last at the 100m finals of the U.S. Olympic trials a few weeks ago.
Rogers' bulk and strength may be a concern. He stands just under 5'11', but is one of the lightest players on the team at 190 pounds. He only put up 6 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press.
As a route runner, Rogers is very inexperienced. He didn't start at wide receiver until game eight of 2010. He only has 77 career catches. All in all, you have a player similar to Brandon Tate. Straight line speed baby.
Rogers will need to refine his route running skills and improve his technique before he is ready to contribute as an NFL receiver. He definitely has the special teams skill, and that will help his chance of making the team greatly.
2012 Projection: Waived, or practice squad player.
|2011 Stats||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Yards/Rec||Rec TD||INT||QB Rating|
|College - 12 games||?||41||604||14.7||5||?||?|
Kashif Moore, the 5'9" speedster, has been contributing to the Connecticut wide receiving corps for all four years. He's steadily (but slowly) increased his production, growing from 27 receptions as a freshman to 41 receptions as a senior. Not fantastic production, but the Huskies really didn't throw it much. His college stats are put into perspective when you realize that the Huskies only had twelve passing touchdowns last year, and Moore caught five of them.
He was given a combine invite, where he raised a lot of eyebrows. His 4.42 forty time, nineteen bench repetitions, 43.5 inch vertical jump, 10'6" broad jump, and cone and shuttle drills all placed in the top ten for wide receivers. And that insane 43.5 inch vertical jump? Ranked third best in the past seven years at the combine. Additionally, those nineteen bench repetitions matched the Steelers' second round draft pick offensive tackle Mike Adams.
As a wide receiver, Moore seemed to suffer from Jerome Simpson syndrome. Inconsistency paired with freakish athleticism. In his senior season, he had three very big games, but he had both less than four catches and 50 yards in the other nine. He's very speedy, and he can definitely jump and get some balls, but his height is a drawback.
Here's how Moore described himself as a wide receiver, courteous of NEPatriotsDraft.com.
Moore described himself as "an explosive player off the line of scrimmage, a vertical threat who can get behind defenses, I can play in the slot and I take pride in my route running ability." Moore also called himself "a leader both on the field and off the field."
He's best remembered for this incredible one-handed catch against South Carolina in the 2010 PapaJohns.com Bowl. His father was in the Air Force, and he prides himself in his work ethic and leadership. He was a team captain as a senior.
This scouting report from the National Football Post is the only real scouting report I could find on Moore, which generally bashes him for his strength and ability to beat press coverage. It says that Moore wasn't very quick, which I find hard to agree with. It also says that Moore was "an easy cover" due to technique problems in his route running.
Whatever the case, the Bengals are faced with an interesting prospect who is definitely a home run threat with the ball in his hands. He seems underrated, and I'm interested to see how he can perform in training camp. In comparing the longshots/outsiders to make the team, I personally like Taveon Rogers and Kashif Moore over Justin Hilton and Vidal Hazelton.
2012 Projection: Waived, or practice squad player.
|2011 Stats||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Yards/Rec||Rec TD||INT||QB Rating|
Last but not least, we get to the underdog, Andrew Hawkins. You won't find a bigger Hawkins fan than me. I'm the one that wrote "The Story of Andrew Hawkins" (Part I) (Part II) back in April. I suggest you read both those pieces to get the full story, because it's far too great a story to summarize here.
But, if you are lazy or you already read it, here's a quick summary, you heartless coward. [Sarcasm]. Hawkins was an effective two way player with the University of Toledo. He was often on the field on special teams as well. Because he's only 5'7", no NFL teams even sniffed at him, until the Cleveland Browns gave him a workout. They didn't sign him, but the tape from that workout helped propel him to a spot on a football reality show, 4th and Long, where he got second place. After the show concluded, he spent two years in the Canadian football league, and suddenly the NFL was calling his name. The Bengals and Rams held workouts with Hawkins, but the Rams ended up signing him. They only gave him a day in training camp before he was cut, and he spent the rest of 2011 training camp with the Bengals. He didn't make the final team, but was placed on the practice squad. When slot receiver Jordan Shipley went down to injury in week two, the club called up Hawkins.
Over the course of the year, Hawkins was used as a gunner on special teams, and on the kickoff coverage team. He totaled 23 receptions on the year, many on third down. Twelve of his receptions were converted for a first down. In five end around attempts, Hawkins totaled 25 yards and added two more first downs.
He made some fantastic moves and some incredible catches in his short time on the field. His quickness and agility is among the best in the entire NFL. He can start and stop unlike anyone I've ever seen. No human should be able to move like that. Even his practice repetitions during OTAs make your draw drop a little.
Because of that agility and blazing 4.3 forty speed, he's almost uncoverable on short and intermediate routes. In the first Steelers game, All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu couldn't keep up with Hawkins on an intermediate crossing route, and apparently Polamalu complained to his defensive coordinator that they had to change the coverage scheme so that Polamalu would have a chance against Hawkins.
Even though Hawkins is only 5'7", he upper body is built. He weighs 180 pounds. He has to be built, otherwise his body wouldn't stand a chance against NFL defenders. Hawkins also plays special teams, so he needs to be able to fight through blocks and make tackles, which he is very good at for his size.
Now that I've talked about his strengths forever, I do think he has a few weaknesses. Because he is so short, he presents a small target to throw to. He has incredible leaping ability (40" vertical), but he's still a hard target. Armon Binns and AJ Green both present a nice, friendly, tall target. Dalton doesn't have that luxury when throwing to Hawkins. Especially when Hawkins is moving so damn fast, he poses a more difficult throw to make. Hawkins must compensate for his lack of height by gaining extra separation horizontally. That also means that Hawkins isn't much of a vertical threat. Though he can blow by defenders with his speed, it's harder to drop a pass behind a linebacker or safety when your target is smaller, not to mention the simple height disadvantage in jump ball situations.
Fortunately, Andy Dalton is a very accurate quarterback, and he can get a lot out of Hawkins. Hawkins' strengths and weaknesses make him an ideal slot receiver, but that's problematic when Jordan Shipley and Mohamed Sanu are likely to make the team. Ryan Whalen and Kashif Moore are also slot receiver types.
I've thought a lot about it, and it's hard to find a spot for Hawkins on the team. The Bengals and most teams generally carry six receivers, sometimes five. If you take Hawkins on the roster, you have to eliminate Tate or Binns or Marvin Jones. Maybe even Shipley.
Everyone seems to think Tate will get cut, but are you really that comfortable with only Armon Binns and Marvin Jones as your non-AJ-Green outside wide receivers? Sanu can only play the outside in short yardage situations and in the red zone. Tate brings a deep threat that Binns and Sanu can't bring. So if you cut Tate, you are only left with Jones. That's a lot to ask of a 5th round rookie to be the primary guy that draws safety coverage away from A.J. Green.
I think the best solution for all parties is to carry seven wide receivers. Hawkins being the seventh. Hawkins, Jones, Tate, Sanu, and possibly Shipley (as punt returner) can all contribute on special teams, so what's wrong with eliminating a special teams reserve from another position and taking a seventh wide receiver instead? That's the best solution I can come up with.
I realize I've probably slightly over projected Andy Dalton's attempts and yardage, but oh well. Hawkins make the team as receiver number seven.
2012 Projection: 40 targets, 25 receptions, 300 yards, 12 yards/reception, 1 touchdown.
If you made it this far, congrats. At 4164 words, this is definitely the longest post I've ever written.