All NFL teams are required to reduce their roster to the 53-man maximum by the league-mandated 6:00 p.m. deadline on Saturday. Several teams have already reached that number while others like the Bengals are working scouts, analysts, and doctors to determine how to proceed.
Let's get what we know out of the way first. DeQuin Evans will go to the team's suspended list after his second violation against the league's performance enhancing substance policy. According to reports, Emmanuel Lamur is out of the season. Those transactions (or soon to be official transactions) reduces Cincinnati's number to 20.
Let's take a look at the team's bubble players and players that the team will most likely release.
John Skelton: Though he struggled to adapt to the west coast offense during training camp, Skelton turned in a productive preseason completing 60 percent of his passes with a team-high 103.8 passer rating. There's a thought that Skelton may have trade value for a team dealing with injuries. Either way, Skelton will have a team this year.
Daniel Herron: Loved Herron's progression from last year to this preseason. During his rookie campaign, Herron generated a 1.9 yard/rush average in the preseason. This year, he led the NFL in rushing after the first two games and finished the preseason with 167 yards rushing (ranked eighth). Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much that factors into the decision-making process when most of Herron's production was late during preseason games when teams played their own bubble players on defense.
Rex Burkhead: If Burkhead doesn't make the 53-man roster, it'll be due to Herron's surprising rise. However, consider that Burkhead had more yards from scrimmage (caught five passes) and, according to Pro Football Focus, Burkhead turned in the better performance as a pass blocker. But the question between Herron and Burkhead boils down to: who is the least likely to clear waivers.
Bernard Scott (PUP): An easy decision. Scott hasn't played nor practiced at all during the preseason. The only options concerning Scott is transferring to the in-season PUP, Injured Reserve, or release.
Alex Smith: If this discussion happened during any season throughout the Marvin Lewis era, Alex Smith easily makes the 53-man roster. Yet, we're not counting the veteran out just yet. He's a good blocker and has sure-enough hands to post 20-30 receptions, even if he is listed as the third or fourth tight end. But like Conner, Smith's fate is tied to how the Bengals want to build their team and not the result production capabilities.
John Conner: If the Bengals seriously want the option to have a power running game, they keep Conner. But the Bengals haven't been a team that really uses the fullback much, and Conner, who had a heck of a preseason with the Bengals, could be a victim of that.
Bryce Davis: A backup long-snapper or fifth tight end. However you look at it, there's no room. He caught two passes for 40 yards receiving, including a 26-yard haul against the Colts. Davis is practice squad eligible.
Dane Sazenbacher: He went from cannon fodder to 53-man projection in the span of one game (Atlanta), mostly the result of his special teams work. Sanzenbacher posted a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown against Atlanta and added a 53-yard kickoff return against the Cowboys.
Ryan Whalen: Not the special teams impact player that Sanzenbacher was, Whalen has been in the system longer and he's versatile enough to play every wide receiver position. He and Sazenbacher had nine receptions each, but Sanzenbacher generated 44 more yards, primarily due to his 36-yard touchdown reception against the Falcons.
Cobi Hamilton: An athletic receiver with good size, Hamilton has a higher ceiling among the receivers on the bubble list. But he won't be the immediate impact that Sazenbacher and Whalen could be this year. A fumble and training camp drops didn't help his cause either. I still have him making the roster over Whalen and Sanzenbacher, but an argument could be made for all three.
Taveon Rogers: Posted a 24-yard reception against the Titans, but didn't get many opportunities because the position was loaded with so much talent.
Roy Roundtree: Like Rogers, I really like Roundtree's athleticism and could see the team signing him to the practice squad.
Trevor Robinson: Didn't have a very strong camp and the Bengals used a handful of players at center during the preseason to limit whatever impact it would have releasing Robinson. In the end, I see offensive line coach Paul Robinson speaking up for Robinson as a continued development player that can backup center and both guard positions.
Dennis Roland: Tanner Hawkinson will make the 53-man roster as a backup tackle and with enough versatility at guard also. However, when the Bengals have opportunities to release Roland in the past, they couldn't do it.
T.J. Johnson: I'd be shocked if the Bengals kept Johnson, who struggled as a run blocker. He could be a candidate as a practice squad player.
Reid Fragel: Injuries axed his opportunities this preseason, but he should easily clear waivers for the practice squad. No one is going to put a claim on a player with a bum knee.
John Sullen: A college free agent, Sullen was signed to give the team depth during the preseason. He actually played well, especially as a pass blocker.
Dontay Moch: A victim of the numbers game, Moch will be the first man out at defensive end. The team is making inquiries about a trade, but most likely any team interested will just wait until he's waived. If no one is interested and he clears waivers, I'd be shocked if the Bengals didn't sign Moch to the practice squad.
Bruce Taylor: Didn't play against the Cowboys and failed to generate a tackle against the Falcons. Generated seven tackles against the Titans and Colts combined.
Taylor Mays: I believe that Mays is safer than what Hard Knocks wants to show, or what some media are promoting. He may not be the best safety or the top play-maker, but the question is, who replaces him? Yet, he's definitely on the bubble, especially if the Bengals want to short-change defensive backs to add another roster spot at another position -- say at wide receiver.
Brandon Ghee: A relatively new bubble player in this discussion, based primarily on my personal perspective. Ghee is an oft-injured cornerback that has the talent, but hasn't been capable of staying on the field. You have to believe this is weighing on the team's decision regarding Ghee's future. Other than that, Ghee makes it. He was one of only two players to generate an interception during the preseason.
Tony Dye: With all of the discussions about safety, Dye was never really part of those talks. A college free agent last year, Dye suffered a season-ending ankle injury during the preseason. He only took part in 23 defensive snaps this year.
Chris Lewis-Harris: I do believe there's a chance that the Bengals go with six cornerbacks with Brandon Ghee and Dre Kirkpatrick undergoing concussion protocols and Adam Jones recovering from a rib injury. Lewis-Harris took part in 45 defensive snaps against the Colts on Thursday and conventional wisdom is that Lewis-Harris is on the edge. On the other hand, if Ghee and Kirkpatrick are ready to go, then Lewis-Harris' chances for the 53-man roster are over.
Shaun Prater: (read above)
Onterio McCalebb: A former running back at Auburn, McCalebb reached out to Bengals legend Ken Riley during the offseason for tips on how to make the transition to cornerback. Not once was he a 53-man roster consideration, but the Bengals will want to sneak McCalebb to the practice squad for continued development.