The debate stirs on as to whether the biggest need is Center or Cornerback, or even Left Tackle or Defensive End.
But amidst all the drafted players whom the Bengals will select in a few months, let us not forget the handful of contributors who go thru the NFL’s draft without receiving that exciting phone call that they have just been selected by such and such team.
They are the undrafted free agents, who slip thru the draft, undrafted for one reason or another, but are added after the draft as free agents. They are often overlooked, because only a small handful of the dozen or so who are signed by each team will ultimately make a team’s practice squad, let alone an active roster. But they play an important role in the team’s on-field success, as the 2013 Bengals can attest to.
The Bengals’ biggest UDFA contributors this year:
While not as famous as Kurt Warner, Hawkins also took the circuitous route to the NFL. Skipped over because of his 5’7" 175lbs frame, he has become a dynamic playmaker for the Bengals. After racking up 51 receptions in 2012, injuries limited his 2013 to a dozen catches for 199 yards and 0 TD’s.
While Arian Foster may be the poster child for modern UDFA running backs who have done well, the "lawfirm" has also been a productive runner in the NFL. He’s tallied 3,900 rushing yards and 42 TD’s in 6 NFL seasons. While his 2013 numbers may not be anywhere near elite (756 yards and 7 TD’s on a pedestrian 3.4 ypc), he did lead the Bengals in rushing yards for the 2nd straight season.
The multiple All-Pro & Pro-Bowl linebacker has carved out a very good 10 year career with 66 sacks and over 600 tackles. While the Kent State product’s best days are behind him, he was a decent contributor and starter for the Bengals elite defense in 2013, adding 2 sacks and 34 tackles.
Is he the Bengals’ worst starting offensive lineman, yes. But it can’t be taken away from him that he has carved out a career on the line as a 5 year starter. And the Center position was in better hands with him in 2013 than without him last year.
Duke is known more for producing good basketball teams, not NFL prospects. But Vincent Rey defied the stereotype, excelling for an injured Ray Maualuga in 2013. In 16 games (including a couple starts), Rey managed to generate 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 58 tackles.
Once projected as a 1st round pick, his out of shape pre-draft workouts, and perceived attitude plummeted him all the way down to undraftable. He has been a very aggressive, very productive linebacker for the Bengals finishing 2013 with a league leading 177 tackles, and being named 2nd team All-Pro.
Another example of how one team’s castoff is another team’s treasure, Gilberry has produced 14 sacks as a rotational D-lineman for Cincy. In 2013 he lead the Bengals with 7.5 sacks.