You have to be accepting of the progress this young group of receivers made in 2012, but with the pressure to give Dalton more weapons, can the Bengals afford to wait and allow the young guys to continue developing?
A.J. Green - 97 Receptions, 1,350 yards, 11 TDs - Signed through 2014
Green was exactly what we expected in his sophomore season. He made highlight catches, was Andy Dalton's go-to guy and became one of the best receivers in football. Jay Gruden helped Green by moving him around and forcing the ball his way when the offense struggled. Though Green may have faded down the stretch with a few bad drops, his play in the second half against Houston was nearly enough to led Cincinnati to their first postseason win in decades. Heading into 2013, Green is the best player on offense and should only see more targets next year as he continues to grow as an NFL receiver. The question here is - Do the Bengals actively look for another wide receiver to alleviate pressure from Green or do they develop the talent they drafted last year?
Mohamed Sanu - 16 receptions, 154 yards, 4 TDs - Signed through 2015
We first saw Sanu during the first snap against Washington. Instead of being in a two-point stance with limp arms prior near the sidelines prior to the snap, the rookie from Rutgers was the 'wildcat' quarterback and threw an impressive bomb to Green for the touchdown. Cover Zero, Jay Gruden remarked. Perfect play. Sanu really got his chance to play receiver in weeks later during the season, thanks to a Marvin Jones injury, posting all of receptions during the season while scoring four touchdowns in a span of three games. Sanu started opposite Green and played all three receiver spots as advertised before an injured foot during practice placed him on Injured Reserve. Sanu's injury seemingly had a direct effect on the flow of the offense, which tasted like a stale potato chip. Though I fully expect Sanu to start opposite of Green in 2013, he's going to provide his biggest contributions from the slot position like he did at Rutgers. He's the type of slot receiver that Dalton can lean on; especially in the red zone.
Marvin Jones - 18 receptions, 201 yards, 1 TD - Signed through 2015
Jones began his career battling for playing time behind Armon Binns and Brandon Tate. He caught three passes before he was set to start a Sunday Night game against the Steelers in week seven. Unfortunately, Jones hurt his knee during the kickoff and didn't get back until Sanu suffered his own season-ending injury. Jones offers the second-best deep option on the team and just needs to work on catching the ball with his hands and away from his body. Over the final two games, Jones caught 10 balls for 110 yards and a TD. Jones should compete for the second wide receiver position in 2013, but I expect him to be more of a third receiver that comes in and plays outside when Sanu slides into the slot. He's more of the Chris Henry role from those years.
Andrew Hawkins - 51 receptions, 533 yards, 4 TDs - 2013 Exclusive Rights Free Agent
Hawkins was the feel-good story for the Bengals first half of 2012. He seemed to disappear beyond the first quarter of the season, largely missing his elite burst and agility. As one of the Bengals best special teams players, Hawkins was compiling snaps at a quicker pace than everyone would've liked. "Baby Hawk" still ended up with a very productive season as a slot/gadget receiver. Hawkins will be returning in 2013 because that exclusive rights means he isn't going anywhere, provided the Bengals tender him a contract. I could see his role as a traditional receiver reduced while the Bengals try to get the ball into Hawkins' hands in more creative ways. He's one of those dangerous players with the ball. Trick is, getting him the ball. You can line him up in the slot, out wide and in the backfield.
Brandon Tate - 13 receptions, 211 yards, 1 TD - 2013 Unrestricted Free Agent
Tate is our punching bag. We love to bash him because he feeds off of our hate like a river of slime flowing underneath New York City. He wasn't bad this year. In fact, Tate made some great catches and flashed more ability than all of 2011. He still had his "What the Tate?" plays, and that overshadowed what he did on offense in limited snaps. Did you know Tate had more receiving yards than any wide receiver on the team after Green and Hawkins? Even including Armon Binns. I wouldn't be surprised or upset if Tate was re-signed. He's the fifth or sixth wide receiver on the team and for that, he offers more than enough when you include his return experience.
Ryan Whalen - 7 receptions, 53 yards - Signed through 2014
Whalen is a possession guy that runs precise routes and has strong hands. He also contributes on special teams and that's what really secured his roster spot in 2012. He'll have a chance to compete for a spot again in 2013.
Camp/Practice Squad Candidates
Justin Hilton, Dane Sanzenbacher, Lavasier Tuinei