UPDATED: As many noticed, the linebackers were missing in the original article. I had a late change at safety and linebacker and accidentally left the linebackers out all together. Unfortunately, Taylor Mays gets the tough news of believing he made my team, only to find out he was the final cut. Now the roster prediction is completed.
With injuries and possible free agency signings, a lot will change between now and final cut-down day, but with the start of OTA's, I take a look at the Bengals roster and give you my "Way Too Early" 53-man roster projection:
Analysis: Since Dalton was a rookie, two things have been constant: 1) the Bengals have not had a capable veteran backup, and 2) the Bengals have only kept 2 quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. Both of those things change this year. McCarron is not a capable backup for Dalton at this point, but he also won't make it through waivers in order to get to the practice squad.
Therefore, the Bengals will keep 3 quarterbacks because Campbell is a quality veteran that can not only mentor Dalton, but can win games should Dalton go down.
Potential Surprise: Cutting McCarron. I put this at about a 5% chance, but with most teams only keeping 2 quarterbacks, there is a small possibility the Bengals try and sneak McCarron onto the practice squad. However, unless they are ok with losing him, I wouldn't recommend it.
Running Backs (4)
Analysis: Not much of a surprise here. Bernard and Hill are locks. The question becomes BJGE and whether the Bengals believe his leadership is worth more than the special teams contributions Peerman and Burkhead can provide. With BJGE not playing special teams and carrying a cap savings of $2.5 million, I believe he is the odd man out.
Potential Surprise: It is possible the Bengals keep BJGE and put Burkhead back on the practice squad, however, barring an injury, I just don't see how BJGE gets any touches. With limited touches, no special teams contributions and a cap savings of $2.5 million, I think he is the odd man out.
Tight Ends (3)
Analysis: I really debate Charles here, but Hue loved him enough to keep him on the team last year despite having no position, so I lean towards Charles making it...I just don't see them using him at fullback again. Most teams keep 3 TEs on the roster anyway and they could use Charles as their blocking TE and play more 3 TE sets where Eifert splits out.
Potential Surprise: Generally, cutting Charles would not be much of a surprise, however, given how much Hue put into him last year, I would be a bit surprised. Also, if they cut Charles and go with just 2 TEs, that would be a bit of a surprise.
Full Back (1)
Analysis: The Bengals will keep a fullback this year and I believe the experiment with Charles has a one year shelf life. The Bengals will likely sign a veteran fullback (maybe former Bengal Chris Pressley), but until they do, we operate with who is actually on the roster.
Whitlock was an undrafted rookie free agent DT, but his motor and aggression have gotten praise in the football world and those in the "know" seem to think he can be a successful fullback. Whitlock would also give the Bengals an emergency 5th DT in a game if injuries were handicap them - and we know the Bengals love versatility (see Charles).
Potential Surprise: The only surprise would be if the Bengals do not keep a fullback. If the Bengals were to cut Whitlock, that would not be a surprise. If the Bengals were to keep Whitlock, I don't see that as a surprise either.
Wide Receivers (6)
Analysis: The first 3 (Green, Jones, Sanu) are locks. Last year the Bengals kept 7, but with a 3rd quarterback and a fullback on the roster, I see the Bengals only keeping 6 in 2014. Sanzenbacher, while not as fast and quick as Hawkins, is bigger, very sure handed and well suited for the slot, so he will fill the role of Hawkins, sharing time in the slot with Sanu and could see time returning punts.
The last two receivers come down to special teams. I have two long term staples (Whalen and Tate) getting replaced this year by younger talent due to their lack of contributions outside of special teams. Whalen is a good gunner, but so is Wright and Wright has more potential as a receiver.
The same goes for Hamilton and Tate. Hamilton is bigger (6'2" 212 lbs) and was a sprinter at Arkansas, which could help him find a spot at kick returner. While Tate had a decent year in 2013, he contributes nothing outside of KR/PR. The Bengals have too much talent to have a guy taking a roster spot solely to do KR/PR.
Potential Surprise: Colin Lockett, rookie from San Diego State. Lockett was an undrafted free agent, but he specializes in kick returns. If the Bengals are comfortable with parting with Tate, Lockett could be a potential replacement - especially if the Bengals would elect to go with 7 WRs.
Offensive Line (9)
Mike Pollak (C/G)
Russell Bodine (C)
Kevin Zeitler (G)
Clint Boling (G)
Marshall Newhouse (G/T)
Andrew Whitworth (T)
Andre Smith (T)
Tanner Hawkinson (G/T)
Trevor Robinson (C)
Analysis: Not many surprises here either. Last year the Bengals kept 9 offensive lineman and I see them doing the same in 2014. The first 8 are locks (Pollak, Bodine, Zeitler, Boling, Newhouse, Whitworth, Smith, Hawkinson). The last spot may be interesting.
While keeping 3 centers would be odd, if Bodine wins the Center position, I could see Pollak starting at LG and Robinson sticking as the backup veteran center. With that being said, the Bengals will keep 1 or 2 young guard/tackles on the practice squad no matter what.
Potential Surprise: The only surprise here would be if one of the first eight are cut. Nothing with the 9th spot would be considered a surprise.
Defensive Ends (5)
Analysis: Even with the loss of Michael Johnson, this is a talented and deep group that can rush the quarterback with the best of them. Dunlap and Gilberry are the starters and given where he was drafted (3rd round), I believe Clarke is a lock as well.
Hunt has a lot to prove, but like Clarke, the Bengals aren't going to cut him - too much potential. That leaves the Bengals with a decision: go with 5 ends or chance it with 4. Given the inexperience of Hunt and Clarke, the Bengals have to have a 5th end on the team, and I believe that will be Moch.
Due to injuries, Moch has never got the chance to play for the Bengals in the regular season, but he does nothing but get to the quarterback in the preseason. Moch is not big, but has great speed for an end and according to the Bengals, they are done experimenting with him at linebacker and will use him in his natural role as a pass rusher.
This means Geathers is out, and here is why: Geathers will only be 31 at the start of the season, but it is a very old 31. 2014 would be Geathers 12th year in the league, he is coming off a season-ending elbow injury, gives them nothing on special teams and would save them $2.7 million were they to cut him.
As we know, the Bengals like versatile players and Moch can play DE or LB, can play special teams and is younger and cheaper than Geathers. The coaches love Geathers, but I don't see how he fits on the team.
Potential Surprise: Keeping Geathers. If the Bengals keep Geathers - regardless if they keep 4 or 5 ends - they would do so at the cost of sacrificing a younger, more explosive and cheaper option who can play special teams.
Analysis: This is going to be arguably the hardest position to judge. With so many talented linebackers on the roster, there are going to be some quality players not making the Bengals' final 53-man roster, and they'll probably get scooped up by another linebacker needy team.
Though the Bengals only go with 5 'pure' linebackers, they do have Taylor Mays at safety and Dontay Moch at DE who can also play some LB.
Potential Surprise: Cutting Maualuga. Even though he's been a full-time starter for his entire career, the Bengals may be forced to cut him this year with so many talented LBs on the roster.
Defensive Tackles (4)
Analysis: Barring injury, I don't see any way the tackles are anything but these four. Many, myself included, would like to see Thompson or Still win a starting spot next to Atkins. However, at the moment, I don't see any other tackles on the roster that will stay on the roster.
Potential Surprise: I would be surprised if the Bengals keep anyone but these four. They went with four tackles in 2013 and I can't see them changing that in 2014.
Analysis: The Bengals are loaded with 1st talent at the CB position (all five are 1st round picks), but they also don't have a single corner that doesn't have a question in regards to age, injury or experience. Assuming all parties are healthy, I see these five as having the upper hand on roster cut down day.
Potential Surprise: Newman had a good 2013, but he is coming off an injury that ended his season, he is in the last year of his contract, he will be 36 years old by week 1, he does not play special teams and the Bengals could save $2 million by cutting him.
I have this listed as a surprise, but I could definitely see the Bengals cut Newman in favor of a younger player that can contribute on special teams like their 7th round pick, Lavelle Westbrook, or the talented and speedy Onterio McCalebb.
Analysis: Nelson and Iloka are locks and I think Williams is as well. That leaves Manning and Mays. Manning is the better safety and can be the veteran leader like Crocker, but Mays has the versatility the Bengals covet and played very well as a coverage linebacker in 2013 before his season ended with a shoulder injury. If they keep five, which I think they will, I like these five.
Potential Surprise: I would be surprised if the Bengals go with just 4 safeties, but, with losing a roster spot with the 3rd quarterback, they could save a roster spot by going with just four safeties. If they go with just four, I give Mays the upper hand thanks to his versatility and familiarity with the defense.
Special Teams (3)
Analysis: The Bengals special teams trio was solid last year and I see no changes.
Potential Surprise: None.