The Cincinnati Bengals will once again be one of the deeper teams in the NFL. That was put to the test last year, as several key players went down, only to have their backups help carry Cincinnati to 11 wins and an AFC North crown.
Like last year, the Bengals will have many touch decisions to make as the final roster cuts are made. After 12 days of training camp and one preseason game, here is my latest 53-man roster projection:
As crazy as it sounds, the Bengals want to keep Campbell to help mentor Dalton. There are still ways he can help Dalton improve (other than saying 'don't play like me'), as well as get acclimated to Hue Jackson's offense. With McCarron now potentially starting the year on PUP, the Bengals hold onto his rights without having to a spend a roster spot on him.
Potential Surprise: Gun to my head: Bengals go Scott over Campbell if it comes down to it. Campbell is simply having a bad camp, and his first preseason game was reflective of that.
Running Backs (4)
Analysis: The Bengals cut or trade BenJarvus Green-Ellis prior to the second wave of cuts, giving him time to get acclimated with a team during their final preseason week.
As for Rex Burkhead, he's battling the up-and-coming James Wilder Jr. for the final spot. Burkhead has been great in camp and had a good showing in his first preseason action. This will come down to the wire into the final preseason game. Whoever gets waived will get signed to another team's 53-man roster.
Potential Surprise: Burkhead gets beaten out by. Wilder Jr.
Tight Ends (3) and Fullback (1)
Analysis: The Bengals want to use a true fullback after going with four TEs last year. The thing is, Hewitt gives them the best of both world. He's been the most consistent blocking FB through camp, and he's also proven he's a capable pass-catcher, and has even lined up at TE frequently. Simply put, he looks and has played better than Charles, who he beats out for the final TE/FB spot.
Potential Surprise: Charles makes it and Smith is cut. If Hewitt does make the roster, do the Bengals really need Smith, a blocking TE?
Wide Receivers (6)
Analysis: Cobi Hamilton had a good preseason last year, and by all indications, did really good on the practice squad. However, he's had an up-and-down training camp thus far, and was mostly non-existent in the first preseason game.
Tate manages to make the roster, which really isn't a surprise anymore. He's simply had a better camp and then caught a TD vs. the Chiefs. James Wright has had an impressive camp, and his special teams impact helps him make the final roster.
Potential Surprise: Brandon Tate finally gets cut now that Adam Jones can play returner more.
Offensive Line (8)
Mike Pollak (C/G)
Russell Bodine (C)
Kevin Zeitler (G)
Clint Boling (G)
Marshall Newhouse (G/T)
Andrew Whitworth (T/G)
Andre Smith (T)
Trey Hopkins (G/T)
Analysis: Versatility allows the Bengals to go with just eight lineman and still have plenty of depth at every position. Undrafted free agent guard, Trey Hopkins manages to make the roster. He turned some heads with his performance in OTAs, and he's kept that up playing full speed with the pads on now. He also played some right tackle in college, so he can play that in an emergency.
Pollak is the backup center while also battling Boling for the starting left guard spot.
Potential Surprise: Robinson makes the roster so the Bengals have a true backup center.
Defensive Lineman (9)
Analysis: Preferably, the Bengals would like to keep 5 DTs with Geno coming off a torn ACL, but there's no one worthy of a roster spot, leaving the Bengals with just four DTs. Thankfully, Geathers, Gilberry and Hunt can all play DT, especially on passing downs.
Dunlap and Hunt open the year as the starters with Gilberry and Geathers being their primary backups. Clarke is a work in progress. Dontay Moch just barely misses out on making the roster, as the Bengals like Geathers more for the veteran leadership he provides.
Potential Surprise: Geathers is cut and either Moch, Christo Bilukidi or Sam Montgomery makes the roster.
Analysis: This is the hardest position to project. JK Schaffer can't make the roster this year after making it last year. Having Taylor Mays to play both S and LB helps the Bengals keep just 6 true backers. Flowers cracks the roster as a rookie, beating out last year's 4th-rounder, Sean Porter for his spot.
Potential Surprise: DiManche is cut and the Bengals only go with five true backers.
Analysis: The top five are locked in. All that's left is to figure out if RJ Stanford, LaVelle Westbrooks, Chris Lewis-Harris or Victor Hampton are worthy of a sixth spot.
Ultimately, none of those guys are able to make the 53-man roster. Westbrooks is signed to the practice squad.
Potential Surprise: Stanford makes it because of his impact on special teams.
Analysis: Nelson and Iloka are the starters with Manning and Williams being the two primary backups. Mays gets seldom snaps here and at LB.
Potential Surprise: Undrafted free agent Isiah Lewis makes the roster and costs Mays' his spot.
Special Teams (3)
Analysis: The Bengals special teams trio was solid last year, but Nugent is in a battle with Quinn Sharp for the kicking duties. Ultimately, I see Nugent retaining his role.
Potential Surprise: Sharp makes the roster and gives the Bengals a dual punter/kicker.