Again, the point of these articles is not only to predict who the coaches and front office will decide are the 53 on the roster. It's also for us to decide what we personally think is the best set of 53 players. For example, we've already knocked off Brandon Tate and Mike Nugent.
So far, I have covered the FB/TE, halfback, WR, QB, OL, and DL positional groups. Along with the specialists, it always adds up to 37, even with various roster flux scenarios. We will carry 16 combined linebackers and defensive backs on the roster; there's no way around that. This article is pretty long-winded, but I just want to cover most bases. Really, it could be much longer.
How many LB will we keep? Our defense runs plenty of nickel packages, with just 2 LB on the field at a time, to go with 5 DB.
With the additions of Dennard and Manning, as well as the return of Hall, Guenther will probably come to his senses and realize that the secondary needs extra roster space and that we simply cannot carry 7 true LB (i.e. excluding Mays). Otherwise, we'd keep merely 8 DB besides Mays. It's just a bad idea to carry so few DB for a team that will be using the nickel.
We can all agree that Burfict, Lamur, and V. Rey are guaranteed locks, and rightly so. However, I will place Maualuga on the bubble here, like I did with Tate, Geathers, and Nugent.
Rey Maualuga has looked decent at SAM, but subpar at MIKE. He was the worst starting MIKE in the league in 2012. Last season, the Bengals used him more as a two-down LB. He is who he is, plus he is a UFA after 2014.
Since replacing Dhani Jones in 2011, Maualuga has allowed a passer rating of 102.2 to the players he's been covering, at a completion percentage of 78.6. Plus, he has led the Bengals in missed tackles for three consecutive seasons from 2011-2013, even though his role was reduced in 2013. He can also be undisciplined; remember the personal foul that may have handed the Bears a victory?
The NFL is an increasingly pass-happy league, which is why we run the nickel so often. It seems that Maualuga might be somewhat irrelevant- lumbering, undisciplined, not very good in tackling, and awful in coverage. He didn't get off to a good start in 2014 preseason, either.
ReyRey isn't a good starting LB. But he might be a good enough backup, who knows. Are you willing to still keep him on the roster, at the expense of a spot for Flowers, Porter, Stanford, or someone else?
Jayson DiManche somehow went undrafted in 2013 after being projected as a 4th-round pick. He got only 47 snaps as an actual LB (and he looked solid, mainly at SAM but also at MIKE), but received 3 coaches' game balls for special teams play. One of those came from the Cleveland game, in which he blocked a punt that was recovered for a TD. He has good physical traits, 6'1", 244 pounds and a 4.58 40 time.
In his preseason depth chart, Brennen Warner had this to say about DiManche:
Jayson DiManche has already made several solo impressive plays this camp. He hustles to the ball every play and flies around the field from sideline to sideline. He had these traits as a rookie last year, but it looks like he understands these responsibilities better this year and has eliminated the mental mistakes.
And also had this comment about DiManche:
DiManche has looked very good
Flying sideline to sideline making plays against run and pass. Seems to know where he should be every time
DiManche is not a lock, but he's most likely in and rightfully so.
Taylor Mays is listed as a safety, and has been the second-string SS in camp. But he's also played plenty of nickel LB as well, a role that he was effective in last year. Obviously, physical traits have never been Mays' problem, at 6'3", 225 pounds with a 4.43 40 time, and he can hit. Mays is outstanding on special teams, too.
Like DiManche, Mays is a Guenther favorite. He personally molded Mays into the effective player he is today. As with DiManche, Brennen has Mays in fairly easily, as do I. Mays provides legitimate depth at both S and LB. The dwindling "Mays sucks and should be cut" narrative doesn't hold weight anymore.
Okay, so that's the three guys who are not guaranteed locks but who are definitely on the right side of the bubble. Then, there are two linebackers who are squarely on the bubble:
Sean Porter was our 4th-round pick in 2013. He has the draft status. He was the team captain of the Texas A&M defense, earning first-team All-Big-12. He showed versatility, playing all 3 spots; he can rush the passer, tackle well including for loss, and cover.
He showed little in 2013 preseason before heading to season-ending IR with a torn shoulder labrum. Porter has average physical traits, standing at 6'1", 242 pounds but a somewhat slow 4.69 40 time. He offers special teams potential.
Anthony Cosenza tabbed Porter a potential breakout player.
Dan Hoard wrote a piece on Porter. Matt Burke gave Porter some praise. Porter showed off his coverage skills in OTA's:
In one of the Bengals recent practices, Porter opened eyes with a red zone interception of Andy Dalton.
Sean Porter with a terrific one-handed interception of Jason Campbell on final play of #Bengals practice— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) June 11, 2014
Porter missed all of training camp, and has missed all of preseason so far, due to a knee injury.
Marquis Flowers was our 6th-round pick in 2014, out of Arizona. Like Porter, he had a solid college career. He was honorable mention All-Pac-12. Flowers has good physical traits, standing at 6'3", 240 pounds and an impressive 4.52 40 time. Obviously, Flowers offers special teams potential too.
When Flowers finally came off of active PUP, he made an impression:
Cobi Hamilton just got destroyed by 6th round pick Marquis Flowers on a WR screen. Welcome back to health, marquis!— Brennen Warner (@JustBeWarned) July 30, 2014
Check Brennen's Twitter for videos of Flowers' nice plays.
Starting to quickly see why #Bengals liked Marquis Flowers so much. He plays with a serious edge. Talks trash like Burfict. Backs it up, too— Coley Harvey (@ColeyHarvey) July 30, 2014
Initially, the thought was that Flowers would be merely a cover/nickel LB, but he has been playing plenty of WLB as well:
Marquis Flowers in with the first team today, no Burfict or Porter today— Brennen Warner (@JustBeWarned) August 5, 2014
Note that Porter held the role of backup WLB to Burfict before leaving due to injury. Flowers has had a productive preseason. He was temporarily injured in the Jets game but soon returned.
J.K. Schaffer- well, I'm throwing him a bone here. He was on the roster last year and contributed decently on special teams and got some playing time at MIKE, but he is not squarely on the bubble yet, still somewhat below it. One thing that hurts him is his below-average physical traits, just 6' 0", 232 pounds with a slow 4.77 40 time. He finally got to play in the second preseason game but left due to injury, his second concussion protocol already.
Joiner and Davidson are well off the bubble for the roster and have no realistic chance.
As for defensive back, the group of Hall, Newman, Jones, Kirkpatrick, Dennard, Nelson, Iloka, Williams, and Manning are locks, and deservingly so. Some might question Williams and Manning, but Williams is arguably our best special teamer, and Manning has impressed in training camp taking over the old Chris Crocker nickel role. Plus, Isaiah Lewis hasn't done well.
Taylor Mays is not a lock but is virtually in, and for good reason, as mentioned above.
R.J. Stanford is the only DB squarely on the bubble. He's in a roster-or-bust situation.
Stanford entered the league in 2010, as a 7th-round draft pick of the Panthers. He was decent for them, then moved on to the Dolphins where he was decent too, before we signed him in March. He's always been good on special teams throughout his career. He has impressive speed, a 4.29 40 time and standing at 5'10", 187 pounds.
James Wright and R.J. Stanford are two of the top ST gunners:
Brandon Tate returns the first punt, James Wright and RJ Stanford at gunner— Brennen Warner (@JustBeWarned) August 2, 2014
From my eyes, Stanford has thoroughly outplayed most of the other defensive backs in training camp. On the first training camp session inside the stadium, he covered A.J. Green well and surrendered only two big plays, both of which were called back due to Green pushing off on Stanford for offensive pass interference. Brennen had this to say about Stanford:
RJ Stanford, entering his 5th year in the NFL, has been the most impressive of all the non-first round cornerbacks on the team. He has been in the proper position almost every play and is probably in the top three in pass breakups so far in camp (behind Newman and Adam Jones).
RJ Stanford had a nice interception from Jason Campbell. Darqueze Dennard showed some nice recovery speed on a breakup against AJ Green— Brennen Warner (@JustBeWarned) July 30, 2014
Check Brennen's Twitter for videos of Stanford's and CLH's nice plays. Stanford's play is definitely deserving of a roster spot. He's had a productive preseason, too. However, there are 5 stone-cold locks at CB ahead of him. If we keep only those 5, he's out.
Chris Lewis-Harris would be squarely on the bubble due to his very good training camp and preseason, both as a corner and on special teams. However:
Chris Lewis-Harris could help a CB-needy team, but serving a suspension to start the year.— JGoods (@JoeGoodberry) August 17, 2014
Lavelle Westbrooks- he's moderately on the wrong side of the bubble, like Schaffer. Westbrooks is not squarely on the bubble yet, but at least he has a chance. Westbrooks was our second 7th-round 2014 pick, out of Georgia Southern. Stanford plays more outside, while Westbrooks plays more of the slot. Stanford is faster, while Westbrooks is more physical.
Westbrooks has looked nice in camp as a physical slot corner, winning matchups against the likes of Mohamed Sanu. However, Westbrooks has a 4.62 40 time, compared to Stanford's blazing 4.29. Westbrooks' slow speed showed here, a long TD by Travis Kelce:
Kelce just outran a defensive back, Lavelle Westbrooks, to the end zone.— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) August 8, 2014
Stanford and CLH are clearly the top two bubble corners. Westbrooks is mildly behind. All three did very well in the second preseason game. Excluding the top five locks, then these three guys are the top 3 respective corners according to Brennen's depth chart.
Hampton, McCalebb, and Lewis have shown little and have no realistic chance. They are practice squad-bound at best, like Joiner and Davidson. These guys are far below the bubble.
Regarding what the coaches/FO will decide, Maualuga, DiManche, and Mays are almost certainly in. Stanford will probably be cut, and the coaches/FO will likely choose to keep that extra LB. I think Brennen's prediction here is correct:
@lxpichet Westbrooks has made more plays than Victor, but both are being outplayed by RJ Stanford. And I don't think they'll keep 6 corners— Brennen Warner (@JustBeWarned) August 1, 2014
I think the coaches will choose Flowers over Porter because of Flowers' good looks so far, while Porter has been injured.
So that's Maualuga, DiManche, Mays, and Flowers, and carrying only 5 CB. Again, this is what I predict the coaches/FO will do, not that I agree with it.
As for my personal opinion? I wouldn't mind knocking off Maualuga, who is probably gone after this year anyway. I'd love to see R.J. Stanford make it as a sixth corner, because our CB group has perpetual concerns about age and health.
I definitely want Mays and DiManche in for their effective play both on defense and on special teams. Both of them have had good preseasons as well. If someone doesn't want either of those two anywhere on the 53-man roster at all, not even as a backup third-stringer, I simply fail to see the reasoning behind that. I can see it for Maualuga, but that perspective makes no sense to me when applied to Mays and DiManche.
There are way too many combinations here to include in a poll, so I'm just going to assume here that Schaffer and Westbrooks are out, and DiManche and Mays are in. I'll make the poll question a lot easier. For now, my personal 4 are DiManche, Mays, Flowers, and Stanford.
Porter would head to the PS or get placed on PUP/IR. Either way, Porter has a shot at the 2015 roster since Maualuga will be a UFA. Chris Lewis-Harris would be our top PS player and "54th man" once his suspension ends. Since Terence Newman will be a UFA, he'll have a shot at the 2015 roster too. Schaffer and Westbrooks have a chance at the PS.
I would try to trade Maualuga for a late-round pick, but it's doubtful anyone would take him, so then I'd cut him.
My roster would have 6 total LB and 11 total DB, including 6 CB and 5 S. I think that's very good depth and talent for a team that frequently uses the nickel.
I will use this poll and the previous polls to post a 2014 Cincy Jungle Community Roster.