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Bengals Offseason Positional Outlook: Wide Receivers

We continue our offseason positional outlook by taking a look at a position group that was a great disappointment in 2014. The health of the wide receivers and the talent the Bengals can add in the draft will go a long way to determining the success of the Bengals passing attack in 2015.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Depth Chart

WR1: AJ Green

WR2: Mohamed Sanu

WR3: Brandon Tate

The Rest: Dane Sanzenbacher, James Wright, Greg Little, Cobi Hamilton

IR: Marvin Jones


2014 Recap:

Entering the 2014 season, I was one of many who bought into the hype about how talented and deep the Bengals were at the wide receiver position. Safe to say, I was wrong. Without Marvin Jones, the Bengals depth at wide receiver was exposed. Despite a hot start, Mohamed Sanu proved he is not a number two receiver and the Bengals never found anyone to fill the slot receiver role.

2015 Outlook:

WR1: AJ Green

Despite a few injuries that caused him to miss three games, Green put together his fourth 1,000 yard season in as many years. With that being said, Green’s season felt disappointing. After averaging 97.5 receptions, 1,388 yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Green saw his numbers drop to 69/1,041/6, his lowest numbers of his career in terms of yards and touchdowns and his lowest reception total since his rookie season. Green just didn’t seem right in 2015. He seemed disinterested and unfocused at times and also had some issues with drops, a concern for a guy who is supposed to be a top 5 receiver.

WR2: Mohamed Sanu

With Sanu coming out of the gate hot, it looked as though the Bengals were going to be just fine without Marvin Jones. Through the first eight games, Sanu had 40 receptions, 628 yards and 4 touchdowns. Then, Sanu disappeared. After having four or more reception in six of his first eight games and 70+ yards in five of his first eight games, Sanu managed four or more receptions just once over the last eight games of the season and failed to accumulate 50 yards in a single game in the second half of the season. In fact, over the final eight games, Sanu totaled just 17 receptions, 162 yards and 1 touchdown.  In six of his last eight games, Sanu had two receptions or less and in the final three games of the regular season, Sanu managed just three total receptions. With the way Sanu played in the second half of the season, his spot as the number three receiver is not a guarantee in 2015.

WR3: Brandon Tate (UFA)

Tate is an unrestricted free agent in 2015 and even if the Bengals were to re-sign him, a spot on the roster on opening day would be unlikely. In a year when the Bengals desperately needed a third receiver to step up, Tate gave them just 17 receptions for 193 yards and 1 touchdown…or a per game average of 1.063 receptions, 12 yards and .063 touchdowns. To put that level of suck into perspective, A.J. Green had 11 receptions, 224 yards and 1 touchdown in a single game! Tate had 4 receptions for 19 yards in Week 1 and 4 receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown in Week 5. In the other 14 games, he accumulated just 9 receptions for 136 yards and no touchdowns, including 7 games without a catch. Throw in the fact that Tate continued to make questionable decisions as a kick returner, and I believe his days in Cincinnati, and possibly the NFL, are numbered.

The Rest: Dane Sanzenbacher (UFA), James Wright, Greg Little

This group managed to contribute 20 receptions, 265 yards and 0 touchdowns. Translation? The Bengals need to upgrade their depth at wide receiver. In fairness, James Wright was looking good and starting to grab hold of the slot role before going down with a knee injury against Tampa Bay in Week 13. Sanzenbacher’s role on the offense, or lack thereof, was very disappointing and Greg Little showed exactly why he spent the first few weeks of the 2015 NFL season watching games on TV, rather than playing in them. You can count on Little to not be wearing stripes in 2015, and while it is possible Sanzenbacher is signed for a minimum deal, his spot on the 53-man roster would be shaky at best.

IR: Marvin Jones

After establishing himself as a top tier number two receiver in 2013 (51 receptions, 712 yards, 10 touchdowns), there was a lot of excitement surrounding Jones coming in to 2014. Unfortunately, due to an ankle and foot injury, Jones never played a down in 2014 and his absence played a big part in the struggles of Andy Dalton and the passing attack. If Jones can get (and stay) healthy, his presence will make a huge difference to this group in 2015.

Outside Competition

2015 WR Free Agency Outlook

There are some big named wide receivers hitting the open market in 2015, but I don’t see the Bengals chasing a big name. In fact, although the Bengals will be looking to add depth at the wide receiver position, I don’t believe they will sign a free agent from outside their own walls. If the Bengals are to look for help from outside, I would expect them to go after a veteran slot guy. And while it would be fun to grab a guy like Wes Welker for a year, this is the Bengals we’re talking about, so I would expect a mid-tier guy – like an Eddie Royal or Donnie Avery.

2015 WR Draft Outlook

As I said above, the Bengals will be adding depth to the wide receiver position and I think they will do so through the draft. The Bengals need to add speed and this is a deep draft at the wide receiver position, full of guys with speed. While I wouldn’t rule out the Bengals taking a wide receiver in the first or second round, I think it is unlikely. I do think the third round is in play and I believe the Bengals will be looking for a slot receiver with good speed and quickness. Two guys I really like are Miami’s Phillip Dorsett and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett. Both are small receivers with great straight line speed, quickness and good change of direction and both project as slot receivers. Dorsett has game changing speed (4.33) and is a fast climber on a lot of draft boards. If the Bengals want Dorsett, they would have to grab him with their second round pick (and he may not last that long). Because of that, I don’t think the Bengals will land Dorsett. Lockett, on the other hand will likely be available in round three (maybe even round four) and along with his speed and high football IQ, Lockett offers the Bengals a kickoff return man, something that will be desired if the Bengals indeed let Tate walk.

General Roster Makeup: 6 on the 53-man roster; 1-2 on the practice squad

2015 Roster Prediction:

WRs (6): AJ Green, Marvin Jones, Mohammed Sanu, James Wright, 2 Rookies

PS (1): Rookie

2015 WR Stock Outlook:

A.J. Green and a bag of question marks. If Jones and Wright can stay healthy (and Green for that matter), and if Sanu can find his 2014 first half self, this is a good top four. However, these are all big ‘ifs’ and the Bengals current roster drops off big time after Wright. I think they will draft two receivers in 2015 and pick up a few others as undrafted free agents. But at this point, the receiver position has to be considered a question mark.