With the start of training camps nearing, it's time to look at the 2015 Bengals draft class and what to expect from them in their rookie year.
ROUND 1, 21 OVERALL: OL CEDRIC OBGUEHI, TEXAS A&M
Cedric Ogbuehi may have been the Bengals' first pick this year, but he'll enter 2015 with some of the lowest expectations of any rookie. That's what happens when you're coming off an ACL tear and likely will open the year on PUP.
Ogbuehi was picked as a developmental project to groom into a replacement for Andre Smith or Andrew Whitworth when they come free agents next year. Ogbuehi has experience at both OT spots, as well as OG, where he could also develop into a starter if Kevin Zeitler eventually leaves.
Projected role: Opens year on PUP, then becomes backup OT and/or OG
ROUND 2, 53 OVERALL: OL JAKE FISHER, OREGON
The situation with Jake Fisher is pretty much the same as that of Cedric Ogbuehi. The only difference is Fisher should be available for the entire season, which is why he'll become a more important player for Cincinnati this year than Ogbuehi.
Most of Fisher's experience has come at LT, but he's versatile enough to play as a swing tackle and may even catch a few passes this year. Expect him to be used in a similar role as Dennis Rolland was, as a third OT in heavy formations.
Projected role: Key rotational player at OT. May get some snaps at OG as well.
ROUND 3, 85 OVERALL: TE TYLER KROFT, RUTGERS
With so little depth at TE, the Bengals drafted a pair of players at the position this year. Tyler Kroft was taken in the third round with the expectation he'd be Tyler Eifert's backup this year.
However, it was C.J. Uzomah who was more impressive in OTAs. Still, position battles aren't won in OTAs and I still think Uzomah is too raw and that shows up when the pads come on in training camp and the preseason. This will likely lead to Kroft earning the No. 2 TE spot and catching 15-20 passes as a rookie.
Projected role: Top backup at TE and contributor on special teams.
ROUND 3, 99 OVERALL: LB PAUL DAWSON, TCU
Though he wasn't drafted until the final pick of Round 3, Paul Dawson may play more than any Bengals rookie this year. A big reason why is the uncertainty surrounding WLB Vontaze Burfict, who may open the year on PUP after undergoing microfracture surgery this offseason on his knee.
Dawson thrived at the college level while playing WLB at TCU. His collegiate experience sets him up nicely to fill in for Burfict if and when he's out. I do think Vinny Rey will be the initial starter at QLB because of his extensive experience within the Bengals defense. But as the season goes on, Dawson will slowly get more and more snaps to the point he's essentially a co-starter along with Rey while also getting snaps at the other two LB spots.
Projected role: Key rotational player at LB
ROUND 4, 120 OVERALL: DB JOSH SHAW, USC
Josh Shaw is a versatile defensive back out of USC who can play both CB and S for the Bengals. That's what he'll do as a backup this year with both spots being already stacked. Shaw will get most of his playing time on special teams, but will likely get more snaps on defense as the season wears on.
Projected role: Backup CB/S and contributor on special teams
ROUND 4, 135 OVERALL: DL MARCUS HARDISON, ARIZONA STATE
The Bengals' league-worst pass rush in 2014 leaves Marcus Hardison with a golden opportunity to earn playing time as a rookie. It's rare you see a 300-pound DT get 10 sacks in any level of college football, but that's what Hardison did in the Pac-12.
He did so while lining up at both DE and DT, which is what he'll do for Cincinnati in his rookie year. He plays a similar role to that of former Bengal Jonathan Fanene, who also was a DT and effective pass-rusher from multiple spots along the D-line.
Projected role: Rotational player at DT and DE on passing downs.
ROUND 5, 157 OVERALL: TE C.J. UZOMAH, AUBURN
As mentioned above, C.J. Uzomah 'lit it up' in OTAs this offseason. That said, expectations for a TE with 29 collegiate receptions should be kept to a minimum, especially in his first NFL season. As long as the Bengals don't add another TE, Uzomah should make the final 53-man roster while battling Jake Murphy for the third-string TE spot.
Assuming Uzomah wins the role, he'll be used in goal-line formations as a red-zone target. At 6'5", 260-pounds, Uzomah may end up catching a few red-zone scores as a rookie.
Projected role: Third-string TE and contributor on special teams
ROUND 6, 197 OVERALL: S DERRON SMITH, FRESNO STATE
Another late-round rookie who impressed in OTAs, Derron Smith comes into training camp with more buzz than your typical sixth-round pick. Smith was arguably the Bengals' biggest steal in this year's draft, and his performance in spring workouts only reinforced that belief.
Smith not only will earn a spot on the 53-man roster but should regularly be active on game days because of his impact on special teams. He racked up 304 career tackles at Fresno State while starting at both S spots and playing special teams at the same time. As the season wears on, Smith should begin getting snaps as a backup S in addition to his special-teams role.
Projected role: Backup at S and contributor on special teams
ROUND 7, 238 OVERALL: WR MARIO ALFORD, WEST VIRGINIA
This one is the hardest to project, simply because Mario Alford will be battling Brandon Tate for one of the final wide receiver spots on the team. Can Alford beat the Bengals vet and prove to be a threat on the team's offense?
It's hard to see both Tate and Alford on the final roster, and I'm not writing Tate off until the Bengals actually cut him. That means Alford may end up on the practice squad during his rookie year, but I do think he eventually will get brought up once there's some wear and tear at the WR position during the season. The only reason to not allow Alford to go to the practice squad would be the threat of another team picking him up.
Projected role: Starts year on practice squad and eventually gets called up to be a backup at WR and contributor on special teams as both a returner and coverage man.