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2015 Bengals position preview: wide receivers

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The 2015 version of the Cincinnati Bengals will likely feature more "ground-and-pound" than "air-it-out" football, but it won't be for a lack of talented pass catchers. The Bengals wide receiving corps has plenty of talent - along with plenty of question marks - entering training camp.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, beyond A.J. Green, there are very few certainties with the Bengals wide receiving corps. Green is a top five wide receiver and the anchor of the Bengals’ passing attack. The rest of the wide receivers pack plenty of skill and potential, but also offer a lot of question marks and concerns.

Intriguing Battles:

1) No. 2 Receiver

Most of us have assumed Marvin Jones will be the number two wide receiver, and why not? The last time we saw him on the field for an entire season (2013), he put up 51 receptions, 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. But, our assumption is based off Marvin Jones’ health – something that cannot be assumed. Jones missed the entire 2014 season with a foot and ankle injury, and while all indications are that he is 100 percent, we don’t know if he has lost any of his speed or explosiveness. If Jones is not the player we remember from 2013, the number two receiver spot is up for grabs and Mohamed Sanu – or possibly even Denarius Moore – could step in and grab it. Sanu offers a lot from a versatility standpoint (running, throwing, etc.) and while he had flashes of brilliance in 2014 operating as the number two – and sometimes even the number one – receiver, he also led the league in drops and all but disappeared down the stretch.

Denarius Moore is another intriguing option for the number two receiver role. At 6’0" 195 pounds, he is a little smaller than Jones and Sanu, but he is an underrated player. Moore has never had a NFL quality quarterback – no, I don’t count Carr as a quality NFL quarterback at this point in his career – but in 2012, under Hue Jackson, Moore had the best season of his career (51 receptions, 741 yards, 7 touchdowns), a season that is quite similar to Marvin Jones’ 2013 season. If Moore can regain his 2012 form, the battle for the Bengals 2015 number two receiver could be an interesting one.

2) Slot Receiver

In my opinion, this is will be the battle to watch during camp with the wide receivers. Barring a surprise veteran signing (like Wes Welker) this looks to be a four man race: Mohamed Sanu, Denarius Moore, James Wright and rookie, Mario Alford.

Mohamed Sanu

At 6’2", 215 pounds, what Sanu lacks in speed and quickness, he makes up for in size. Given his size, three years of NFL experience, his versatility and the fact he has a full year in Hue’s offense, Sanu has to enter camp as the favorite for the third/slot receiver role. I love Sanu’s size, versatility and makeup and would love to see him grab this role by the horns. However, the question becomes, could he hold onto said horns? As we saw in 2014, Sanu can be prone to drops - something that’s concerning with any receiver, but especially a guy operating in the middle of the field. A slot receiver has to run good routes and have good hands, because sloppy routes and slippery fingers in the middle of the field result in interceptions – something Dalton doesn’t need help with.

James Wright

Wright, like Sanu, is a big receiver (6’2", 205 pounds) who does not possess the prototypical speed and quickness of a slot receiver, however, he is an intriguing player. Wright was a good special teams player in college and as a rookie. And while his offensive contributions were limited in 2014, he started to get some playing time late in the year and made some clutch plays during the game in Tampa Bay right before injuring his knee. If healthy, Wright will make the team for his special team contributions, but may have an outside chance at the slot receiver role.

Denarius Moore

At 6’0", 195 pounds, Moore is a little smaller than Sanu and Wright, but certainly has more speed and experience. If Moore can regain the form he showed in 2012 under Hue Jackson, he could be an offseason steal. Either way, even if Moore cannot steal the second or third receiver role, I believe he should be kept on the roster for depth purposes. The Bengals wide receiver corps was decimated by injuries in 2014 and their return to health is no guarantee for 2015. As we saw last year, leaning on young, inexperienced and marginally talented receivers will get the team nowhere. Moore can provide the Bengals a viable veteran backup at every wide receiver position.

Mario Alford (R)

Alford has the size (5’8", 177 pounds) and speed (4.27 40 time) that is more often associated with a slot receiver. However, as a seventh round draft pick, his spot on the team, let alone the slot receiver role, is hardly a guarantee. If Alford can prove himself as a formidable kick returner, he has a real shot to make the team. If he proves he has reliable hands and reliable route running abilities, he is my favorite for the slot receiver role. One thing which was apparent with the injuries experienced in 2014 was the team’s overall lack of speed. Alford has the type of game-breaking speed the Bengals lacked in 2014 and could desperately use in 2015.

3) Kick returner

Our Inside the Jungle host, Nick Seuberling, is thoroughly convinced Brandon Tate will maintain this role in 2015. I am not. Drafting Alford and moving Onterrio McCaleb to wide receiver – both of whom run sub 4.3 forties – tells me the Bengals are looking for someone who can make more explosive plays, both on offense and special teams. Tate’s return averages are not terrible and he rarely fumbles. However, he routinely makes poor decisions in bringing kickoffs out of the endzone and rarely does he make an explosive play in the kicking game. More importantly, Tate is taking up an active roster spot and contributing nothing to the offense. In 2014, with Jones and Eifert out for the year and Green out five games, Tate managed just 17 receptions, 193 yards and 1 touchdown. In fact, in his three seasons with the Bengals, Tate has just 31 receptions, 410 yards and 2 touchdowns. Alford, though less experienced, has more speed than Tate and can at least presumably provide the offense more than Tate.

4) Veteran Addition?

When we spoke with Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com on our Inside the Jungle podcast last month, I was surprised to hear him say he thought the Bengals should add another veteran receiver. Unless they trade Jones or Sanu, I disagree with Geoff on this point. However, with the lack of production we saw from this group last year, I see his point and would be intrigued by a guy like Reggie Wayne or Wes Welker. Welker could provide Dalton that slot receiver and safety net over the middle, something he has never had, and Wayne would be a great addition to work with and teach a young receiving corps – not to mention work with Dalton. After playing his entire career with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, the knowledge Wayne could pass along to Dalton would make him worthy of getting a look.

5) Versatility of Burkhead

Lastly, we must not forget about Rex Burkhead. Burkhead is a versatile and talented running back, but with Hill and Bernard ahead of him, he is never going to see many touches in the backfield. However, he may have some opportunities in the slot. As a result of the depleted receiving corps in 2014, Burkhead saw plenty of playing time in last year’s playoff loss in Indianapolis and took advantage by taking a reverse 23 yards and chipping in three receptions for 34 yards. The Bengals coaches have said they want Burkhead’s role to expand in 2015 and he has been used in the slot at times thus far in camp. His versatility is something the Bengals’ coaching staff covets, and if he can stay healthy – a big if at this point in his career – Burkhead could be the Bengals breakout player of the year.

General Roster Makeup:

6-7 Wide Receivers

2015 Roster Prediction:

Wide Receivers (6): Green, Jones, Sanu, Moore, Wright, Alford

Practice Squad (1): Jake Kumerow (UDFA) or another rookie not named Alford