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Sizing up the 2015 Bengals UDFA Class

The Bengals ability to mold late round picks and undrafted free agents into contributors makes paying attention to this year's UDFA crop worthwhile.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

While the average NFL fan may not consider undrafted free agent signings to be a big deal, the Bengals’ success with finding diamonds in the rough late in the draft and via these means has forced us to pay a little closer attention in the offseason. For proof, look to the draft class of 2012. While that draft class is looking better and better every day, to this point the best player in that class has been the undrafted Vontaze Burfict. While that may change this year as injuries linger and players like Kevin Zeitler, George Iloka, and Dre Kirkpatrick are becoming big time contributors, none of them have had the success that Burfict has had in orange and black.

Projecting players that are drafted is hard enough. No matter how much college tape they have, it’s always a shaky proposition to predict how well that will translate to the NFL. That proposition is nearly impossible with undrafted free agents as film and scouting on them is much more sparse, and when it is found it is hard to base much on it due to the level of competition at the collegiate level. Alas, it is worth taking a look at the Bengals UDFA this year, because knowing the Bengals, there is a distinct possibility that one or more of these guys will have the opportunity to make the roster and possibly even an impact on a Sunday or two this year.

The current UDFA crop consists of the following

Troy Hill

Chris Jasperse

Jake Kumerow

Matt Lengel

Tom Obarski

• Floyd Raven Sr.

Trevor Roach

Jake Smith

Terrell Watson

Mark Weisman

DeShawn Williams

Kalafitoni Pole

Desmond Lawrence

It’s no secret that the road for an UDFA to make an NFL roster is usually paved with injuries on the roster, or at the very least, a particularly shallow position group. Fortunately for these players’ hopes of making the team, the Bengals have a couple groups that fit these prerequisites. This brings us to the first step: Identifying vulnerable position groups that will give an UDFA the opportunity to break in.

As of today we have two groups that may need a little help due to injuries. The aforementioned injury to Vontaze Burfict leaves a hole in the linebacking corps. If the season started today, our starters would be Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, and A.J. Hawk. That leaves one proven sub in Vinny Rey. Past that Marquis Flowers, Jayson Dimanche, Sean Porter, and Nico Johnson return from last year. They are joined by P.J. Dawson, many fan’s favorite 2015 draft pick. If any of those guys instill confidence in you, you have much more faith than I do.

There is a lone UDFA LB that the Bengals brought in, and that is Trevor Roach. Standing at 6’2" and weighing in at 237 pounds, Roach has the size needed. While his 4.78 40-yard time doesn’t set the world on fire, it is more than sufficient to play linebacker in the NFL. To once again reference our UDFA superhero Vontaze Burfict, he only managed a 5.09 40-time, and we’ve seen that that is not the end all be all with him. Roach also managed 25 reps of 225 lbs., so he also has the strength to stick. The question is, can he play? After not being on the field much during his first two seasons at Nebraska, Roach suffered the dreaded Lisfranc tear which sidelined him for the entirety of his junior season. After a successful rehab, Roach appeared in 12 games for the Huskers his senior year, working his way into the starting lineup halfway through the season. He went on to notch 63 total tackles with 6 being for a loss.

Even though the Bengals’ linebacker group is thin, I don’t foresee him being an upgrade to anyone currently on the roster. His limited experience and the tendency of Lisfranc injuries lingering does not bode well for his chances. The fact remains that he has a chance, and that is worth paying attention to.

Another weak group for the Bengals is the quarterback position… JUST KIDDING. I couldn’t resist.

The other group somewhat ripe for the picking is wide receiver. James Wright will be unavailable in 2015, and was on track to be the #4 receiver in my opinion. Without him, the WR group boasts A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Brandon Tate, Greg Little, Denarius Moore, Mario Alford, Tevin Reese, and Onterio McCalebb. If you haven’t read my preview of the WR group, let’s just say that I think Reese and McCalebb have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the roster. That leaves seven guys, and more than half of them are question marks. We know exactly what we are going to get from Green, Sanu, and Tater Tot. Jones definitely has the talent to be our #2, but I am not at all convinced that he can stay on the field. Greg Little is… Greg Little. What Denarius Moore can offer remains to be seen. Alford is a seventh round rookie, which barely places him above UDFAs in the pecking order. This leaves an opportunity for Jake Kumerow and/or Desmond Lawrence to shake up the depth chart.

Lawrence was brought in after the Bengals decommissioned James Wright for the year. He clicked off a 4.35 40-yard dash time at North Carolina A&T’s pro day. At 5’10" and 181 pounds Lawrence has all of the traits of a small speedster. Unfortunately, the Bengals spent a draft pick on someone with very similar measurables. Lawrence will have to really stand out to give himself a shot. His experience as a return man will certainly help his chances.

That leaves us with Jake Kumerow, my pick of the UDFA litter. Kumerow looks the part and has the college production to match, unlike all of the other UDFAs. He amassed 66 catches, 1,116 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior season. While D-III Wisconsin-Whitewater may not play the toughest schedule, numbers like that cannot easily be dismissed, especially when they come from a season in which the wide receiver missed four games. While those numbers are impressive, the most important number Kumerow boasts is his height, standing 6’5". He could stand to add some bulk to his 195 pound frame, but he was able to run in the low 4.5 range in the 40-yard dash which is plenty impressive for a player of his size. He has impressed in spots in camp thus far, but still faces an uphill battle. I believe that his worst case scenario lands him on the Bengals’ practice squad. If he makes some noise in the preseason, he may be able to push some of the WRs that are on the low end of the depth chart.