Being a champion during the NFL preseason means just about nothing in the long run. Even so, seeing production from young players in some of their first live game action is always exciting and gets fans wondering, is this an indication of what's to come? During the Bengals' preseason opener against the Giants there were many players you could have asked yourself that question regarding.
Rookies like Josh Shaw, Troy Hill, Deshawn Williams, and Marcus Hardison all impressed in their first taste of NFL competition. The team has seemed to find diamonds in the rough recently with mid and late round picks, as well as with undrafted college free agents, and usually it's their preseason performances that have paved the way to the final roster.
However, is the notion more of an outlier, or is it an up-and-coming trend with young Bengals players? We take a look at some Bengals players rookie preseason campaigns to see how preseason performances affected their regular season.
Vontaze Burfict, 2012:
Perhaps the shining star of recent undrafted college free agents for the Bengals, Burfict entered Cincinnati's camp "hangry"--a combination of hungry and angry. Floating between being the second and third-team linebacker as preseason play began in 2012, Burfict had an impressive showing with 14 total tackles and a sack. These solid in-game performances followed a strong camp showing, making Burfict the backup weak side linebacker to Thomas Howard as the regular season began. An unfortunate knee injury to Howard paved the way for Burfict to play a starting role and he shot off to a solid start to his career, including a Pro Bowl berth following the 2013 season.
Dontay Moch, 2012:
In his second season, Moch looked like an absolute monster in the preseason. He racked up 3.5 sacks, nine total tackles and a fumble recovery, prompting the coaches to keep him on the final roster. Moch only played in one game that season and has one sack for his entire career. Moch's preseason seems to be more of a product of a niche guy dominating scrub units instead of being an actually productive regular season guy.
Dre Kirkpatrick, 2012-2013:
As a rookie, Kirkpatrick battled injuries which kept him out of much of the preseason. He was able to suit up more frequently in his second season, racking up 13 total tackles, while causing no turnovers. The high amount of tackles was a bit more of a product of teams picking on Kirkpatrick. Even though he struggled from the get-go, he began to make plays toward the end of the 2013 and 2014 regular seasons. In each of those two respective regular season campaigns, Kirkpatrick registered three interceptions and one touchdown during each season. All reports have him looking solid in his first year as a starting corner, and he had a nice pass break-up in the preseason opener this year.
Margus Hunt, 2013-2014:
Widely-considered a raw prospect, Hunt showed some of his sheer strength and athleticism in his first two preseason campaigns. As a rookie, he registered 10 tackles and a sack, followed by an outstanding 2014 with four sacks and 10 more tackles. Unfortunately, it just hasn't translated to the regular season for a variety of factors. Health and a sense of seeming lost against true NFL starters has led Hunt to rack up just 10 tackles and one sack in two years and 22 total games.
Ryan Hewitt, 2014:
On his warpath to cracking skulls in the 2014 regular season, Hewitt opened up the eyes of the coaching staff in 2014 training camp. So much so, Orson Charles was shown the door as the incumbent H-Back after a two-year investment in prepping him. Hewitt stepped in, showing both intelligence and versatility last preseason with stout run blocking and four catches, including a touchdown. He looks to be a valuable, yet underappreciated player on the Bengals' offense for years to come.
Rex Burkhead, 2013-2015:
After a promising 2013 preseason, Burkhead made the final roster, though he had basically no regular season impact. He followed it up with an unimpressive 2014 preseason, yet began to impact the Bengals' offense toward the end of the regular season. Go figure. Another offseason and Burkhead has become one of Hue Jackson's favorites while morphing into a flex running back/wide receiver hybrid.
Jeremy Hill, 2014:
The team's second round pick last year crushed the preseason. He had 190 rushing yards at a 4.6 yards-per-carry clip and another 93 yards receiving. Though it came late in the year, the production definitely translated to the regular season and he is primed for a big 2015 campaign.
The Verdict: A Mixed Bag
There are so many other names we could mention in this vein, but the fact remains that preseason brings mixed results for guys who shine. Obviously, it's promising for these rookies to show early maturity, but others who have impressed in practices didn't translate it to the field against the Giants (Jake Kumerow, namely). It's going to come down to proper opportunities, preparedness and likely, a little luck.
Another thing to note is the role preseason superstars have during the regular season on solid clubs like the Bengals. Though they'll get reps at their respective offensive and defensive positions during the preseason, very few, if any of this year's draft class picks will be vying for a starting position. It's backup positions and special teams roles that are mostly up for grabs. Time will tell how this year's Bengals preseason superstars perform when the regular season kicks off.