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Assessing Devon Still's Bid to Make the Final Roster

Devon Still has been given the benefit of the doubt for the last few years while working through his daughter's widely reported fight against cancer. Now that things seem to be stable in his personal life, can he reward the Bengals for their faith and patience?

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Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Devon Still is, perhaps, best known for his part in supporting his daughter, Leah's, fight against cancer over the past two years. The Bengals have supported Still in this fight, keeping him on the payroll in some form or another while he takes care of his personal affairs. However, with Leah's cancer now in remission and Still being three years removed from his second round draft status, it's time for him to earn his spot on the Bengals' roster the old-fashioned way, by convincing the coaches and ownership that he's one of the 53 most important members of the team on and off the field.

Still thinks he's done just that. "I came out here to just try to prove myself during this training camp, and I think I did a good job of that," Still told ESPN. "I showed the coaches what I’m able to do, and I know just from my years being here that it's about consistency; to go out there and to continue to compete every single down and not take plays off."

Recently, I discussed the Bengals' position battles at DE, DT, and LB and among those predicted to make the final roster was Still, based on his encouraging performances in the preseason. Still performed well against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears, receiving some of the highest marks on the team in both cases from Pro Football Focus, although he did struggle in the team's first preseason game against the Giants, in which he failed to make any sort of positive impression.

The argument against Still.

Devon Still has provided the Bengals and NFL with one of the best feel-good stories of the last few years and has helped to significantly alter the image of the Bengals' organization from one that employs thuggish players who contribute very little to society other than an arrest record, to an organization that generally keeps its nose clean and cares about its players and their families.

Unfortunately, that's where Still's positive impact on the team ends, based on his three years on the team. Bengals fans and NFL fans alike have been rooting for Still because of this story line, but he has yet to show the team why he was worth the second round pick in 2012. In three seasons with the Bengals, Still has contributed 19 tackles, 21 tackles on assists, and half a sack. That is all revolving around a three year period in which he only appeared in 30 games and started in none of them due to health problems in his first two years, and his daughter's cancer battle in 2014. Devon Still's story truly is a tearjerker, but his value on the field has been virtually zero.

The argument for Still.

The man was a second round pick for a reason, and has improved his form significantly now that he has the proper time to devote to football. Still was quoted this offseason as believing that he is now "in the best shape of my life" and is ready to contribute to the team, due to quite a bit of conditioning and weight loss to prepare himself for the season. Clearly, he really is ready to contribute to the team from a mental standpoint.

Still didn't get off to a great start in the team's first preseason game against the New York Giants. He did get a chance to go in during the game, but he didn't put together any meaningful stats or create any pressure on the quarterback. Based on that performance, it's tough to envision him making the final roster.

However, he has performed very well in both of his preseason games since. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in preseason week two, Still received the third highest grade on the team from Pro Football Focus (+3.8) due to an extremely good pass rush score (+3.5) that was partially a result of hurrying the opposing quarterback twice and recording a tackle, an assisted tackle, and a stop.

Still stops Sims

Still's ability to shed blocks and disrupt the backfield has been his calling card in the 2015 preseason.

Against the Chicago Bears in the third week of the preseason, Still struggled a bit against the run but received the highest pass rush grade on the team from Pro Football Focus (+1.4), once again hurrying the quarterback twice. For a roster bubble player who has struggled to prove his worth to the team on the field since being drafted, he has been having a fantastic preseason.

The Verdict.

Based on his confidence heading into the preseason, as well as his performance so far in the preseason, it's possible Still does make the final roster. You could also make the argument that Devon Still might make the roster because he doesn't have any legitimate competition for a bubble defensive tackle spot. Sure, Geno Atkins and Domata Peko are safe, but who is going to beat Still out for the position?

No other defensive tackle fighting for the spot has shown as much skill when rushing the passer this offseason. Sure, fringe rookies DeShawn Williams and Marcus Hardison have impressed everyone when they've been on the field, but neither have been as consistently disruptive as Still. Furthermore, both Williams and Hardison will be eligible for the practice squad, unlike Still. Kalafitoni Pole and Kwame Geathers have already been cut, so we already know the coaching staff sees something in Still to keep him on the roster this long.

Brandon Thompson is probably Still's biggest competition to make the final roster. For the past few years, Thompson has edged out Still on the roster due to health reliability and a general ability to convince the coaching staff that he at least knows what he is doing on the field. However, Thompson has failed to make many positive impressions with the coaching staff during past regular seasons and this preseason. Thompson provides the experience and stability that the Bengals are notorious for choosing over talent, but it seems that Still has been making a pretty good argument to edge out Thompson for the primary backup role at defensive tackle.

As he told the Cincinnati Enquirer:

"I think I'm different, totally, since I've been in the league," he said. "This year I have absolutely nothing wrong with me. I'm injury-free. My mind's not all messed up over my daughter. I think that's showed in my play, that I can really just focus on football right now."