With the preseason over every team is frantically setting their final rosters, it's time for one final stab at what the Bengals' 53-man roster should look like in 2015.
QUARTERBACK (2): Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
No surprises here. The only question is if Keith Wenning makes the practice squad as a developmental QB. He's not making the final roster, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Bengals opt to sign a different QB to the practice squad, maybe someone like former Nevada QB Cody Fajardo after the Raiders surprisingly cut him last week.
RUNNING BACK/H-BACK (5): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Ryan Hewitt (H-back)
There's a lot of competition here for the final spot with veteran special-teams ace Cedric Peerman looking to hold off James Wilder Jr. and Terrell Watson. Both Watson and Wilder have shown flashes through this preseason, but not enough to overtake Peerman.
In the end, the Bengals stick with the familiarity they have with Peerman while getting Wilder and Watson on the practice squad. One of those two could be replacing Peerman soon, who's signed through 2016, but doesn't have enough money committed to him that he needs to remain on the team in the future.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Mario Alford, Greg Little
The final spots at receiver come down to Jake Kumerow, Brandon Tate, Greg Little, and seventh-round pick Mario Alford. Kumerow and Little are at a slight disadvantage because they've yet to show they can be a solid contributor on special teams, which is what a 4th/5th/6th receiver needs to do. Both have had some solid games this preseason, but after Little's showing in the final preseason game, he should ultimately wins a spot while Kumerow earns a spot on the practice squad.
Alford and Tate will manage to grab spots due to their impact on special teams and end up competing for returner duties throughout the year.
TIGHT END (3): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
The only question here is if Jake Murphy or Matt Lengel are able to make the practice squad. While Murphy was already waived, I think that could just be the Bengals trying to get a better look at the rookie TE since they know what they have in Murphy after he spent 2014 on their practice squad.
With Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah both being rookies who haven't shown they can make an impact this preseason, don't be surprised if the Bengals add another tight end off waivers from another team. This position is dangerously thin heading into the regular season.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (8):
Tackle (4)*: Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (2): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling
Center (2): Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson*
Eric Winston earns the final tackle spot to no surprise. He was brought back as insurance behind Andre Smith and Andrew Whitworth, while also helping mentor rookies Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi. Winston has done a good enough job this preseason to secure his spot.
With Ogbuehi opening the year on PUP, that's one less spot the Bengals need to worry about and it helps Winston keep his spot. That leaves Trey Hopkins and T.J. Johnson fighting for the final interior lineman spots. Johnson's ability to play both guard and center helps him get the final spot while Hopkins is signed to the practice squad. Having Ogbuehi late in the year and Whit able to play guard also helps lead to Cincinnati keeping just two guards.
Also, rookie center Jake Smith has quietly had a good preseason (1.3 PFF grade) and manages to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
*Cedric Ogbuehi will be opening the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for first six games. Once he's brought up, Johnson is waived to make room.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
Defensive End: Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke, Margus Hunt
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison
As has been the case for the entirety of training camp and the preseason, defensive line is the hardest spot to project. I believe the Bengals could keep just four defensive ends if they wanted because of Marcus Hardison doubling as a tackle and end, not to mention the emergence of linebacker Chris Carter as a nickel defensive end.
It's hard to see them keeping Carter and Hardison (they've locked up spots in my opinion) with more than four ends. That's why we should not be surprised if Margus Hunt gets cut, that is if the Bengals aren't able to trade him. After failing to show anything in his first two seasons outside of a few nice preseason performances, Hunt simply hasn't earned the right to remain on this roster; but he likely will end up making it because the team doesn't want to give up on a former second-round pick so quickly.
At tackle, the final spots come down to Pat Sims, Devon Still and promising rookie DeShawn Williams. The veteran Sims ends up winning while Cincinnati tries to get Williams signed to the practice squad. It's likely he may get claimed by another team once he's waived.
LINEBACKER (6)*: Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, A.J. Hawk, P.J. Dawson, Vincent Rey, Marquis Flowers*, Chris Carter
With Burfict opening the year on PUP, the Bengals should look to keep seven backers. Lamur and Maualuga combining to miss 25 games during the past two years also helps lead to keeping that many on the roster.
The emergence of P.J. Dawson helps the team keep only six true linebackers since Carter is more of a defensive end. Marquis Flowers should beat out Jayson DiManche for the final spot.
Nico Johnson should earn one of the final spots on the practice squad, despite the fact he was among the first round of cuts. Trevor Roach also earns a spot after a solid showing in the preseason.
*Vontaze Burfict opens season on PUP and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for first six games. Once Burfict is called up, Flowers is waived and signed to the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (9)
Cornerbacks: Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw
Safety: Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith
The safeties and corners are the second-hardest group to project with so many quality players fighting for roster spots. At cornerback, the top five spots are locked in though, including fourth-round pick Josh Shaw as the No. 5 corner. That leaves Chris Lewis-Harris, Troy Hill and Brandon Ghee battling for the sixth corner spot if the Bengals keep six players at the position. They likely will not and Hill should land on the practice squad, unless he's claimed off waivers.
Shawn Williams should be able to hold onto the No. 3 safety spot behind Reggie Nelson and George Iloka while also doubling as a linebacker in some packages, like Taylor Mays had in the past. That leaves sixth-round rookie Derron Smith to battle veteran Shiloh Keo for the final safety spot, which Smith ultimately wins based on his upside.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Placekicker: Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris
No real competition here. Tom Obarski should make the practice squad to give the Bengals a little security if Mike Nugent gets hurt this year.
PUP: (Doesn't count against 53-man roster)