With the Bengals' 53 man roster due on Saturday, there's plenty of reason to think that the much maligned Greg Little could be out of a job, but there's also plenty of reason to think he's done enough to sneak onto the roster and secure the team's sixth wide receiver position.
Throughout most of his career, Little has been known more for dropped passes and stupid penalties, than the talent and athletic ability that made him a second round pick by the Browns in 2011. Last year, the Bengals signed Little in the wake of Marvin Jones being placed on Injured Reserve, and (for the most part) he continued to drop passes and commit stupid penalties. Sure, there were encouraging displays of athleticism here and there, but generally he played poorly and was cut by the team less than a month after the season ended.
That was before James Wright was placed on IR for the 2015 season, and Little was given the opportunity to come back to the Bengals to try to make the roster the old-fashioned way. He seems to be relishing the opportunity, as he was the Bengals' most productive receiver the preseason. To be fair, Little isn't competing for touches with A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, or Marvin Jones who are virtually guaranteed to make the roster. But, it's hard to argue against hauling in nine of his fifteen targets for 145 yards. That's an average of sixteen yards per reception.
However, that's not to say Little has been perfect this preseason, either. Little has had to compete with Denarius Moore, Jake Kumerow, Onterio McCalebb, Desmond Lawrence, Michael Bennett, and Tevin Reese for the sixth receiver spot on the roster. Arguably you could throw in Brandon Tate and Mario Alford into that conversation, but then you're really just calling it a battle for the fourth, fifth, and sixth receiver spots.
Against the Giants
Little had three receptions against the Giants in the preseason opener for 65 yards. His first reception was a confident 10-yard reception from Josh Johnson.
The reception looked simple enough, but it was a good first reception back with the team to add on top of an impressive preseason. The Bengals were unable to turn this red zone positioning into a touchdown, but Little showed his value by putting the team in position to get some points at all.
Little saved showing off his natural talents for the second reception of the game.
Johnson threw a decent pass to Little, albeit a little high, but Little stretched to make the 18-yard catch. The most impressive part? This is exactly the kind of pass that Little has been notorious for dropping during his tenures with the Raiders, Browns, and Bengals
Little shows the kind of determination that coaches love to see on this play. Although he isn't able to break these tackles for a huge gain, he is able to make the reception on second and seven and turn what would have been a close call into an indisputable first down.
Against the Buccaneers
Little was less effective against the Buccaneers, only managing to put up one reception for 14 yards, but the most significant thing he did was revert to his old habits of committing stupid penalties, such as this holding penalty that negated an eight yard run by Rex Burkhead:
In Little's defense, the Bengals as a whole had a bad game against Tampa Bay, and he did record an impressive 14 yard reception against the Bucs later in the third quarter. The problem? It was third and 18.
Against the Bears
After a poor showing against the Buccaneers, Little put together a solid performance against the Bears with two receptions for 23 yards.
Again, it might not be the flashiest play, but it showed Little's ability to get open in the middle of the field, actually hold onto the ball, and carry the play for a first down, much like his other reception on the game.
Speed? Check. Athleticism? Check. Hands? Check. Give him a check-plus for this first down completion. Both of these plays display Little's possession of the single most important quality for the Bengals' coaches: reliability.
Against the Colts
In the Bengals' final preseason game, we got our best look at what Little does and doesn't bring to the table, largely due to the starters being rested for the whole game. Little's first appearance in the game was this stinker:
If you were listening to Dave Lapham and Dan Horde calling this game, you could feel the disappointment in Lapham's voice while remarking on how Little doesn't even bother to use his well-documented "former basketball player athleticism" to come down with this pretty-good pass from AJ McCarron.
But... fret not, Greg Little fans! His next look from McCarron turned into an encouraging play.
This whole fighting for even a little extra yardage thing is a nice change of pace from the lackadaisical attitude that Greg Little has become associated with on-the-field. Keep doing that and you'll have your spot on the team.
Remember that first appearance from Little in this game? The one where he gave up on the play and turned a pretty-good pass from McCarron into what looked like a great play by the defender? He proved that he's still got hops with this first down catch. That's the kind of play you want to see out of a former second round draft pick.
Well, there you have it. Greg Little records his final catch of the preseason combining all of the positive traits that I've already discussed into one encouraging display of athleticism.
It wouldn't be a huge surprise to see the Bengals' administration go either way with the decision on Little. As you can clearly see through any of his positive plays, he possesses a certain level of athleticism that you just don't see in most receivers. But, there's still a lot of nagging problems with Little involving penalties and effort. The issues with drops don't seem to be present in his recent play, but are you going to cut a very developable rookie, Jake Kumerow for the talented but inconsistent Little?
Denarius Moore was already cut and, other than Kumerow, there aren't really any other receivers on the team who are fighting for a spot and have made a similar impact as Little. The biggest difference between Kumerow and Little? Kumerow is eligible for the practice squad, and is unlikely to be picked up by another team during the waiver period. Therefore, with only a day left before final cuts are made, it appears that Greg Little will sneak onto the roster, based on an impressive preseason performance.