Before we get to my 53-man roster, there was some debating on my end.
CHRIS CARTER vs MARGUS HUNT
If we balanced the roster with 25 players on offense and 25 on defense (three going to special teams), we're left with decisions that could easily move in any direction. At one stage during our painstaking process to come up with a 53-man roster projection, we hit a wall nominating the final player. At this stage we included Marquis Flowers on the 53-man roster and sent Troy Hill to our projected practice squad (which will be released later).
This left us with one decision: Chris Carter vs Margus Hunt.
Wait, wait. Why not Flowers? Granted, he could be part of this narrative. However, Flowers actually is a linebacker and comparatively, Carter isn't in the same discussion. All we've seen out of Carter during the preseason is a propensity to rush the passer, not other attributes that quantify "linebacker" in Cincinnati's 4-3 defense. Pro Football Focus ranked Carter as Cincinnati's worst defender in coverage and one of the worst against the run. It's pass rush or nothing out of Carter and Cincinnati needs backup linebackers. Flowers makes it.
OK, back to Carter vs Hunt. It makes sense. Carter and Hunt could be projected into similar roles, as artistic special teams players and as a pass rusher on defense. We don't need both players. Carter proved himself during the preseason and Hunt is still looking for that elusive breakout moment entering his third season.
Obviously, they could keep both if they go short elsewhere. Maybe the offense only sticks with 24 players, adding a 26th on the defense. Maybe they go short at linebacker, as noted above with the reference towards Flowers (where Carter could attach himself on the 53-man roster as a blitzing linebacker... though in this regard, it's a pointless technicality).
Could Hunt make the roster over Carter? Absolutely.
The argument? Releasing a second-round pick into his third season would suggest failure and Cincinnati doesn't make public declarations like that. On the other hand, these projections are usually split between "what we think the Bengals should do" and "what we think the Bengals will do". NOTE: Anyone say that this is "what the Bengals will do" is full of sh*t.
ONLY FIVE WIDE RECEIVERS:
The Bengals could go with five receivers, comfortable with Rex Burkhead out of the slot. If that's the case, I would agree with Paul Dehner's projection that Greg Little would be the odd man out. However, keeping five receivers has never been Cincinnati's modus operandi.
Cincinnati has never kept less than six receivers out of the gate during the Marvin Lewis era (as far as we remember at least) and even kept seven receivers in each of the past two years. However, with Burkhead, they have that luxury -- and yet, "luxury" doesn't prove anything.
If they go with five receivers, it'll be after Burkhead significantly proves himself with more consistency. A postseason blowout, patty-cake practices and 23 preseason routes are hardly convincing to keep only five receivers -- one of whom is a rookie in Mario Alford and the other being Brandon Tate, both of whom are under the big three in A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
OK, enough rambling. My final 53-man projection:
|DEFENSIVE END (5)
|RUNNING BACK (5)
|DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5)
|Ryan Hewitt (HB)
|WIDE RECEIVER (6)
|TIGHT END (3)
|OFFENSIVE TACKLE (5)
|Jake Fisher (OT-OG)
|Eric Winston (OT-OG)
|Dan France (OT-OG)
|OFFENSIVE GUARD (2)
|SPECIAL TEAMS (3)