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Midseason Bengals rookie report: Boyd’s first touchdown must be coming

We take a look back at some of the Bengals rookies’ best moments at the season’s midpoint, and evaluate what to expect from the group going forward.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

As the first half of the Bengals season has concluded, five rookies have been activated at least once so far:

  • Tyler Boyd
  • Cody Core
  • Alex Erickson
  • Clayton Fejedelem
  • Nick Vigil

This week, we’ll examine how each of the active rookies have fared in their first games of their careers. Cody Core was active for the Dallas game, but recorded no stats and did nothing of note, so we’ll exclude him from the report.

Tyler Boyd

Stats: eight games active, 25 receptions, 38 targets, 283 receiving yards

After half a season as the team’s primary slot receiver, Boyd has averaged a little more than three catches on less than five targets a game, and is on pace for 50 catches and 566 yards for the season. His best two performances thus far have been in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he recorded six catches for 78 yards, and Week 6 against the New England Patriots, during which he hauled in four catches for 79 yards.

In those two games, Boyd logged his longest two catches of the year so far. This connection on a seam route went for 29 yards against Pittsburgh:

And this grab went for 30 yards on the same route against New England:

It’s been a tempered but acceptable first half for the rookie out of Pittsburgh. There were some talk before the season began about him overtaking Brandon Lafell’s spot as the receiver opposite A.J. Green sometime this year, but it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t think it will happen outside of an injury to Lafell, who has been as productive as the team could’ve hoped for thus far. But Boyd hasn’t needed to line up as the Z receiver (Lafell’s position) to be effective, as he has proven to be an ideal slot receiver to run up the seams, make contested catches and take advantage of schemed separation on short routes.

The one thing to watch for in the second half is if Boyd will get any other chances of scoring at all this year, as he has had a single end zone target all year, and dropped it:

Now with tight end Tyler Eifert fully healthy and back in the picture, Boyd seems to have been naturally lowered in the pecking order of Andy Dalton’s end zone targets. But, it would be weird for Boyd to end up having almost 80 targets and only 1 of them happening in the end zone. So, I’d say we’ll see Boyd get another chance at losing his touchdown virginity this year. The question is, will he hold on this time?

Alex Erickson

Stats: eight games active, one reception, one target, 20 receiving yards, 11 punt returns, 64 punt return yards, six kickoff returns, 168 kickoff return yards

The man who literally ran Brandon Tate out of town has had a relatively unmemorable first half of his first year. Erickson could easily be somewhere else right now, either sitting on the sidelines on a practice squad or doing something else entirely. Not all undrafted players get a chance to continue to play football professionally, but Erickson won the job as Cincinnati’s starting return man, and has done almost nothing with it, until last week when he finally showed why he won the job in the first place:

But as the return man, he hasn’t been on the field as a receiver almost at all, but he did take advantage of his lone target against Pittsburgh back in Week 2:

There’s something about inexperienced receivers and seam routes that must tickle Ken Zampese’s bones, I suppose.

But the team, nor the fans, are looking for Erickson to be more involved in the offense, what they are looking for is more of what they saw against Washington. Giving the team better field position on a more consistent basis is why Erickson is still in Cincinnati and he needs to do a good job of that going forward. There hasn’t really been much for him to do in the case of returning punts, as he’s actually fair caught the same number of punts (11) as he’s returned thus far. But it just takes the right opportunity for him to cut it loose.

Clayton Fejedelem

Stats: eight games active, four combined tackles

It’s been the same story for Fejedelem all year, behind the three-man rotation at safety, he’s been making his money as part of the specials teams unit, recording his tackles on punts and kickoffs. The coolest looking one occurred last week against Washington:

He’s shown to be a valuable special teamer and that’s what we can hope to see continue in the next eight weeks from the seventh round rookie.

Nick Vigil

Stats: eight games active, five combined tackles

By replacing a couple of key words, Fejedelem’s short paragraph can be used entirely for Vigil. Here’s one of his few return takedowns:

When Vigil was drafted, many people were curious what it meant for the linebacker group as a whole. At the time, the team had six linebackers with at least some experience at the position, and while it wasn’t their strongest position, the addition of a third Round pick didn’t seem it would change anything about the quality of play there. But now, midway through the season, the team needs an injection of youth and athleticism at linebacker, and Vigil looks like the obvious option in terms of that transition.

But, odds are the coaches aren’t comfortable putting in the inexperienced Utah State alum when it means taking out a well experienced vet. So the best we can hope for is for Vigil to keep making plays on special teams, and for him to be ready to go when or if, his name is called.

Coming up

Monday night starts the second half of the Bengals’ season, whether it will be as underwhelming as the first half, we don’t know. What we do know is that these four will continue to be active and consistent in their roles. Against the Giants, Boyd could have an opportunity to go up against former Bengal Leon Hall, but after being a healthy inactive this past week, it’s up in the air whether that matchup will transpire. If it doesn’t, Boyd will likely go up against the speedy Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. It should be a good test regardless.

It’s also possible that William Jackson III comes off Injured Reserve this week and joins the Bengals’ roster. One report says the Bengals are leaning toward activating Jackson over Cedric Peerman. Only time will tell which one player is taken off the injury list and added to the roster.