It was hard enough for the Bengals' 2015 draft picks to make it onto the field this season, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that few undrafted free agents were active on game days this season.
In fact, no UFDA made Cincinnati's 53-man roster to open the regular season for what felt like the first time in forever, There's typically been 1-2 players who go from being undrafted to earning a spot on the final roster, and sometimes even making an impact as rookies.
This year, we wouldn't see an UDFA on the 53-man roster until December, when cornerback Troy Hill was signed from the practice squad to replace the injured Darqueze Dennard. However, Hill would last just three weeks on the roster before being waived and later claimed by the New England Patriots. He then only lasted on the Patriots for less than two weeks, before the St. Louis Rams got him. Hill would end up being the UDFA who saw the most action for the Bengals this past season, but he's no longer even with the team.
The next UDFA to make the roster would be linebacker Trevor Roach. He joined the Bengals this offseason after a standout career with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In 2014, Roach accounted for 63 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. In the Huskers' game against Michigan State, Roach was responsible for 18 tackles, four of which were for a loss.
After a strong showing in the preseason, Roach opened the year on the practice squad before getting called up in January after the conclusion of Week 17, to replace the injured Emmanuel Lamur. Roach would go on to play on special teams during the Wild Card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The only other UDFA to make it onto the 53-man roster would be defensive tackle DeShawn Williams. He was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson following the 2015 draft and played in all four Bengals preseason games, racking up two sacks, four tackles and several QB hurries while making a strong push for the final roster, but as defensive tackle has been a loaded position on the roster, Williams did not make the final cut and was signed to the practice squad.
During his college career, Williams posted 161 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and 24 pressures over 53 games (17 starts). During his final season at Clemson, he generated 54 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks, and seven QB pressures.
Williams remained on the practice squad until January when he was called up to replace Brandon Thompson, who went on I.R. with a knee injury in Week 17. Williams would be inactive for the Wild Card game and didn't see a regular-season snap.
The only other three 2015 UDFAs who are currently on the Bengals' 90-man offseason roster are wide receiver Jake Kumerow, wide receiver Michael Bennett and tight end Matt Lengel. Kumerow is the most highly-regarded of those three as he almost made a good push for the final 53-man roster with a good showing in training camp and the preseason.
Kumerow was a star receiver for Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he recorded 32 touchdowns and 2,648 yards during his three years on the team. Kumerow also won two D-III national titles in the process. In 2014, he had 1,116 yards on 66 receptions with 14 touchdowns while missing four games due to an ankle injury.
In August, Kumerow spoke with Cincy Jungle, telling us, "I'm just really grateful for the opportunity." Kumerow had a good showing in the preseason for the Bengals while hauling in six passes for 65 yards (10.8 avg.). It was not enough to beat out the likes of Mario Alford, Brandon Tate, and Greg Little for roster spots at receiver. The good news for Kumerow fans is Little was later cut and Tate is a free agent this offseason while Alford rarely saw the field as a rookie. That means Kumerow should have a great opportunity to make a better push for one of the final receiver spots next season.
Lengel signed as an undrafted free agent out of EKU this past season. Season-ending injuries in 2012 and 2013 killed many of his collegiate opportunities, resulting in only 34 career receptions (16 in 2014) for 367 yards receiving and two touchdowns, both of which came in 2011. He would end up being waived during final roster cuts before making the practice squad and is seen as more of a blocking tight end than a pass-catcher going forward.
Bennett also signed as an undrafted free agent out of Georgia this past offseason. He didn't sign until training camp was ending and was waived during final roster cuts, but did eventually make the practice squad mid-season. He's facing a tough battle this year just to make it back on the practice squad.
All of these players will be given chances to continue their development while also making pushes for the practice squad and even 53-man roster in 2016. At this point, I think Williams has the best chance of any 2015 UDFA to make the roster. He's not only the most talented and most promising player among the Bengals' 2015 UDFA class, but the Bengals also may lose Thompson and Pat Sims in free agency. That means two defensive tackle spots could be up for grabs, leaving Williams with a great shot of making the 53-man roster in 2016.
As for Roach, he too may earn a spot on the opening day 53-man roster due to Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur hitting free agency, not to mention Vontaze Burfict will be suspended to open the 2016 regular season. That means an extra linebacker will likely be kept on the roster for however long Burfict ends up being out, and Roach is one of the top candidates to fill that spot.