With the Bengals possibly losing two starting receivers in free agency, this could be one of the roster's few spots where significant playing time is up for grabs next season.
Though losing both Mohamed Sanu and/or Marvin Jones would likely result in Cincinnati drafting a receiver, there are several young guys already on the roster ready to fight for a bigger role in the offense. Among those is James Wright, who some thought may be in for a nice role in 2015 after a promising rookie campaign in 2014.
But after missing all of 2015 with a knee injury, Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson now reports that Wright underwent microfracture surgery last year, which cost him all of his second NFL season. It makes sense given the timetable for recovery from that surgery is 6+ months, so instead of putting him on PUP, the Bengals just waived him and got him back onto their I.R. list. The surgery occurred right before the 2015 season began, which means he may still not be ready for football activities this offseason.
This is the same surgery Vontaze Burfict had in January 2015; he returned to play his first game on November 1, 2015.
Wright was set to take on a bigger role in the offense this past year while continuing to make an impact on special teams, but ended up on I.R. before the 2015 season opened due to what was thought to be a setback in his PCL injury rehab.
It turns out it was much serious, but the Bengals appear confident Wright will be ready to make an impact for this offense in 2016. New offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is making it no secret he expects big things from Wright in his third NFL season, as he told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.
"In my mind, he’s a big part of what we’re going to do," Zampese said. "That guy can run forever, he’s tough as nails and he says nothing. He just goes and works and I love him for that. He’s got a great attitude and a great work ethic, and it shows every day. Those are the kind of guys we want to bring in our building. He has so many things that we value, and I just can’t wait to get him healthy and out there and running. I’m real excited about him."
Back in 2014 after the Bengals drafted him in the seventh round out of LSU, Wright played 11 games with five catches for 91 yards and three rushes for 30 yards. A PCL injury that prematurely ended his season occurred in Week 13 against the Buccaneers, a game in which Wright caught three balls for 59 yards (19.7 average) with a long of 30. It was his best game of the season, and unfortunately, he hasn't played football since.
At this point, Wright has a good shot of making the roster next year just based on who the Bengals have signed for next season. Mario Alford, A.J. Green, Jake Kumerow and Michael Bennett are the only players signed through 2016, so Wright actually would make the roster by default if the season began today.
Thankfully it doesn't, and there's no way to know what will happen with Jones and Sanu in free agency, but there's no question Wright has a great shot of making the 53-man roster if he can recover, stay healthy and continue what he started as a rookie.