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Bengals Mailbag: Jake Kumerow's 2016 outlook and the center position

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With the onset of the new league year came a slew of questions from our readers. We address some on two topics that are gaining more and more discussion.

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We asked for your questions, and boy, did you guys fire away this week. Our first mailbag segment was all about wide receivers and who the Bengals should be targeting in free agency and the NFL Draft. You can check that out here before we dive into our second mailbag of the week!

One reader question still focused on wide receiver, but it was an internal option that triggered the query. And, as always, Bengals fans are looking at how to improve the center position. One specific free agent was on the mind of another one of our readers. We start at internal receiver options.

It's hard to say. Some fans are making the radical proclamation that he's ready to step in and assume No. 2 receiving duties this year, while others still have him as an afterthought. Regardless of one's current feelings on the big kid, he's deserving of conversation because of what he flashed in last year's Training Camp.

On one hand, Kumerow was making plays left and right as Training Camp began, and fans were loving his hands and size. A guy who is 6'5", 210 pounds and made plays along the sideline, as well as across the middle, was deserving of the praise he received. His 33 touchdowns at Wisconsin-Whitewater in his final two collegiate seasons proves his red zone abilities too.

But, the kudos for Kumerow faded after the first week or so of camp and the big stars then came out to shine. His early success in practices and scrimmages only translated to six catches for 65 yards in preseason play, and he was deemed expendable by the time final cuts rolled around. His chances of making the 2016 roster hinges on three facets: attrition at the position, another solid camp and more opportunities in preseason play. The first of the three has already occurred.

It's a difficult stance to have with Kumerow and fellow wide receiver James Wright. Rely on the potential, extremely limited sample sizes and trust your scouting at very deep levels with players who were late picks and/or undrafted free agents? Or, bring in some more proven, albeit expensive options in free agents or higher picks in the draft?

Here's my thing: Wright has just five catches in two professional seasons and Kumerow has zero in his first professional season. Are these the players you really want to give the nods to for starting or heavy rotational roles--especially right after the productive duo of Sanu and Jones? Personally speaking, that idea makes me very uncomfortable.

On the flip side, we have seen the Bengals bury promising young players on the depth chart for veterans they had more faith in. It hinders their development and leaves many thinking what could have become with some of these guys. A player can only show what they can truly do when given a fair shake at opportunities, and they can get better with actual game experience. It's why one should point to two seventh round receivers who had incredibly productive careers in T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Marques Colston, once given the chance.

Still, those are the outliers and not the norm. Kumerow and Wright have uphill battles to climb in 2016, but have flashed enough to give the coaches and fans hope for 2016. I actually think both make the final roster this year, but with a new addition or two added to the mix, it all may once again come down to what they do with Brandon Tate.

I don't think Kumerow "kills it", but I think he shows the team enough to be a back end of the positional depth chart guy on the final roster. Special teams and impending additions will play a role, but I think he'll be improved enough to ultimately stick around com September.

*****

Ah yes--the ever-lingering question about Russell Bodine and possibilities to improve. For the record once again, I'm not as hard on the Bengals' current center as some others are. He's young and inconsistent, but does flash some occasional "wow blocks" too. That being said, I'm in the camp of the team always looking to improve itself however they can.

I'm not an absolute believer in everything Pro Football Focus does, but they do have a lot of reliable information. That being said, Wisniewski is the third-highest rated center, in terms of the site's 2015 overall player scores, for free agent centers. Only three free agent centers rate higher than Wisniewski, with 15 others finishing below him by PFF's standards.

Wisniewski is unsigned and might be looking at his third team in just six pro seasons, so that throws up a little bit of a caution flag. After receiving a little bit of interest as free agency was kicking off, teams have cooled on Wisniewski, though some believe the Browns are looking at him after Alex Mack's departure. Still, he's a solid player from good NFL lineage who might be an upgrade at center for the Bengals.

If he is an upgrade, the question is how big of one he'd actually be and at how much higher of a price than what they're paying Bodine. Per Spotrac, if the Bengals offered Wisniewski a $3 million salary/cap hit for 2016, it would put him at No.14 in the league. Meanwhile, Bodine's hit for 2016 is $714,114, good for 34th. It's no secret the Bengals have had trouble anchoring the middle of their offensive line since Rich Braham retired, so something has to give soon.

Cincinnati has spent a good chunk of change on retaining four of their major unrestricted free agents, but there is still a good amount of money they had allocated towards Marvin Jones, so they might need to spend some of it elsewhere. Aside from the quarterback, championship teams are still built in the trenches, as both teams in Super Bowl 50 showed us. Maybe some of that Jones money could be used towards Wisniewski. I'd be for it.

I just don't think it happens, though. After re-signing a few key internal guys, this is when the Bengals start to crawl back into their free agency shell, wait things out and sign more of the "camp body" variety. Head coach Marvin Lewis and offensive line coach Paul Alexander are also quite ornery when it comes to admitting a mistake on a player they had high hopes for. Both went to bat for Bodine by pounding the table to move up and get him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, and it just hasn't worked out as well as everyone hoped.

The good news is, Bodine is still developing and entering his critical third year as a pro. So, if the team decides to let him be the guy in the middle of the line again instead of, say, Wisniewski, he could either take a big step forward and become a solid pro, or show us more of the same. In either scenario, the Bengals need to have an answer for the position in 2017.