The Bengals finished up their Pro Day travels this week, and it included an appearance at Texas A&M on Wednesday.
As the Aggies put their NFL talent on display, Cincinnati running backs coach Kyle Caskey was reportedly in attendance. It's an interesting situation since the Bengals already have a full backfield, led by Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.
Then again, maybe the Bengals just wanted to give Caskey the chance to attend his alma mater's Pro Day. Caskey was after all a standout tight end and track runner during his time at A&M until 2002 before beginning his NFL coaching career.
Whatever it was, Caskey probably made sure to keep a close eye on Aggies running back Tra Carson. The 5'11", 211-pound back rushed for 1,165 yards and seven scores on 242 carries (4.8 avg), along with 29 catches for 183 yards and one score as a senior in 2015.
As a junior in 2014, Carson earned Offensive MVP honors in the AutoZone LibertyBowl after gaining 133 rushing yards on 25 carries in the Aggies’ win over West Virginia. Carson finished that year with a team-high 581 rushing yards to go with five scores on a team-high 124 carries.
SOURCES TELL US "Really tough guy. I know coaches on that staff who like the person as much as the player. You know he's ready to challenge your guys on every carry, but he's not the kind of runner who you fear if that makes sense." -- SEC West coach
NFL COMPARISON Tim Hightower
BOTTOM LINE Carson doesn't possess the skill level necessary to be a starter or even part of a combination of backs to lead the charge for a team, but his toughness and ability to grind it out in short yardage gives him some value. With his hands and blocking, Carson has immediate third down potential and his ability to shine on special teams only strengthens his chance to be drafted and make a 53-man roster.
Carson may be someone the Bengals look to add late in the draft or in free agency and then stash him on the practice squad next season. He's not taking the roster spots of Hill, Gio, Rex Burkhead or even special teams ace Cedric Peerman.
But that changes in 2017 when Gio, Burk and Ced all hitting free agency, the Bengals could possibly end up with just one of their current backs under contract next offseason. Carson or any other back the Bengals get this year may not do anything in 2016, but then quickly jump into a big role next season if a team signs Gio and/or other backs away. Carson is projected as a late Day 3 pick or undrafted free agent, so it won't be hard for any team to stash him on their practice squad this year.
Another Aggie prospect to watch for is offensive tackle Germain Ifedi. The All-SEC performer has been mentioned as a possible late first-round selection this year, and he's probably off the board by the time Cincinnati picks in Round 2. Even if Ifedi were on the board at 55, it's hard to see the Bengals spending a high pick on an offensive tackle.
After Ifedi, there aren't many other Aggies drawing consideration in the NFL draft and are more likely to be undrafted free agents. One guy who may be a nice late-round target for Cincinnati is star center Mike Matthews. He's the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and brother of Jake Matthews, who was a first-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Matthews was quality college center, but isn't viewed as a good NFL prospect because of his 6'2", 292-pound frame and small arms. NFL.com's Lance Zierlein thinks he can be a nice addition for training camp, but has a lot of work to do in order to make an NFL roster.
Matthews is an absolute bulldog who plays with outstanding tenacity, consistency and technique. If he were bigger and stronger, we would be talking about him as one of the top five centers in this draft, but he lacks the size NFL teams need from their centers. Matthews' balance, body control and football IQ should get him a look in camp, but he has to add weight and keep it on to have a legitimate shot at making a team.
One other name to watch for is defensive back Brandon Williams. Originally a five-star running back who signed with Oklahoma, Williams eventually transferred to Texas A&M and spent three seasons in the backfield before moving to cornerback this past season. He finished 2015 with 37 tackles, one tackle for loss, and seven pass breakups.
With little experience at his NFL position, Williams is probably going to be a practice squad guy for a few years and hopefully develop into a quality player. Here is an excerpt of his NFL.com scouting report:
NFL COMPARISON Nick Marshall
BOTTOM LINE Williams began his transition from running back to cornerback in fall camp so any draft grades that NFL teams give him will be based purely on projection. The tape was often unkind to Williams who had to face off against SEC competition with nothing more than athleticism and guile. NFL teams will look at the traits and see a player who fits the mold and who should improve with more coaching. Williams could be drafted substantially higher than my grade based on traits, but there is no guarantee he will progress quickly enough to stick long-term.
The Bengals also popped up this week at Georgia Southern's Pro Day, which took place on Wednesday. They've just recently become a Division I program, but have managed to put out a few NFL prospects over the years. The guy to watch for this year is linebacker Antwione Williams.
The 6'3", 245-pound Williams lead the team in tackles (107), tackles for loss (10.5), sacks (4.0) and forced fumbles (4) in 2015. He was a force on the outside and will be in an NFL camp through the preseason this year, but may find it tough to make a roster, especially if it's with the Bengals.
This is a fairly deep position heading into 2016, and Williams is projected as a Round 6-7 pick or undrafted free agent. He might be someone the Bengals bring in and hope they can stash on the practice squad, or earn a spot on the roster if other backers go down in the preseason.