An offseason addition via undrafted free agency, wide receiver Alex Erickson is looking to transition from the Bengals' offseason 90-man roster to a member of the 53-man roster in September.
The former walk on member of the Wisconsin Badgers is looking to prove he is worth a shot in the NFL and so far, he has turned a few heads. Erickson had a great season for the Holiday Bowl winners in 2015, but the level of competition in the pros is much higher and he will have a lot to overcome if he's going to make the Bengals' roster this fall. So, is there any realistic chance that the 6-foot wide receiver who's already being talked up as a capable special teams player, can make his way onto the field for Cincinnati?
Actually, there is. The Bengals might be looking for some help returning punts and Erickson was an especially effective returner in 2015, averaging 7.3 yards in 24 attempts, tied for 13th-most in the country. And, he knows his ability on special teams is likely what will earn him a roster spot, if he's able to snatch one up.
"That was something they saw from the film, something they want me to. I enjoy catching punts," Erickson said via FOX Sports. "Special teams will be such a huge aspect, you got to be able to do it if you want to make the team. I'll be doing all the special teams stuff that I can."
Erickson seems to have realistic expectations from himself entering his rookie season and a can-do attitude.
"If you're not one of the 1, 2, 3 receivers you're going to be playing a lot of special teams," Erickson said. "I played a lot of special teams in college and high school. I'm open to all that stuff. Anywhere where I can help or anywhere I can be of value, I'm going to jump in and do what I can."
Even if Erickson lacks the speed necessary to make a living as a wide receiver in the NFL, he has that little something that makes him hard to stop with the football in his hands. "He's not going to wow you in many capacities, but he's rock solid. He'll be tough to get rid of," Owen Riese of Bucky's 5th Quarter told us of Erickson.
Erickson's 2015 stats could have been even better had this return in the Badgers' loss to Northwestern counted. Erickson doesn't look explosive but is all hustle and toughness. He was one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in high school in Wisconsin and despite some average after the catch numbers with the Badgers, he could be a nice surprise as a returner.
After losing both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency Cincinnati addressed the wide receiver position in the draft by adding Tyler Boyd and Cody Core and also in free agency with Brandon LaFell. So it might look like Erickson is a really long shot to make the roster, but there is always an undrafted free agent who excels during training camp and the preseason and ends up impressing Marvin Lewis enough to make the roster. After no 2015 undrafted free agent made the roster last season, could Erickson do it in 2016?
As a receiver, he is going to be most effective in the slot. He has good hands and also can create room in tight windows.
He has little to none ability to get open vertically and had to rely on a lot of pick plays and underneath routes to get the job done in college. But, he is a good route runner and works hard for his touches.
Erickson, who ranks sixth all-time in receptions (141) and 10th all-time in career receiving yards (1,877) for Wisconsin, comes from a pro-style offense and that could also help him as a receiver for the Bengals even though fourth-year veteran Rex Burkhead is also expected to join the mix and his skills are somewhat similar.
Erickson was never a huge touchdown producer for the Badgers but that doesn't mean he wasn't productive. Will that be enough to earn him a spot among a receiving corps that include A.J. Green, LaFell, Boyd, Brandon Tate, James Wright, Mario Alford, Core, Jake Kumerow and two other 2016 undrafted free agents? Only time will tell, but he'll be someone to keep an eye on this summer.