The Bengals have often had one or two undrafted free agents make the 53-man roster, but that doesn't make it an easy task to accomplish. And, in 2015, no rookie undrafted players made the initial roster in September.
A lot of things need to go right for a guy to make a roster as loaded as the Bengals' as a rookie. There needs to be a need at the position, little depth to speak of and a lack of experienced options for the coaches to choose over fresh meat like Alex Erickson.
The good news for the former Wisconsin Badgers receiver is he plays a position to meet all of those criteria. That's what helped the All-Big Ten wide receiver sign with the Bengals almost as soon as the drafted ended.
Position: Wide Receiver
Weight: 195 pounds
Pro Day: 40-yard Dash: 4.44; 20-yard Dash: 2.60; 10-yard Dash: 1.57; Bench Reps: 14; Vertical Jump: 34.5; Broad Jump: 09'08"; 20-yard Shuttle: 4.10; 3-Cone Drill: 6.68
Erickson didn't play much early in his career at Wisconsin, but steadily progressed over his final two years in college enough that he eventually became one of the Big Ten's best receivers.
In 2015, Erickson registered 77 receptions for 978 yards and seven touchdowns. Those were enough yards to rank as the sixth-best single season total in school history, while his 77 catches trail only Jared Abbrederis (78 catches in 2013) for the best season in Badgers history.
That came after a 2014 season in which Erickson chipped in 55 grabs for 772 yards (14 ypc) and three scores. He finished his Wisconsin career with 141 receptions for 1,877 yards and six scores.
Needless to say, Erickson has a history of quality production in a Power 5 conference. He's also gone up against many NFL-caliber corners during his career, so he shouldn't be in for a total culture shock in training camp. He also lined up both outside and in the slot for the Badgers, so he's familiar playing both spots. (Cincy Jungle's muertedeatenas did a film review on Erickson, which you can check out here!)
Erickson's stock is a bit down after going undrafted, though Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted NFL scouts who loved his production at Wisconsin, as well as his pro potential.
"He's a sleeper in this thing, man," the scout said. "Clutch receiver. Love this kid. I would take him fourth, fifth round."
"He's probably a lot like Wes Welker at the same stage," another scout said. "Wes ran 4.7 something. You put him in the slot, you know what I have. He catches the ball and is ready to run after the catch. Quick feet. Strong for his size. I gave him a late draftable grade."
Perhaps that scout works for the Bengals?
Chances of Making Roster
While Erickson plays a position at which the Bengals need help, he's still facing some stiff odds of making the final 53-man roster. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell are locks to make the final roster. Cody Core and one of either Brandon Tate or Mario Alford should also make it.
That means five spots are likely accounted for at a position where the Bengals figure to keep six or maybe seven guys, so Erickson will be contending for one of the final spots. He'll be competing with the likes of Jake Kumerow, Alonzo Russell, Antwane Grant, Michael Bennett and James Wright to earn a place on the Bengals' roster. And, helping him is his special teams ability, which Marvin Lewis has already mentioned as being impressive.
"Alex is very productive," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after rookie minicamp in May. "We were encouraged to be able to sign him after the draft. We're excited to get him for what he's able to do as a receiver and returner."
Erickson isn't exactly facing a murderer's row of competition, but competition nonetheless. If Erickson has any NFL ability, he should be able to earn a spot on the practice squad this season and be firmly in the running for a 53-man roster spot.
Either way, I feel good about Erickson's odds of remaining with the Bengals in some capacity this year.