It won't be long until the Cincinnati Bengals open training camp.
In the meantime, we'll pass the time with a projection at what the 53-man roster could look like as of today. For several years now, projecting the Bengals' final roster has been rather easy, which is a good thing. That's why this team has made five straight playoff trips with many of the same 40-45+ guys helping make that happen annually.
2016 won't be much different, so here's a look at how the 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad projects heading into July. Of course, training camp and the preseason can and will change things, but before any of that fun begins, let's take a look at where the roster stands.
QUARTERBACK (2): Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
Expect no surprises here. The only question is if Keith Wenning makes the practice squad as a developmental QB. He's not making the final roster unless Andy Dalton and/or AJ McCarron gets hurt in the preseason.
As long as McCarron keeps impressing the coaching staff like he did last year, he'll continue to hold down the backup job behind Dalton. If, however, McCarron regresses and doesn't give the Bengals complete confidence in him, Wenning is right behind him ready to make a push for the backup spot. Still, his roster spot is safe.
I think the Bengals value McCarron too much to waive him, even if he somehow takes a step back this year. McCarron would have to play pretty poorly for the team to even consider keeping a third quarterback, but never say never.
RUNNING BACK/H-BACK (5): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Ryan Hewitt (H-back)
There will be almost no competition here, at least in terms of roster spots. Hill and Bernard are the future at running back, while Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead are two quality, experienced backups.
Then again, both Peerman and Burkhead are free agents next year, not to mention the possibility of Burkhead being more of a wide receiver for the Bengals this year instead of running back. That could help one of either Tra Carson or DyShawn Mobley sneak onto the final roster if the Bengals like their long-term potential more than the veteran experience of either Peerman or Burk.
Still, the Bengals will most likely stick with the familiarity they have with Peerman and Burkhead while getting Mobley on the practice squad. I really like his potential, and he probably would have been drafted on Day 3 if not for an injury-plagued senior season.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Brandon Tate, Mario Alford
The final spots at receiver come down to veteran returner Brandon Tate, special-teams ace James Wright, practice squad receiver Jake Kumerow, 2015 seventh-round pick Mario Alford, and undrafted free agent Alex Erickson.
Kumerow is at a slight disadvantage because he's yet to show he can be a solid contributor on special teams, which is what a 4th/5th/6th receiver needs to do. Alford and Tate should manage to grab spots due to their impact on special teams while also knowing the offense in case they need to play there.
Erickson is a promising UDFA who I expect to have a good camp to the point he earns a spot on the practice squad. He'll remain in the running for one of those 53-man spots when final cuts are made, but loses out to the more experienced guys here.
As for Wright, I really like what he was becoming for the Bengals as a rookie in 2014, but two major knee surgeries later, it's just hard to see him holding up and making a strong enough case for the final roster. Without the surgeries, there's no question he makes the cut and maybe even cracks the top four of the receiver rotation.
TIGHT END (3): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
There's no real surprise here with Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah being the lone backups behind Tyler Eifert. Even with Eifert's injury, Kroft did enough last year that the Bengals are confident he can step up and hold the fort down while the Pro Bowl tight end is sidelined.
However, don't be surprised though if another tight end is added during final cuts from another team or if they sign one during the regular season, especially if Uzomah doesn't step up as the third tight end in camp and the preseason.
The Bengals also have Hewitt to work at tight end, not to mention the versatile Jake Fisher, which helps lead to only three 'true' tight ends making the roster.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (9):
Tackle (4): Andrew Whitworth, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Christian Westerman
Center (2): Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson
As crowded as the offensive line is, figuring out who makes it is actually pretty easy. Eric Winston should be returning as insurance behind Cedric Ogbuehi and Andrew Whitworth while also playing some backup guard. Jake Fisher is also a lock for the roster, though it's unclear where the 2015 second-round lineman will be primarily playing.
I also think fifth-round rookie Christian Westerman has his spot very secure as he has the potential to become a quality starting guard or even center in Cincinnati.
That leaves Alex Cooper, Alex Redmond, TJ Johnson and Trey Hopkins fighting for the final lineman spots. Johnson's experience and ability to play both guard and center give him the edge. Hopkins is waived and claimed by another team, leaving Cooper and Redmond to earn spots on the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Defensive End: Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Margus Hunt*, Will Clarke, Marcus Hardison
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Andrew Billings
The Bengals will be able to keep just four 'true' defensive ends because of Marcus Hardison doubling as a tackle and end. Margus Hunt is squarely on the bubble as the former second-round pick has failed to show anything in his first two seasons outside of a few nice preseason performances.
At tackle, the final spots come down to Pat Sims, DeShawn Williams and Andrew Billings. Sims should win one fairly easily given his impact and experience. Billings offers too much potential to let go, not to mention he was a fourth-round pick.
Fourth round rookies tend to make the final roster, which is bad news for the promising Williams. Even if Williams somehow makes the roster, it will be hard for him to keep his spot once Brandon Thompson comes off PUP.
*Brandon Thompson opens the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for at least the first six games. Once he's brought up, Margus Hunt is waived to make room.
LINEBACKER (6): Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, Nick Vigil, P.J. Dawson, Vincent Rey, Marquis Flowers*
With Vontaze Burfict opening the year on the suspended list, the Bengals should look to keep six to seven linebackers to start the year. Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby and Vinny Rey have their spots all but locked up.
Marquis Flowers should also make it because of his pass-coverage ability and ability to play special teams while also playing in every game as a rookie in 2014; he missed all of 2015 due to injury.
2015 third-round pick P.J. Dawson should see a bigger role with the defense this year, even though he rarely saw the field as a rookie. He and 2016 third-round rookie Nick Vigil are locks for the roster, though I don't expect either to have big roles in 2016.
*Vontaze Burfict opens season on the suspended list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for first three games. Once Burfict is called up, Flowers is waived and signed to the practice squad.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
Cornerback: Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson III, Josh Shaw, Chris Lewis-Harris
Safety: George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem*
This is one of the harder groups to project with so many quality players fighting for roster spots. At cornerback, however, the top five spots are locked in, including fourth-round pick Josh Shaw as the No. 5 corner, though he will also be playing safety this year as well.
That leaves Chris Lewis-Harris, Corey Tindal, Chykie Brown and to Darius Hillary battle for the sixth corner spot if the Bengals keep that many. In this projection, I have Cincinnati keeping just six with CLH winning out and Tindal going to the practice squad.
Shawn Williams has shown enough to hold onto the starting safety spot next to George Iloka, not to mention both signed long-term extensions this offseason. That leaves Derron Smith, Floyd Raven and seventh-round rookie Clayton Fejedelem to battle for the backup safety spots. Smith and Fej should win those.
*Taylor Mays opens season on the suspended list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for first four games. Once Mays is called up, Fejedelem is waived and signed to the practice squad.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker: Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris
No real competition here. The only question is if Zach Hocker makes the practice squad to give the Bengals a little security if Mike Nugent gets hurt.
PUP or Suspension (Doesn't count against 53-man roster)
Brandon Thompson (PUP)
Vontaze Burfict (suspended 3 games)
Taylor Mays (suspended 4 games)
QB Keith Wenning
WR Jake Kumerow
WR Alex Erickson
OG Alex Redmond
OL Alex Cooper
DT David Dean
DE Ryan Brown
RB DyShawn Mobley
LB Trevor Roach
CB Corey Tindal