With the first preseason game of the year behind us, the Bengals are just more than two weeks away from making their first round of roster cuts from 90 men down to 75 on September 30. After that, it will only be a few days until the Bengals need to construct their 53-man roster on September 3. Keeping the performances of fringe roster players in mind from the Bengals-Vikings game, it’s time to update my 53-man roster projection.
Quarterbacks (2): Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron.
Cut: Keith Wenning
Practice squad: Joe Licata
In the preseason opener, Joe Licata looked like the superior quarterback to Keith Wenning. While Andy Dalton is the definitive starter and AJ McCarron the backup, the next few games will go a long way in deciding which player among Wenning and Licata makes the practice squad. It’s also possible neither make the practice squad, but for now, I’m going with Licata.
Running backs (4): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Rex Burkhead, Cedric Peerman.
Cut: Bronson Hill
Practice squad: Tra Carson
It’s hard to see any change with the running backs on the Bengals roster from 2015 to 2016. Rex Burkhead didn’t play in the first week of the preseason due to unknown reasons and Cedric Peerman looked especially rusty at running back. But, the Bengals value Peerman for his special teams prowess, it earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2015, after all. Unless Bronson Hill or Tra Carson majorly impress in the next two weeks, the Bengals should roll with their proven commodities. Carson did have a solid night on Friday rushing for 19 yards on 6 attempts, but he'll need to do better if he wants a spot on the roster. Assuming the Bengals want a back on the practice squad, I'd say it will be him.
Wide receivers (6): A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Brandon Tate, Cody Core, Alex Erickson
Cut: James Wright, Alonzo Russell, Antwane Grant, Michael Bennett, Rashaun Simonise
Practice Squad: Jake Kumerow, Mario Alford
This battle is going to need time to further develop but after scoring the Bengals’ only two touchdowns on Friday night, I went with a knee-jerk reaction to add Erickson to the 53-man roster. Erickson will need to continue to impress if he wants to keep his spot on the 53-man roster secure during the next two weeks. I also have never been more confident in Brandon Tate sticking around on the roster. It seems the Bengals are treating him like a veteran receiver who they can rely on and as of now, he’s not going anywhere. It seems the Bengals are no longer planning to use Tate just on special teams and that is why I think he makes the roster with ease. Jake Kumerow was pretty disappointing in the preseason opener; he’ll need to do better to make the roster. And, I’m not yet sold on Mario Alford, and don’t think the Bengals should be either.
*Note: A player can’t have spent an entire NFL season on a team’s 53-man roster and be eligible for the practice squad unless they were on the active roster for less than nine games in that season. Alford only was active for one game in 2015, so he is still practice squad eligible.
Tight ends (4): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, Ryan Hewitt (H-back)
Cut: Matt Lengel, John Peters, Andrew Bonnet (H-back), Jeff Luc
I don’t expect any surprises here. This group will be the same as last year’s. It seems the Bengals like Jeff Luc, but, in a numbers game, he’s the odd man out.
Offensive linemen (9): Andrew Whitworth, Cedric Ogbuehi, Eric Winston, Jake Fisher, Clint Boling, Kevin Zeitler, Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson, Christian Westerman
Cut: Alex Cooper, Trip Thurman, John Weidenaar, Aaron Epps
Practice squad: Alex Redmond, Trey Hopkins
The starters along the offensive line are set with Whitworth and Ogbuehi at tackle, Boling and Zeitler at guard and Bodine at center. Johnson will back up Bodine while Westerman, the team’s 2016 fifth round draft pick will back up the guards and Fisher, the team’s second round 2015 draft pick, will back up the tackles. Winston who can fill in at both guard and tackle is valuable for both his playing ability and veteran leadership.
The one surprise I could see happening here is the Bengals cutting Winston if they feel strongly enough in their young offensive line depth. They often go into the season with just eight offensive lineman and right now, I have them at nine. But, as of now, I still think he’ll make the roster. UCLA guard Alex Redmond is a versatile player who did well on Friday night and can play every offensive line position, including center. For that reason, I think he’s likely to land on the practice squad. And, it’s likely another offensive lineman could grab a practice squad spot with him, though that battle for that job will continue for the next two weeks. For now, I’m giving it to Trey Hopkins who would be on his last year of practice squad eligibility after spending the last two years there.
Defensive linemen (9): Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, DeShawn Williams, Will Clarke, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison, Ryan Brown
PUP: Brandon Thompson
IR: Andrew Billings (candidate for designation to return)
Cut: Margus Hunt, Jack Gangwish
Practice squad: David Dean
The defensive end position was already lacking depth and then Margus Hunt went out on Friday night with possibly his worst-ever showing on an NFL field. He deserves to be cut and the Bengals need to do something to ensure their depth at defensive end is capable of making an impact. If that means signing a new player, they should do that this week. For now, I’m giving his roster spot to undrafted rookie defensive end Ryan Brown. But, I hope the Bengals are able to find someone in free agency, whether now, or after roster cuts to make this position more well-rounded.
The Bengals haven’t provided an update on Andrew Billings’ knee injury since the day it occurred, so I’m going to assume he will not be on the roster to begin the year. He could be a candidate for IR with the designation to return. And luckily, there is a rule change this year where teams no longer need to actually designate the person who will return off the IR list, until they’re ready to do so. This will play into their favor with two rookies (William Jackson III as the other) looking to land on IR to start the year.
The defensive line starters are dominant, but this group is looking less deep than it did two weeks ago.
Linebackers (6): Vincent Rey, Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, Nick Vigil, P.J. Dawson, Marquis Flowers*
Suspended: Vontaze Burfict
Cut: Jayson DiManche, Trevor Roach
Practice Squad: Darien Harris
There are no changes here since my last roster projection and heading into Vontaze Burfict’s suspension, this group seems pretty set. Once Week 4 rolls around, it seems *Flowers is the person who would be cut to make room for Burfict to return to the roster. I think Darien Harris has the potential to land on the practice squad and Jayson DiManche showed nothing in the preseason opener to think his time in Cincinnati will last past September 3.
Defensive backs (10): Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, Chris Lewis-Harris, George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Jimmy Wilson, Clayton Fejedelem
IR: William Jackson III (candidate for designation to return)
Cut: Chykie Brown, Floyd Raven, Tony McRae
Practice squad: Corey Tindal, Darius Hillary
With William Jackson III’s injury, Lewis-Harris’ spot on the roster has gotten more secure. The cornerback roster seems pretty set with Jones, Kirkpatrick, Dennard, Shaw and Lewis-Harris.
As for the safeties, Iloka, Williams and Smith seem to be locks with the either one or two spots up for grabs, depending on if the Bengals go with nine or 10 defensive backs. As of now, I think they’ll go with 10 and Jimmy Wilson who got the Bengals only interception on Friday night and has veteran experience will be one of them. He even recovered a Jeremy Hill fumble back in Week 2 of 2015. Clayton Fejedelem should look to step up in the next two weeks to solidify his spot on the roster and continue the Bengals’ streak of not cutting rookies since 2013.
Specialists (3): Mike Nugent, Clark Harris, Kevin Huber.
Cut: Zach Hocker
With the only backup specialist on the roster injured (Hocker), and thus unable to prove his worth, the Bengals will keep their group of specialists once again heading into the 2016 season.