The Bengals entered training with a lot of questions at wide receiver.
By the time they’d been narrowly defeated by the Vikings in their preseason opener, many questions still remain. However, the questions have taken a shift from 'who steps up at receiver' to 'which receivers will the Bengals ultimately keep?'
Seemingly every receiver on the roster had had flashes of greatness during camp and/or that first preseason affair. 10 different receiver finished Friday night with a catch, and that was with veteran Brandon LaFell not even dressing.
A.J. Green got his brief run with the starters while grabbing three passes and Brandon Tate grabbed Dalton’s first pass of the year, but every other receiver played with the backups, meaning it would be less easy to impress with Dalton not tossing the rock.
Even when it got down to Joe Licata and Keith Wenning, the Bengals receivers stepped up and impressed with the limited opportunities they got. You already know about the breakout game Alex Erickson had, which may have very well been enough to put him on the right side of the roster bubble.
When you can make an impact at your position and on special teams, that makes you a hard player to keep off the 53-man roster. Every non-star players need to find a way to impact the game in multiple ways, something Erickson is clearly capable of.
That's also true of Mario Alford. He looked good on his one catch for 14 yards to go with a 30-yard kick-off run and a nine-yard punt return aided by a 15-yard horse collar he drew.
However, an ankle injury knocked him out of the game and didn't allow him to make a better impression. While his stock rose slightly based on Friday's performance, Alford was still passed on the receiver pecking order by Erickson, which may put Alford on the outside looking in.
It didn't help Alford that veteran Brandon Tate continued to show he's a reliable receiver when called upon...at least in the preseason. We already know how much of a ghost Tate can be in the regular season, but he still has far more clout with this staff than Alford.
Tate caught just two passes for 26 yards on two targets, but with Marvin Lewis making it a point to praise Tate after the game, I seriously doubt he's losing his roster spot to Alford.
The same goes with Jake Kumerow, who didn't practice for much of the past two weeks due to a hamstring injury. He's on the outside looking in right now as Erickson and Alford have passed him, though there's still time for him to rebound and get back on track.
There's no question that Cody Core is not only on the right side, but he's all but locked up his roster spot. The sixth-round rookie has been very impressive in training camp. He parlayed that into a three-catch, 33-yard performance Friday to help keep his stock rising.
One player who's been a ghost in training camp is Canadian prodigy Rashaun Simonise. He managed to have the longest catch of any Bengal on Friday, as his 47-yard catch-and-run helped spark his team's fourth-quarter rally.
While it provided a small boost to his stock, Simonise is still the ninth or tenth receiver in the pecking order right now. He needs to perform well in the rest of the preseason just to secure a practice squad spot.
As for Antwane Grant, he did make an appearance with his 14-yard catch in the fourth quarter. Had he made that amazing one-handed two-point catch that he just missed on, he would have made himself a guy to watch for going forward. But even had he made it, Grant is facing some very long odds at just making any team's practice squad.
The same is true of Alonzo Russell, who's had a few good moments in camp, but didn't catch a pass Friday.
Updated 53-man Projection at WR:
1. A.J. Green
2. Tyler Boyd
3. Brandon LaFell
4. Cody Core
5. Brandon Tate
6. Alex Erickson
Practice Squad: Mario Alford and Jake Kumerow
Next Up: Rashaun Simonise