With training camp wrapped up, it’s time for a look back at some of the biggest performers in August.
We already know A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Geno Atkins are great, something they’ve only reinforced with their camp performances. However, this list is meant for the guys who either you may not know, are new to the team, or simply are outperforming everyone’s expectations of them.
Here is a look at our five Bengals who were the biggest surprises, in a good way, during training camp.
5. James Wright
For James Wright, just seeing him back on an NFL field is worthy of making this list. After missing much of the last two years due to knee surgeries - one of which being microfracture surgery - it looked like his NFL may end before it really began.
But Wright battled back and stayed committed to not only making it back, but making an impact in the process for the Bengals. Seeing Wright running around and able to get out of his breaks is a big step forward for him re-earning his spot with the Bengals.
James Wright looks pretty good to me. Had a few catches in 1on1s & looked smooth on this route against Pacman pic.twitter.com/6EHnQjbrHU— James Rapien (@JamesRapien) August 2, 2016
Going back to the Week 13, 2014 game in which Wright was against the Buccaneers, Wright caught three receptions for 59 yards (19.7 average) with a long of 30 to help Cincinnati score a critical road win. He looked poised to become a reliable offensive weapon, something the Bengals could really use now two years later.
At various points in training camp, we’ve seen Wright look like the guy we saw in Tampa Bay.
That was easily one of, if not the best catch any receiver made in camp, but it wasn’t the best catch overall...
4. Nick Vigil
When the Bengals spent a third-round pick on Nick Vigil, Bengaldom let out a collective “who’s he?”
He may very well be the future middle linebacker of this defense. With Rey Maualuga aging and only having two years left on his deal, Vigil has the chance to grow into a starter for the Bengals, though the early expectation was his rookie year would be more of a learning experience.
And frankly, while Vigil showed some nice potential with Utah State in college, he wasn’t even the best linebacker on his own team (Kyler Fackrell gets that nod), not to mention someone who didn’t exactly dominate the Mountain West.
But watching Vigil in camp, he’s adapting to the NFL just fine. He also made easily the best catch of any player in camp thus far.
Nick Vigil ladies and gents pic.twitter.com/CQGXs9K4K3— John Sheeran (@john__sheeran) August 2, 2016
Vigil has been batting down passes and making an impact in pass coverage, which may earn him a significant role as a rookie.
3. Darius Hillary
The Bengals have been getting hit hard at cornerback, which has allowed Darius Hillary to get more reps than expected. He’s more than taken advantage of his opportunity, which has included some brief run with the first-team defense.
That meant Hillary was left to cover A.J. Green on occasion, and he held his own against the All-Pro.
Hillary has also held his own against starting slot man Tyler Boyd, as well as Cody Core, both of whom have been very impressive in camp.
Hillary may not be someone that you want seeing defensive snaps as a rookie, but he’s done well enough to put himself in contention for a final cornerback spot on the final roster or a spot on the practice squad.
For what it’s worth, I’d take him over veteran Chykie Brown as of now.
2. Tyler Boyd
When you’re a second-round pick, you’re typically expected to make an impact during your rookie year. That’s more than true of Tyler Boyd, who has already being projected as the starting slot receiver before camp began.
But preconceived notions aside, Boyd has not only been one of the most impressive rookies, but one of the best players overall.
Even on his worst days, Boyd has come away with at least one nice highlight, something he’s been putting up a lot of.
Whether it’s Andy Dalton or AJ McCarron throwing the ball, Boyd has been making both quarterbacks look good with his ability to get separation underneath for quick and easy completions, not to mention making some tough grabs that would have been incomplete with a lot of receivers.
Boyd already looks locked in to be the No. 2 pass option while Tyler Eifert is out. While the rookie’s fast rise is a nice surprise, it was, to a degree, expected by the Bengals when they spent as high of a pick on him as they did.
1. Cody Core
That’s not the case with Cody Core, whom the Bengals drafted in Round 6 to add more competition to a thin receiving unit, not to mention grab a guy with great special teams potential as a former defensive back.
But it’s been all about Core’s receiving skills thus far in camp. He’s easily been one of the three or four best receivers for a Bengals team badly in need of player stepping up.
Being a 6’3”, 205-pound former safety, Core has the size and physicality to be a big red zone target, as well as someone who can make tough grabs over the middle.
But what’s been really surprising is seeing how good of a route runner he’s developing into. He’s made some experienced NFL corners look pretty bad in camp.
There’s no question Core has been the biggest surprise of camp. He’s not only locked up his roster spot, but may have even jumped into the top four of the receiving rotation.
And given his defensive/special teams background, that makes it even likelier the Bengals make Core a regular active player on gamedays.