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Bengals’ final WR spot expected to come down to Erickson vs Tate

Veteran receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate is looking at competition for his roster spot from a source he probably didn’t expect.

NFL: Preseason-Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals’ wide receiver position has been the subject of much analysis since Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left for Detroit and Atlanta, respectively, this offseason. To replace the dynamic pair, the Bengals have added plenty of new names to the pool in Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, Antwane Grant, Alonzo Russell, and Rashaun Simonise to create as much competition as possible.

In addition to those names, we are seeing the return of Brandon Tate, James Wright, Mario Alford, Michael Bennett, and Jake Kumerow. A.J. Green is also technically part of that group too, but he’s not competing with anyone to maintain his spot as the team’s No. 1 receiver. There has been plenty of speculation as to who will step up and make their marks with the team this year. But, according to Geoff Hobson of, the final wide receiver spot is going to come down to a battle between the veteran Brandon Tate and the undrafted rookie who few saw coming, Alex Erickson.

Tate and Erickson are having a battle royale for what looks to be one spot for the returner/receiver job. How do you keep both? Six days after popping an 80-yarder for a punt return touchdown, the rookie Erickson made the first guy miss and logged a 30-yarder late in the game Thursday. But the Bengals don’t have a lot of experience from scrimmage at receiver and for the second straight game Tate converted a third down on a scoring drive. He later couldn’t get away from cornerback Darius Slay on quick third-and-two, but he’s got good chemistry with Dalton. This is a classic Hard Knocks training camp battle.

Hobson expects the other five wide receivers on the roster to be Green, LaFell, Boyd, Core and Wright.

As hard as it is to see the Bengals parting way with their security blanket, Tate, the competition does make sense. Granted, Tate has managed to squeeze his way onto the final roster every year since joining the Bengals in 2011 simply due to being the most experienced and generally reliable kick returner on the team.

That said, he has never looked quite as electrifying as he did in 2010 when he was with the Patriots and returned a kickoff 97 yards against the Bengals for a touchdown. In addition, he has has fumbled at least twice every year that he has been with the Bengals, save for last year when he only fumbled once.

Erickson is essentially the exact same kind of player as Tate. As a third round pick, Tate came into the NFL with significantly more hype than the undrafted Erickson. But, Erickson has already made his mark with the Bengals by recording two touchdowns against the Vikings in the first week of the preseason, one of which was an 80 yard punt return. He also recorded a pair of catches on Friday when the Bengals traveled to Detroit.

Personally, my thought on this battle is that Erickson will have to continue to show consistency as a great option for him to beat out the veteran Tate. It’s usually not in the Bengals’ nature to choose a young, exciting player over a proven veteran. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but it’s one of the biggest reasons that Tate has lasted with the Bengals for this long.

Hobson also made a great point about Tate’s chemistry with Dalton. It appears that Erickson has developed a good rapport with backup quarterback AJ McCarron and even got a few good looks from Keith Wenning. But, he has never caught a pass from Dalton in an in-game situation, so there’s a pretty huge boost to Tate’s resume.

As of right now, I would have to say that Tate is the front-runner for the spot in the eyes of the Bengals’ coaching staff. That said, if things between the two stay the same through the rest of the preseason, that shows positive consistency for Erickson and negative consistency for Tate, which could lead to a huge swing in Erickson’s favor.

Interestingly enough, Hobson also revealed another bit of intriguing information about the Bengals’ roster battle at wide receiver. That is the fact that Wright, who spent part of 2014 and all of 2015 on Injured Reserve, is looking like a virtual lock to make the final roster.

It certainly looks like Wright is going to be one of the five active receivers on game day, doesn’t it? The micro fracture surgery knee looked terrific on the touchdown drive at the end of the half on McCarron’s second-and-11 throw. Wright saw the defender over pursue him in the middle of the field and he was able to twist his knees into the ground so he could take advantage of the leverage and go get the first down on five yards after the catch.

Wright making plays and being in position to be a significant contributor this year makes sense. In college, he was the often forgotten third member of an incredible LSU receiving corps that featured Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry ahead of him on the depth chart. The Bengals looked past his lack of touches and saw a receiver who possessed a ton of talent that could lead to a viable NFL receiver with just a few more opportunities.

In 2014, he started to repay the Bengals for the chance they took on him by recording five receptions for 91 yards. On one occasion, he proved to be a clutch playmaker with a 24 yard catch late in the fourth quarter, setting the Bengals up for what would have been a game winning field goal. Unfortunately, Nugent missed the kick and the Bengals ended up tying the game in overtime (with the Panthers, of course). But, it still doesn’t take away from Wright’s showcase.

Ultimately, it’s probably still too early in the preseason to make a concrete prediction of who exactly will fill out those final few receiver spots on the Bengals’ final roster. But, we are definitely starting to see things take shape and get an idea of who will be competing for the last spots. Between Tate and Erickson, it likely will come down to who can prove they’re more consistently good.