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Bengals 2016 roster battle update at wide receiver

Wide receiver is still the hardest position on the roster to project, which was the expectation coming into the 2016 season.

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Detroit Lions Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After training camp and two preseason games, wide receiver remains one of the biggest position battles on the Bengals’ roster.

Thanks to the emergence of several rookies, this has become as competitive of a fight for roster spots and playing time as any position. Unfortunately, injuries are a big reason why, as that's allowed more playing time for unproven players.

While it's great seeing guys like Alex Erickson and Cody Core get to play more, you hate to see Mario Alford, Jake Kumerow and Brandon LaFell injured to make it happen. LaFell is all but certain to make the roster, but that's far from true for Alford and Kumerow.

Both of those guys have fallen onto the wrong side of the roster bubble because of injuries. Kumerow has been dealing with a hamstring issue that's had him in and out of practice; he played in the first preseason game, but not the second.

Falling down on the depth chart is leading to most of his reps being with Keith Wenning and Joe Licata, both of whom will be lucky to have practice squad spots this year.

That's a terrible spot for a receiver to be in when they want to be able to show what they're made of. That's also the case with Alford, who's dealing with an ankle injury that's sidelined him for the last week. It's unclear when he'll return, but at this point, he's just trying to earn a sixth or seventh receiver spot.

Other than his ankle injury, a big reason why Alford is now on the outside looking in is Erickson stepping up and making a big impression during the preseason. His pass-catching and returner skills have him firmly holding onto a roster spot for now.

As for LaFell, his torn hand ligament has the Bengals in a tough spot. If he has surgery, he'll be out for around six weeks, which means the Bengals should strongly consider keeping seven receivers on the roster.

After A.J. Green and Brandon Tate, there’s so much inexperience that it would be too risky to keep just five healthy guys with LaFell out. If you keep seven, that gives the Bengals (hopefully) six healthy receivers if LaFell sits.

But are there that many receivers worthy of a 53-man roster spot? Green, Tate, LaFell, Core and Tyler Boyd all seem to be locked in, then there’s Erickson. Keeping Alford and/or Kumerow might be wise move if LaFell opts for surgery, so that factor really changes a lot. If LaFell bypasses surgery, six should be the number of receivers the Bengals keep.

Another reason the Bengals may need seven receivers is the lack of depth at tight end while Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft remain sidelined. That means the Bengals may use more three or four receiver sets.

For now, I'm projecting them to keep six receivers, but I anticipate it will be seven if both Kroft and Eifert miss Week 1. That would be good news for guys like Alford, Kumerow, Erickson and James Wright, the latter of whom recently returned from major knee surgery.

Wright has had some nice flashes in camp and the preseason, but not quite enough to feel comfortable about him earning a 53-man roster spot. While I do think Wright will ultimately be on the 53-man roster, I haven't seen enough to put him there right now.

And of course, expect Tate to be on the final roster. He's a veteran with a lot of experience as a returner and pass-catcher, even if it hasn't always been productive experience.

Here is my latest projection for how the receiver position would shape up if the 53-man roster was finalized today:

53-Man Roster

A.J. Green

Tyler Boyd

Brandon LaFell

Cody Core

Brandon Tate

Alex Erickson

Practice Squad

Mario Alford

Jake Kumerow

Also in Consideration:

James Wright

Alonzo Russell