One of the most intriguing things to watch for with the Bengals this offseason and preseason has been how the wide receiver position shapes up. Since the electrifying tandem of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left for supposedly greener pastures in free agency, the Bengals have essentially hit the reset button on every receiver spot behind A.J. Green. More or less, they have allowed a free for all to win the five available spots for any player who can prove himself worthy.
However, perhaps the most important spot up for grabs is the No. 2 receiver role. Filling a much needed starting role on the offense while complementing Green is a big job. At this point, it has become pretty clear that the real competition for this spot is between the Bengals’ 2016 second round pick, Tyler Boyd, and one of their biggest offseason free agent signings, Brandon LaFell.
As expected when the Bengals took him with the No. 55 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Boyd has proven to be highly competitive with the ability to make impressive catches and run good routes. He impressed quite a bit in early practices leading up to and including training camp and hasn’t stopped since.
In two preseason games so far, he has recorded three catches for 78 yards. That’s a staggering 26 yards per reception. Throw in a touchdown catch against the Lions and Boyd is having a fantastic preseason so far. If he can keep this kind of production up consistently, it appears that the Bengals won’t need to look far for their long-term answer at the No. 2 receiver spot.
On Sunday, it was announced that LaFell is expected to play against the Jaguars this week despite being limited at best due to a torn ligament in his hand over the past few weeks. The Bengals picked up the former Patriots and Panthers receiver with the hope that he could stay healthy and return to his 2014 form when he put up a career high 74 receptions for 953 yards and seven touchdowns en route to winning the Super Bowl with the Patriots.
Expectations should be tempered for LaFell’s debut. He will likely require time to adjust to the Bengals’ offensive system, one that he has never been part of in a game situation to this point. Given the fact that the third week of the preseason is typically seen as the regular season dress rehearsal for the starters, this will likely be the best opportunity for either LaFell or Boyd to prove they deserve the No. 2 spot.
As of right now, the spot belongs to LaFell on the Bengals’ official depth chart. It makes sense, given the fact that he has six years of NFL experience. With 278 catches for 3,853 yards at the NFL level to draw from, the Bengals pretty much know what they’re getting with him.
Boyd has been the hotter name so far in practices and preseason games, but his three total catches at the NFL level make him a bit of a wild card. LaFell has yet to play a game as a Bengal, so he hasn’t been able to add hype to his resume in the way Boyd has thus far. The Bengals’ coaching staff doesn’t typically like under-proven wild cards. However, that’s not to say that LaFell is a lock for the No. 2 spot either. In the end, it will simply come down to who convinces the coaching staff more, and this Sunday’s game should provide a prime chance to do so for both players.