It won't be long until the Cincinnati Bengals open the regular season. With only two preseason games left, we'll soon see the roster trimmed to 53 players.
In the meantime, here’s a projection at what the 53-man roster would look like after two preseason games.
Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
Expect no surprises here. The only question is if Keith Wenning or Joe Licata make the practice squad as a developmental QB. Neither is making the final roster unless Dalton and/or McCarron gets hurt in the preseason.
As long as McCarron keeps impressing the coaching staff like he did last year and so far this preseason, he'll continue to hold down the backup job behind Dalton.
RUNNING BACK/H-BACK (5)
Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Ryan Hewitt (H-back)
There is almost no competition here in terms of roster spots. Hill and Bernard are the future at running back, while Peerman and Burkhead are two quality, experienced backups. The Bengals will stick with that familiarity, but there could be another back making it to the practice squad.
Tra Carson and Bronson Hill are both having impressive preseasons. Combined with Burkhead and Peerman hitting free agent next year, expect the Bengals to keep at least one back on the practice squad.
WIDE RECEIVER (6)
A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Brandon Tate, Alex Erickson
Green, Tate, LaFell, Core and Boyd are all locked in. Then you've likely got Tate, Erickson, Alford, Jake Kumerow and James Wright fighting for the final one or two spots. I give Erickson the edge for now because not only has he earned it, but he may be the hardest to get through waivers and to the practice squad.
The Bengals may opt to keep seven receivers due to the lack of depth at tight end while Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft are injured, meaning the Bengals may use more three, or four receiver sets. That would be good news for Alford, Kumerow, Erickson and Wright.
Wright is working his way back from major knee surgery, and while I think he's on pace to make the final roster, I'm not ready to put him there until he shows more in a preseason game. He's played sparingly thus far and hasn't done much in two games.
These next two games will give him get plenty of shots to show he's back and ready to make a positive impact. Without the two major knee surgeries, there's no question he makes the cut and maybe even cracks the top four of the receiver rotation.
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 been productive.
TIGHT END (3)
Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
There's no real surprise here with Kroft and Uzomah being the lone backups behind Eifert. Even with injuries to Eifert and Kroft, the latter is expected back in time for Week 1. Kroft did enough last year that the Bengals are confident he can step up and hold the fort down while the Pro Bowl tight end is sidelined.
However, don't be surprised if another tight end is added during final cuts from another team or if they sign one during the regular season, especially if Uzomah doesn't step up in these next two preseason games. He's been a ghost so far after a decent showing in training camp.
The Bengals also have Hewitt to work at tight end, not to mention the versatile Jake Fisher, which helps lead to only three 'true' tight ends making the roster.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (9)
Tackle (4): Andrew Whitworth, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Christian Westerman
Center (2): Russell Bodine, Trey Hopkins
As crowded as the offensive line is, figuring out who makes it is pretty easy. Winston should be returning as insurance behind Ogbuehi and Whitworth while also playing some backup guard. Fisher is also a lock for the roster, though it's unclear where the 2015 second-round lineman will be primarily playing.
Fifth-round rookie Christian Westerman has his spot locked up as he has the potential to become a quality starting guard in Cincinnati.
That leaves Hopkins, Alex Cooper, Alex Redmond, and T.J. Johnson fighting for the final lineman spots. Johnson's experience and ability to play both guard and center make him attractive, but Hopkins has done well this preseason across the line, including reps at left tackle.
DEFENSIVE LINE (9)
Defensive End: Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Will Clarke, Margus Hunt*
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison, DeShawn Williams
The Bengals will be able to keep just four 'true' defensive ends because of Hardison doubling as a tackle and end. Margus Hunt is squarely on the bubble as the former second-round pick has failed to show anything in his first two seasons, not to mention he's looked bad this preseason.
At tackle, the final spots come down to Sims, DeShawn Williams and David Dean. Sims should win one of the spots easily given his impact and experience.
*Brandon Thompson opens the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for at least the first six games. If he's brought up, Margus Hunt is waived to make room. If Thompson stays on IR, Hunt is safe.
Rey Maualuga, Karlos Dansby, Nick Vigil, P.J. Dawson, Vincent Rey, Marquis Flowers*
With Vontaze Burfict opening the year on the suspended list, the Bengals should look to keep six or seven linebackers to start the year. Maualuga, Dansby and Rey have their spots locked up.
Dawson should see a bigger role with the defense this year, even though he rarely saw the field as a rookie. He and 2016 third-round rookie Nick Vigil are locks for the roster, though I don't expect either to have big roles in 2016.
Flowers should also make it because of his pass-coverage ability and ability to play special teams while also playing in every game as a rookie in 2014; he missed all of 2015 due to injury.
*Vontaze Burfict opens the season on the suspended list and doesn't count toward the 53-man roster for first three games. Once Burfict is called up, Flowers is waived.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
Cornerback: Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, Chris Lewis-Harris
Safety: George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Jimmy Wilson, Clayton Fejedelem
This is one of the harder groups to project with so many quality players fighting for roster spots. At cornerback, however, the top five spots are locked in, including Shaw as the No. 4 corner, though he will also be playing safety this year as well.
That leaves Lewis-Harris, Corey Tindal, Chykie Brown and to Darius Hillary battle for the final corner spots. In this projection, I have Cincinnati keeping just five with CLH winning out and Hillary going to the practice squad.
Part of that is Wilson being able to play safety and corner, though he's played mainly at safety with the Bengals. He'll essentially be the sixth corner, but Hillary is close enough that he could unseat Wilson in the next two preseason games.
That leaves Smith, Floyd Raven and seventh-round rookie Clayton Fejedelem to battle for the backup safety spots. Smith and Fej should win those. Smith also has worked briefly at corner, another reason the Bengals can sneak by with just five true corners to open the season with Hillary waiting for the call on the practice squad.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker: Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris
There’s no real competition here. The only question is if Zach Hocker makes the practice squad to give the Bengals a little security if Mike Nugent continues to struggle.
PUP or Suspension (Doesn't count against 53-man roster)
Brandon Thompson (PUP)
Vontaze Burfict (suspended 3 games)
K Jonathan Brown (already listed)
CB William Jackson III
DT Andrew Billings
WR Mario Alford
WR Jake Kumerow
OG Alex Redmond
OL Alex Cooper
DT David Dean
DL Ryan Brown
RB Tra Carson
RB Bronson Hill
LB Trevor Roach
CB Darius Hillary