Every year, storylines take center stage in NFL training camps. Unfortunately for the Cincinnati Bengals, one of the major points of interest this summer has revolved around the excessive amount of injuries the club has suffered. But, one positive storyline has been the emergence of undrafted free agent, Alex Erickson.
In what is becoming a near annual tradition with the Bengals, one of the best rookie additions they made isn’t one they spent a pick on in the draft. Erickson, who went to the University of Wisconsin, has had a strong preseason while contributing on offense and special teams. That’s giving him a real shot at making the final roster, given the competition for the receiver openings this year. And now with Brandon Tate’s release, it seems certain that Erickson will be on the Bengals’ 53-man roster this year.
His impressive preseason continued on Sunday night in Jacksonville, as he scored his third touchdown in as many contests. While observations from training camp practices saw some positive reviews of Erickson in drills, he’s proven to be a real gamer and has been one of the most impressive Bengals players so far.
One of the areas in which I wanted to see Erickson grow in Weeks 3 and 4 is his ability to work out of the slot. It’s how he scored his first touchdown in the opener against the Vikings and he did so again against the Jaguars, too.
This one had him cut in on a slant and then use a nice stiff arm to break free and into the end zone. It’s a savvy, veteran-like move and was a great complement to his touchdown reception against Minnesota where he went the other way in the flat.
Even with the touchdown catches though, special teams is a critical component in his quest to making the final roster. His impressive punt return for a touchdown in the opener has been well-chronicled, but he had three more great ones on Sunday night.
A 31-yard kickoff return was arguably the low point of the three attempts, and that’s certainly saying something. He averaged 28 yards per punt return on the night, highlighted by his 39-yard scamper down the sideline.
Other traits to note:
Tackle-Breaking Ability: In almost every play he’s made this preseason, Erickson has broken tackles—sometimes quite a few in a single play. It actually shows quite a bit of strength for a guy who is slight at 6’0”, 195 pounds.
Ability to read creases in defenses: On both return duties and as a receiver, Erickson created plays by dissecting lanes. Sometimes he created them on his own because of the above-mentioned ability to get through would-be tacklers, but he also extended the gained yardage on plays by taking the right angles.
Does he make the final roster?
With young players grappling to cling to a roster spot, Erickson has done pretty much everything he could to make his case. Marvin Lewis has long been a proponent of his young players making the roster by in-game performances in the preseason and not in practices, so the former Badger has to be a coaching staff favorite at this point.
After the Bengals’ Monday cuts, there are now eight players vying for just three or four wide receiver spots. Cody Core has been impressive, and Rashaun Simonise remains a promising project, so the competition is heated. But, as has been previously noted, Erickson was likely battling Brandon Tate for one of those final roster spots.
The veteran who Lewis and his staff have loved since he arrived in 2011 didn’t have a great night versus Jacksonville. He didn’t record a catch and had two punt returns for 16 total yards. Now, with Tate being released by the Bengals on Tuesday, a clear path to the final roster seems to be had.
Could Erickson become the next in line of undrafted free agents who ended up contributing to the Benglas’ 53-man roster? With three touchdowns in three preseason games and good things always seeming to happen when he gets his hands on the football, Erickson should be on the roster for Week 1 against the Jets. It’s especially apparent he will be on the final roster now with special teams coach Darrin Simmons proclaiming him the starting punt return man at this point.