Alex Erickson’s monster preseason just goes to show that anyone can make a roster, regardless of draft pedigree, if he plays well enough. While the Bengals have seen preseason standouts in years past, none can come close to Erickson, who has tallied 231 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns in three games. The wide receiver leads all Bengals in receiving touchdowns (two), kickoff return average (31 yards per return) and punt returns (167 yards, 41.8 yards per return, one touchdown).
Erickson’s stunning performances have earned him a role as the Bengals’ designated return man. To presumably promote the undrafted rookie to the active roster on a week-to-week basis, Cincinnati cut veteran Brandon Tate — a move the team seemed hesitant to make without a reliable return man in the fold. That the Bengals were willing enough to part ways with a fixture on the roster goes to show how confident Marvin Lewis, Darrin Simmons and the rest of the Bengals staff is in the rookie. Virtually everyone counted Erickson out when he showed up in Cincinnati, but he simply kept making plays.
“We've won a lot of games with Brandon Tate but I'm also excited for what the future holds for the guys we have here,” Simmons, the Bengals’ special teams coordinator said. “Everyone was kind of surprised Week 1 but it just kept happening week after week after week.”
Erickson figures to return the majority of punts for the Bengals, but Adam Jones will probably still assist in return duties on occasion. The veteran remains one of the NFL’s best return men, so he could see some punts after short drives or in critical situations. Lewis and Simmons also mentioned Tyler Boyd’s name, saying he’s a guy who is capable of playing in the return game. Boyd, however, doesn’t figure to be a major factor, as he’ll presumably start on offense and will be too valuable an offensive player to be a full-time returner.
An interesting tidbit came out of the Bengals’ Tuesday press conference in that Rex Burkhead will reportedly play a role as a kickoff return specialist. Considering the running back hasn’t been able to carve out a major role aside from his playing on the coverage teams, this is good news for Burkhead and for the Bengals.
KRs are Erickson and Burkhead— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) August 30, 2016
On Tuesday, Simmons also said Cedric Peerman will have surgery and left the door open for a possible Peerman return, presumably contingent upon the condition of Peerman’s arm after the procedure. Also mentioned was the fact that the Bengals won’t rule out a potential Brandon Tate return if absolutely needed. Cincinnati vehemently mentioned its gratitude towards Tate for being a great man who constantly does the right things.
The changing of the guard is happening, and this all but guarantees a spot for Erickson on the roster. He’ll likely join A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Boyd, James Wright and Cody Core. And assuming LaFell is healthy, Core will likely be inactive on gamedays at the beginning of the year, as Wright will be one of Cincinnati’s gunners on kickoffs and punts.