clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bengals’ wide receiver group shaping up after three preseason games

With three quarters of the preseason in the books, we’ve seen some surprises and some disappointments from the wide receiver unit.

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions
Alex Erickson bound for the 53-man roster?
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Last season, the Bengals passed the ball more than 500 times for about 4,100 yards and 31 touchdowns. The Bengals lost about 30 percent of that receiving production when both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left via free agency. The task of replacing that production falls to free agent acquisition Brandon LaFell and a host of unproven draft picks and unproven free agents, all fighting for a role on the Bengals’ 2016 roster.

After three preseason games and the league’s initial cut-down day (from 90 to 75), the wide receiver position is starting to take shape. So how does it look?

The locks:

A.J. Green is the clear number one receiver on the team. The five time Pro-Bowler should lead the team in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns yet again.

Brandon LaFell should be lining up outside, opposite Green, reprising the role vacated by Marvin Jones. Along with Green, he is the only member of the Bengals’ receiving group with at least 60 career receptions. After missing the Bengals’ first two preseason games, he caught one pass against the Jaguars, for an eight yard reception. He was targeted on another but Prince Amukamara held him on the play and disallowed LaFell from hauling in the pass.

Tyler Boyd should be starting in the slot and is a good candidate to surpass LaFell as the team’s No. 2 receiver. He has been impressive in training camp and the preseason, catching four passes for 87 yards and a touchdown so far.

The competition – near locks:

Lost amid Laquon Treadwell’s slow 40-yard dash, and Laremy Tunsil’s pot smoking draft day picture, was another Ole’ Miss prospect, Cody Core. When he was drafted, many had to look up who he was. He has flashed some promise in Bengals’ camp, and has been the most productive receiver in the preseason, securing a team high seven receptions and 111 yards.

Before training camp began, Jake Kumerow and Rashaun Simonise were the two undrafted free agents generating the most buzz. But it is Alex Erickson who has emerged as the top undrafted receiver in the battle for a spot on the 53-man roster. Erickson is no stranger to emerging from obscurity, to productivity. As a former walk-on at Wisconsin, Erickson left Wisconsin as the 10th leading reception yardage leader, with 1,877 career yards. His 77 receptions last season are only one behind the school record of 78. And his 978 yards last year are the sixth best mark in school history. Erickson was a brave competitor for the Badgers, often working the middle of the field, and that tenacity has been on display for the Bengals, as he leads the team with two receiving touchdowns, and one punt return touchdown.

Like Core, James Wright is another wide receiver who had people scouring scouting reports to figure out who he was when the Bengals drafted him back in 2014. While he hasn’t been nearly as exciting or exemplary as Erickson in the preseason, he does have several things going for him: he can play special teams, he has experience, and there aren’t many bodies ahead of him on the depth chart.

The competition – practice squad bound?

Rashaun Simonise has caught one ball all preseason, but for a nice 47 yard gain. He has struggled in training camp with rookie things like routes and hands, but the upside is there to merit a spot on the practice squad.

Jake Kumerow is a player who many expected to break out this preseason, with the loss of Jones and Sanu, and the fact that he spent all of last year with the practice squad. But he has failed to follow up his great OTA with a stellar camp. He got off track initially with an injury, and seems to have fallen behind with only one reception for seven yards so far this preseason.

The competition – clinging on:

Alonzo Russell offers tantalizing 6’4” height, but if it comes down to him, Simonise, and Kumerow as a tall practice squad WR, he stands to be the odd man out. He has one reception for three yards so far in the preseason.

The fallen – those who were cut:

The Bengals’ love for Brandon Tate came to a surprising end with the returner and wide receiver being cut. With the team’s desire to use experienced players, and their lack of experienced depth at receiver, Tate had a great opportunity to lock up a roster spot. Ultimately it seems that he lost his stranglehold on the kick return duties and became expendable. Tate had returned four times as many kicks as any other player in preseason, so whoever they have set to replace him has only one preseason kick return.

After spending all of the 2015 season with the Bengals, Mario Alford has failed to put that to his advantage in 2016. He struggled during the team’s summer activities and got injured in the first preseason game after notching just one reception for 14 yards. The Bengals opted to give him the waived/injured designation yesterday and if he clears waivers he’ll revert to Injured Reserve.

Antwane Grant actually has the most receptions and yards of any undrafted free agent wide receiver other than Erickson. Grant has a pair of receptions for 30 yards, but that was not enough to spare him the early axe, falling short of the initial 75 man roster, which was set Tuesday at 4pm.

Michael Bennett had zero statistical production for the Bengals, and suffered multiple injuries in his college career. You know you are a very long shot when the Bengals’ website, the NFL website, and CBS sports all show a different picture of you (and only one of them -- the Bengals’ picture is correct) because no one knows who you are.