Any injury to an NFL player is unfortunate, but it also means there becomes an opportunity for somebody else to step up and show they deserve a chance to play. Chris Lewis-Harris, a four-year veteran who played in a career-high seven games in 2015, is in such position after William Jackson III, the Bengals' first round pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, suffered a torn pectoral early in camp.
Leon Hall, who remained unsigned since March seemed to be an option for the Bengals, until he signed with the Giants a few days ago. So, barring any outside addition to the cornerback unit, Lewis-Harris will have a legitimate chance to be a regular contributor for defensive coordinator Paul Guenther.
He's been good when called upon in the past - including for 24 snaps in the Wild Card game against the Steelers, and the guy Willie Anderson recommended to Marvin Lewis four years ago has always fought hard to stay in Cincinnati, despite being overlooked in an often loaded Bengals position group.
Experience: Year 5
Weight: 180 pounds
Why He Might Improve in 2016
Lewis-Harris has often seen other players getting a chance before him, and yet he's never given up. That resilience and fight has been noticed by fans, but also by the coaching staff. And after four years of shuttling through the practice squad, the waivers and the 53-man roster, the Riverdale, Georgia native might finally get his shot.
New defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle seemed pretty impressed with him., too.
"Since I’ve been here, all I can say is great things about him," Coyle said via the Cincinnati Enquirer. "He’s reliable, he’s dependable, he’s a team guy. He’s coachable. Competes every day. Doesn’t have a lot to say, but I don’t mean that in a bad way. He’s quiet, confident and aggressive. He’ll fight. Right now, the younger guys haven’t earned spots to go ahead of somebody like that. We’re three days into training camp so I wouldn’t put too much stock into that but I would not necessarily say it’s not indicative of how well Chris has done since I’ve been here. He’s done very well."
Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick are poised to start the season on the outside, and Darqueze Dennard will man the slot if he can stay healthy, but as the league becomes more pass-happy, there is an increasing need for deeper cornerback corps that can handle everything the offense throws their way. Lewis-Harris has shown he can play inside - including an interception of an Andy Dalton pass a few days ago while filling in for Dennard - and outside despite his size. He gives the Bengals flexibility and also a reliable option at the dime if they want to play Josh Shaw at safety.
Why He Might Regress in 2016
It's hard to get excited about a 27-year-old cornerback who's failed to make much of an impact so far in his career. Jimmy Wilson and Chykie Brown might not be threats to Lewis-Harris, but if the Bengals remained open to re-signing Hall until recently, they could turn their eye to another veteran as the season nears.
It's possible a bigger role for Lewis-Harris would backfire, but against the Steelers in the playoffs he got the job done. Nonetheless, an injury to Jones or Kirkpatrick could push him outside where he's not as good, and that could hurt his stock.
Odds of Making the Roster
At this point, with the injury to Jackson, Lewis-Harris is very close to being a roster lock. There's almost no chance that the Bengals go into the season with just four cornerbacks, and right now there's not even one other player in camp who can steal the job off him. If he stays healthy, Lewis-Harris will be the fifth cornerback on the roster come Week 1.