Over the last decade or so, the Bengals have established themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL in terms of evaluating and selecting prospective young talents and then developing them into great NFL players. Pro Bowl starters like A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Geno Atkins, Tyler Eifert, Vontaze Burfict, and Andrew Whitworth as well as the vast majority of players on the roster were either selected by the Bengals in the draft or originally signed by the Bengals as college free agents. As of right now, the only five starters on the team who aren’t ‘homegrown’ are wide receiver Brandon LaFell, linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Adam Jones, kicker Mike Nugent, and long snapper Clark Harris.
In fact, the Bengals have gotten so good at selecting young talent that they currently rank No. 2 in the NFL in terms of teams with the most homegrown players. They’re sandwiched between the Packers, who have 48 homegrown players, the best record of homegrown success in the league, and the Rams with 43 of their 53 players on the roster being homegrown. The Bengals have 45 homegrown players currently on the active roster.
Obviously, there is no such thing as a ‘set’ roster in the NFL. Over the course of the season, players will go down with and come back from injuries, Vontaze Burfict will come back from suspension, and other things may happen that will shake up the Bengals’ 53-man roster. But, the total number of homegrown players the Bengals employ will likely not change much.
At the moment, all nine players on the Bengals’ practice squad were originally signed directly out of college by the team. Only nine players in the entire organization that were originally drafted or signed out of college by another team. We already mentioned former Panthers draftee LaFell, former Cardinals draftee Dansby, former Jets draftee Nugent, former Titans draftee Jones, and former Packers draftee Harris. But, don’t forget about former Ravens draftee Cedric Peerman, former Texans draftee Eric Winston and former Ravens draftee Chykie Brown. The Bengals also claimed quarterback Jeff Driskel off waivers yesterday, a 2016 draft pick by the 49ers.
Furthermore, each player who isn’t a homegrown talent (with the exception of Driskel) fills a key role on the team, so you can see why the Bengals were keen on signing them in the first place. Granted, Peerman and Winston are not starters. But, Peerman hass been the special teams captain in addition to being a Pro Bowl special teams player. Winston is purely a backup right tackle, but, he is also a valuable veteran leader who has started four games due to various injuries on the team and this preseason acted as the team’s starting right tackle due to injuries to Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi.
However, it’s those homegrown players on the Bengals’ roster who really separate the Bengals from most of the rest of the NFL. Not only have the Bengals been really good at drafting players, but they have had an eye for talent when signing free agents that everyone else passed up in the draft.
At the moment, there are two starters in Vontaze Burfict and Ryan Hewitt who no team wanted in their respective drafts. In addition, Alex Erickson, Trevor Roach, Chris Lewis-Harris, and Deshawn Williams have worked against all odds to earn roster spots, despite being passed up in all seven rounds in the draft. All nine players who made the Bengals’ practice squad were undrafted, although that might change soon if the Bengals decide they want to give homegrown draftee P.J. Dawson another chance on the practice squad.
Ultimately, it’s the Bengals’ excellent ability to scout and develop talent that has led to the situation in which they employ so many homegrown players. It just goes to show how valuable a solid scouting department and draft strategy can be. At this rate, given the age of most of their non-homegrown players and the performance of many of the practice squad players who just barely missed the final roster cut, that homegrown trend looks set to continue.