The Bengals often have one or two undrafted free agents make the 53-man roster, but that doesn't make it an easy task to accomplish. A lot of things need to go right for a guy to make a roster as loaded as the Bengals' as a rookie.
Funny thing is, Alex Erickson made it look effortless during the preseason with the Bengals. He was easily one of the best players on Cincinnati's stacked roster this preseason. His ability to impact games as a returner was eye-opening to not only his teammates and coaches, but the rest of the NFL as well.
Over at Pro Football Focus, Erickson was tabbed as their best return specialist from the preseason.
He had just one kick return and brought it back 31 yards, but returned six punts for 185 yards and a touchdown, and was good enough that the Bengals felt comfortable enough to cut long-time return man Brandon Tate.
The latter part about cutting Tate was the biggest tribute to Erickson that he could get, given Tate has been entrenched as the team's top returner for five years. Not only did Erickson win this job with ease, but he could be poised for a big year with the Bengals with all of the different elements he brings to the field.
A former Wisconsin Badgers receiver and All-Big Ten wide receiver, Erickson signed with the Bengals almost as soon as the drafted ended. In 2015, Erickson registered 77 receptions for 978 yards and seven touchdowns. Those were enough yards to rank as the sixth-best single season total in school history, while his 77 catches trail only current Packers wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (78 catches in 2013) for the best season in Badgers history.
Erickson also ranks sixth all-time in receptions (141) and 10th all-time in career receiving yards (1,877) for Wisconsin, and comes from a pro-style offense that could also help him as a receiver for the Bengals. That was evident in the preseason when he caught six passes for 74 yards and a score. He also lined up both outside and in the slot for the Badgers, so he's familiar playing both spots.
But there is no question Erickson's biggest impact as a rookie should come as a return specialist, something he was one of the NFL's best at this preseason. Hopefully, it translates to the regular season.