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5 Bengals who gave us hope in 2016

These five Bengals supply good reason to be hopeful for the 2017 season and were bright spots on an otherwise dim 2016 season in Cincinnati.

Philadelphia Eagles v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Following the worst season of Bengals football in six years, there really isn’t much to look back on and be happy about when it comes to the 2016 season. But, there are a few players who surprised and excited us, and in the grim days of the season, that was greatly appreciated. In reflecting back on the season, these are the players who gave us reasons to be hopeful for the future of Bengals football and made us happy to be Bengals fans in 2016.

1. Alex Erickson

I don’t think Bengals fans are giving the 2016 NFL kick return leader enough credit. Seriously, after years of lackluster play in the kick and punt return game from Brandon Tate, Erickson isn’t getting enough recognition for his league leading kick return yardage in 2016 and second ranked average yardage per kick return (1st in AFC). Erickson had a bit of a slow start to his rookie season after a masterful preseason, but by Week 8, he turned it up and finished off a terrific rookie season. With a year of NFL experience in the books, expect Erickson to only continue to get better both on special teams and offense, and that’s certainly something to look forward to. Statistically, on offense Erickson finished with 6 catches for 71 yards. As a punt returner, he had 28 returns for 195 yards, and as a kick return he netted 29 returns for 810 yards, including a long of 84 yards; he averaged 27.9 yards per kick return.

2. Tyler Boyd

The Bengals needed Boyd, the second rookie receiver on this list, to step up in 2016 and he delivered. When you consider the production of other recent Bengals rookie receivers, there’s even more reason to believe Boyd is the real deal and someone to be excited about.

Boyd's rookie stat line: 16 games played, 2 games started, 54 catches, 603 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 58 rushing yards.

Here are the rookie stats from other recent Bengals rookie receivers:

Mario Alford: 1 game played, 1 catch, 15 yards.

James Wright: 11 games played, 5 catches, 91 yards.

Mohamed Sanu: 16 games played, 16 catches, 154 yards, 4 touchdowns.

Marvin Jones: 11 games played, 18 catches, 201 yards, 1 touchdown.

A.J. Green: 15 games played, 15 games started, 65 catches, 1,057 yards, 7 touchdowns.

Ryan Whalen: 4 games played, 4 catches, 27 yards.

Jordan Shipley: 11 games played, 4 started, 52 catches, 600 yards, 3 touchdowns.

Dezmon Briscoe: 2 games played, 6 catches, 93 yards, 1 touchdown.

Jerome Simpson: 6 games played, 1 started, 1 catch, 2 yards.

The point is, of all the Bengals rookie receivers in the last eight years, only Green has topped Boyd’s production. Boyd just out-produced Shipley by two catches and three yards, though, Shipley had two more touchdowns and started in two additional games. Though it would have been nice to see Boyd in the end zone more than once in 2016, we’ll just have to look forward to him getting back there in 2017 and for many more years to come.

3. Josh Shaw

Coming into this season, second year defensive back Josh Shaw was getting some attention, but he wasn’t expected to supplant third year cornerback and former first round draft pick Darqueze Dennard on the depth chart. But after Dennard’s third injury in three training camps/preseasons with the Bengals, Shaw was given a chance to show what he could do and he impressed. He earned the primary slot receiver role this season and in the Bengals’ first game of the season against the Jets, one of just six wins this season, he grabbed the game-sealing interception. Shaw also started one game this season at safety and it was one of his best performances of the season. Considering the number of first round cornerbacks on the Bengals’ roster, it’s somewhat surprising that a fourth round draft pick is the sole defensive back on this list. Regardless, Shaw is someone to be excited about as we head into the offseason.

4. Geno Atkins

Geno Atkins is a beast and while we didn’t learn that in 2016, it also didn’t change in 2016. Atkins finished the season with 32 tackles and 9 sacks (a high among all defensive tackles in the league). While it wasn't his best season in the NFL, the defensive line as a whole struggled and didn't help Atkins when he was being double and triple teamed throughout the season. At this point, every player and coach in the NFL knows how good Atkins is and they game plan around that. As long as Atkins is on the Bengals’ roster, we’ll have something to look forward to watching. FYI, Atkins becomes a free agent in 2019, so he’ll be in Cincinnati for at least two more seasons.

5. A.J. Green

As is the case with Atkins, Green is an incredible player, among the best in the league and while that’s news to nobody, he is always fun to watch. Unfortunately, after the best start to any season Green has had, the Bengals’ top receiver was injured in Week 11 and never returned to the field for the remainder of the year. It was a shame as he was on track to lead the NFL in a number of statistical categories and potentially get a first-team All Pro selection for the first time in his NFL career. After his injury, none of that occurred and he finished the season 36 yards shy of tying Randy Moss as the only two players in NFL history to record 1,000 yards receiving in each of their first six seasons. We’ll need to wait until next season for Green to attempt to top 1,000 yards for the sixth time in his seven NFL seasons, even if it won’t be a history-making statistic.