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Bengals 2016 season awards: Unsung Hero of the Year

We continue our annual Bengals awards with the nominees for some of the most unheralded performers on the team this year. Cast your vote and sound off on your winner!

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When we've awarded our season-ending honors every year, it's hard not to point to Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Vontaze Burfict and Geno Atkins as winners for major awards. However, as with any team, quality players outside of the big stars always step up to majorly aid their team in wins. Whether it's backup players thrown into prominent roles because of injury, players who performed well in the trenches or other unlikely contributors, the Unsung Hero Award gives credit to the guys behind the scenes.

Who gets your vote for the Bengals' 2016 Unsung Hero of the Year? Cast your vote and sound off on your winner!

Running Back Giovani Bernard: It wasn't a banner year for Bengals running backs, but Bernard stepped up as a multi-faceted player in the backfield. Whether it was as a runner, receiver or even as a pass-blocker, Bernard was a threat until his untimely season-ending knee injury. In 10 games played, Bernard had 337 rushing yards along with 336 receiving yards and three total touchdowns (two rushing and one rushing) in 2016.

Wide Receiver Brandon LaFell: Though LaFell didn't always fly under the radar, part of the criteria for this award has to do with a player stepping up in the wake of an injury. LaFell had his statistical ebbs and flows in 2016, but when Green went down, LaFell led the inexperienced position group in his absence. The veteran receiver finished with 64 catches for 862 yards and six touchdowns in a solid bounce-back campaign from a disappointing 2015 year with the Patriots.

Left Tackle Andrew Whitworth: While it wasn't the best season by Whitworth or the entire offensive line, big No. 77 still was an anchor for the Bengals' line. He made second-team All-Pro honors from Pro Football Focus at the midway point of the season and as one of the most consistent players on Cincinnati's offense. His future is uncertain next year, but he remains one of the best offensive linemen the team has ever drafted.

Right Guard Kevin Zeitler: If Whitworth is the most high-profile linemen on the Bengals, Zeitler was perhaps the most consistent guy on the line. Late in the season, PFF ranked Zeitler as the 23rd-best lineman in the NFL and he was responsible for the team's late surge in the run game.

Defensive Lineman, Wallace Gilberry: After bolting in free agency to the Lions, Gilberry re-joined the Bengals midway through the season. The veteran only played in five games, but racked up 2.5 sacks in rotational duty in that time. Cincinnati's pass rush was inconsistent this year, but picked up late in the year, partially thanks to Gilberry's help on passing downs.

Linebacker Vincent Rey: The veteran can frustrate at times with his inability to corral interceptions, but he's a great locker room guy and it's easy to see why the coaches love his "Charlie Hustle" nature. He started 12 games and played in all 16, racking up 86 total tackles, an interception and a career-high seven passes defended. With Rey Maualuga relegated to being a one-down linebacker (if that) and Burfict missing five games, Rey was a nice fill-in on defense.

Alex Erickson, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner: After being one of the best players in the preseason this summer, Erickson began to translate that success toward the end of the year. Though he only had six catches for 71 yards, Erickson led the NFL in kickoff return yards and was second in the league in yards per kickoff return. After a year where the team parted ways with Brandon Tate and getting minimal contributions from Adam Jones, Erickson was a breath of fresh air on special teams.