Because of season-ending injuries and the Bengals' preference of playing veterans instead of rookies at many positions, the team's 2016 rookie class had a minimal impact this season. It was kind of a shame because if Cincinnati wanted to make its sixth straight playoff appearance, some of these new faces needed to have a big impact. Two of the more talented players in the class, first round cornerback William Jackson III and fourth round defensive tackle Andrew Billings, were forced to miss the entire 2016 season with injuries that occurred before even the preseason begins. That somewhat doomed the class overall, but, leaves us to look forward to some exciting players who will be part of the team next season.
Still, a handful of rookies did step up and help the team out. Interestingly, our nominees for the first in our series of Bengals' 2016 season awards, helped out in all three different units on the squad: offense, defense and special teams. Cast your vote and sound off on your winner for the Bengals' Rookie of the Year!
Tyler Boyd, Wide Receiver: The rookie wideout came with a reputation of having glue-like hands, while working the middle areas of the field and it rang true. Whether he was the second, third or fourth option in the passing offense, Boyd came through with 54 catches for 603 yards and a touchdown. Many of those catches were great ones in contested coverage and 33 of those 54 grabs went for first downs. He also had a whopping 14.8 yards per carry on four rushes, which was a nice addition to his highlight reel.
Alex Erickson, Wide Receiver/Kick Returner: Unfortunately for the undrafted free agent, his amazing preseason took some time to translate to the regular season. After a frustrating start to the season, Erickson ended up breaking out toward the middle and end of the year. As a receiver, he only had six catches for 71 yards and three first downs, but his primary role was to provide big plays as a returner. He didn't have quite the same success on punts, but had two gigantic returns on kickoffs, including an 84-yarder against the Steelers. Erickson actually led the NFL in kickoff return yards and ranked second in yards per kickoff return. That's quite impressive and he's a reason to be excited for the future of the team. It seems like the Bengals made the right call by parting ways with Brandon Tate before the season began.
Cody Core, Wide Receiver: The rookie sixth round pick was another guy who started to come on late in the season with more playing time. He finished with 17 catches for 200 yards, all of which came in the final five games of the season. The highlights of his 2016 campaign were a 50-yard catch against the Eagles, an eight-reception performance on Christmas Eve against the Texans and a big 31-yard catch in the finale against the Ravens.
Nick Vigil, Linebacker: Though his stats don't totally pop out, Vigil impressed to end the season. He finished the season with 21 total tackles and a pass defended while being a special teams staple. He had a particularly impressive performance in the season finale against the Ravens with six tackles as a fill-in guy with Vontaze Burfict out and Vincent Rey banged up.