clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Bengals wide receiver corps was an unlikely bright spot in 2016

Despite a rough 2016 offseason, the Bengals’ wide receiver corps still looks great a season later.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

One of the biggest stories of the Bengals’ 2016 offseason was the team’s inability to re-sign either of their two top free agent receivers, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Jones cashed out with a $40 million dollar deal over five years with the Detroit Lions while Sanu received $32.5 million over five years from the Falcons. In addition, the Bengals cut Mario Alford and Brandon Tate in the weeks leading up to the season, freeing up a total of four open spots at the wide receiver position.

Only A.J. Green and James Wright returned from the 2015 group, though Wright spent all of 2015 on Injured Reserve and hadn’t played since November 2014. Tyler Boyd and Cody Core were drafted in the second and sixth rounds, respectively, while Alex Erickson was signed after the draft and former Patriot and Panther Brandon LaFell was brought in during free agency to round out the group. Although most recognized that the new unit was talented, questions about chemistry with quarterback Andy Dalton were impossible to ignore.

All of those things combined made wide receivers coach James Urban know this season was going to be a difficult one.

“There’s no shortcut to it,” Urban told Dave Lapham and Lance McAllister on the Bengals Line show on 700 WLW. “Like I tell them, the only way to establish those things is - we have to be predictable. He has to get used to the way you run it, but you have to run it the same way every time. It’s not that we’re going to run it his way, you’ll run it your way and he has to see you do it. The challenge for us is to be consistent with it.”

The results were pretty impressive considering the turbulence among the position. Urban did a masterful job preparing the new group of receivers for the 2016 season, despite very little experience playing with each other. One particularly shining example on the team is LaFell, who surprised many Bengals fans with his ability to replace the production of the departed Jones and Sanu.

“I appreciate Mr. Brown and Duke [Tobin] being able to get him signed because he’s exactly what we needed in that room with the loss of Marvin and Mohamed,” Urban said. ”Not only the intangibles, but he had better numbers than Marvin Jones had here last year. He had more yards, more touchdowns, and one less catch. He was equally as productive.”

It was particularly impressive considering LaFell had to replace the production of A.J. Green for a significant portion of the year following Green’s injury. But, Urban could do nothing but rave about how well LaFell handled the situation.

“His toughness is rare,” Urban said. “Mental toughness, physical toughness, when it came to game day he was all business. There was no getting in his way on game day. He’s one of those rare players that knows how to play,” Urban said. “At this point in his career, all he cares about is winning football games. What a God send to be able to sign him.”

LaFell’s toughness and work ethic is a fantastic veteran presence for the Bengals, although it isn’t anything particularly new. When asked about superstar wide receiver A.J. Green’s recovery process from injury, Urban’s response was very similar.

“When the big dog, the alpha male does everything the right way, it’s easy for all the other guys to do it the right way,” Urban said. “He works out when he’s supposed to, he shows up when he’s supposed to, he does all the right things. It’s so important to him that it just oozes out to everybody else.”

The Bengals had two fantastic veteran presences leading the wide receiver group this season and the unit came roaring back after offseason loses with a solid answer to their dilemma in 2016.

But, they didn’t stop there. Both of the Bengals’ two wide receivers picked up in the draft impressed heavily this year. Boyd, in particular, put up an impressive 54 catches for 603 yards and a touchdown in addition to four runs for 58 yards over the course of the season. That’s all despite starting only two games. It was more than enough to impress his coach and establish his role with the team.

“Tyler’s a great addition,” Urban said. “The game is easy for Tyler Boyd. He was a highly successful player in high school, I think he won every game but one in high school. Four year starter, then he goes to Pitt and he breaks all of Larry Fitzgerald’s records. It’s easy for him. He steps right in and the game comes easy to him. The things he has to improve are his route running and attention to detail. Those things will happen, but he still had 20 more catches and 200 plus more yards than Mohamed Sanu had for us last year. So, if you’re trading one for one and one for one, we did well.”

Urban is right. Sanu only put up 33 catches for 394 yards with the Bengals in 2015. He also recorded 10 runs for 71 yards and two touchdowns, which vastly eclipses Boyd’s production on the ground. But, overall, their production evens out and the transition seems to have been a smooth one.

You could argue that the Bengals’ 2016 receiving corps is actually improved over 2015. LaFell did a solid job of replacing Jones and Boyd did a solid job of replacing Sanu. But, the Bengals also added Cody Core in the offseason, whom they didn’t have anyone like in 2015.

“The thing that jumps out is he’s big, he’s fast, and he’s tough,” Urban said of Core. “When he plays to those three things, he can do some great things. You saw those things yesterday, when he’s catching the ball and he’s big. He went to Ole Miss as a safety. He has that defensive mindset. If he can continue to improve route running, he has a chance.”

It took Core a while to come into his own this year, but he put up 17 catches for 200 yards during the final five games of the season. Against the Ravens in particular, as Urban noted, he had his best game of the season. He only caught four passes, but he recorded 82 yards in the process.

The Bengals also saw some mild production at wide receiver from James Wright (13 catches for 106 yards) and Alex Erickson (six catches for 71 yards), although the latter was more known as arguably the best kick returner in the AFC. The Bengals would probably like to see more production out of those two in the future, but it’s less important if Green, LaFell, Boyd, and Core can continue improving as a unit as they head into 2017.