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3 likeliest undrafted free agents to make Bengals’ 53-man roster

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There are the three undrafted free agents in the best position to survive final cuts on the Bengals’ roster.

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals usually have at least one undrafted free agent make the 53-man roster, and that could happen again in 2017.

Even in a year where the Bengals had 11 picks in the NFL Draft, don’t be surprised to see one or even two college free agents make the final roster. Here is a look at the three guys with the best chance to do so heading into the summer.

Brandon Bell

Linebacker was one of the needs the Bengals needed to address going into the draft. They got one in Jordan Evans from Oklahoma during the draft, but because he was the only true backer drafted, that opened the door for an undrafted player to make the final roster in Cincinnati. The Bengals are also using fourth round pick Carl Lawson at linebacker this summer, but, it’s unclear if that’s where he’ll stick as he primarily played defensive end in college. If an undrafted linebacker does make the roster, perhaps that will be former Penn State Nittany Lion Brandon Bell, who Cincinnati quickly signed after the draft.

Bell was considered a stalwart for Penn State's defense as he finished the 2016 season with 89 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles, and two interceptions. He was even given a draftable grade by several services, though it was as a seventh-round pick in most cases.

It'll be interesting to see if Bell can earn himself a roster spot, but he may not even be the best undrafted linebacker Cincinnati signed.

Hardy Nickerson

Perhaps the best and more notable undrafted free agent Cincinnati signed was Hardy Nickerson.

Nickerson has the rare honor of being an all-conference performer in two different Power 5 leagues. He began his career at Cal, where he was an All-Pac 12 performer in 2015 after recording 111 tackles. The 6-foot, 232-point Nickerson spent a postgraduate season at Illinois, where his father, Hardy Nickerson Sr. was named defensive coordinator in 2016.

The younger Nickerson recorded 107 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss two sacks and two interceptions, earning him All-Big Ten honors at Illinois. The elder Nickerson was a four-time All-Pro and member of the NFL’s All-1990s team after playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

CBS Sports has Nickerson ranked No. 251 overall in this draft, good enough for a Round 7 projection. Even if he’d been drafted, Nickerson is facing an uphill climb to make the final roster with Bell, Marquis Flowers, P.J. Dawson and Jordan Evans fighting for the final linebacker spots. The good thing for Nickerson and Bell is that they are effectively under contract for four years (they will be restricted free agents in 2020), so if it’s a close battle between them and guys like Dawson or Flowers, perhaps the Bengals will choose the guys who are under contract longer. There’s also the connection between Nickerson Sr. and Marvin Lewis to consider here.

Boom Williams

Arguably the best undrafted player Cincinnati landed this offseason was former Kentucky Wildcats running back Stanley “Boom” Williams. Williams did not hear his name called during the draft, despite being projected as high as a fifth-round selection, but he was quickly scooped up Saturday night after the draft ended.

Williams now joins a backfield that includes Joe Mixon, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard and Cedric Peerman. He has a tough road ahead of him to earn a 53-man roster spot in Cincinnati, but I’d bet on him making an NFL roster this year.

Williams gave up his final season of eligibility and entered this spring’s draft as a true junior after three memorable years in Lexington. He finished his collegiate career with 2,511 rushing yards, including 1,170 rushing yards in his final season.

The 5’9”, 196-pound Williams tallied 3,314 career all-purpose yards, including 38 receptions for 292 yards and two touchdowns, and 511 kickoff return yards while in college. He also had a career-high 182 rushing yards vs Missouri.

Williams left college as one of Kentucky’s most accomplished backs. He owns the top two single-season averages per rush attempt, finishing at 7.10 yards per rush in 2015 and 6.84 this season. He ranks 11th on the school’s all-time career rushing touchdowns list with 18 and fourth in career 100-yard games with 11. Williams’ seven rushing touchdowns of at least 50 yards are the most for a Wildcat dating back to 1955.

That kind of production in the SEC cannot be overlooked, and he could easily make the Bengals’ roster if Bernard opens the season on PUP while recovering from a torn ACL. Williams will probably be a better back than Peerman, who probably would still get the edge due to his impact on special teams, but Williams might be too promising of a back to let go in favor of the 30-year-old Peerman.

Poll

Which undrafted rookie has the best shot at making the Bengals’ final roster?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Brandon Bell
    (382 votes)
  • 40%
    Hardy Nickerson
    (921 votes)
  • 37%
    Boom Williams
    (848 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (137 votes)
2288 votes total Vote Now

Bengals 2017 Undrafted Free Agent Signings and Tryouts

Player School Position Story
Player School Position Story
Brandon Bell Penn State Linebacker Story
Dustin Stanton Oregon State Offensive lineman/ tight end Story
Karel Hamilton Samford Wide receiver Story
Demetrious Cox Michigan State Safety Story
Darrin Laufasa UTEP Fullback Story
Jarveon Williams UTSA Running back Story
Cethan Carter Nebraska Tight end Story
Josh Tupou Colorado Defensive lineman Story
Kent Perkins Texas Defensive lineman Story
Hardy Nickerson Illinois Linebacker Story
Landon Lechler North Dakota State Offensive lineman Story
Stanley Boom Williams Kentucky Running back Story
Monty Madaris Michigan State Wide receiver Story