The Bengals drafted 11 players in the 2017 draft, and some of those selections spell disaster for players currently on the roster. It is the way the NFL works though. Teams are constantly drafting replacements for players still on their roster. The Bengals are no exception, and some of the veteran players on the Bengals should be very concerned about their spot on the roster now and going forward. Here are a few players who should be worried after the draft.
Alex Erickson: wide receiver/ kick returner
After the Bengals selected two receivers in this year’s draft, everyone’s eyes dropped to the bottom of the receiver depth chart. The receiver room got crowded after adding John Ross and Josh Malone during the draft. The Bengals carried six receivers on their roster last year, and there are reports they’d like to up that number (the norm in Cincinnati) to seven. Still the Bengals could change their mind pretty easily on that considering it’d mean cutting down on another position.
Erickson quickly became a fan favorite after ending the Bengals’ recurring Brandon Tate nightmare we never thought we’d wake up from. Erickson provided a spark in the return game while averaging 27.9 yards per kick return. His longest return of 84 yards was one of the Bengals’ best plays of the season.
Erickson was a drastic improvement from Tate, but that isn’t to say he isn’t replaceable. Sometimes in the NFL you come across these guys you want to see succeed because there’s just something about them you want to root for, but are unable to do so. The Bengals have plenty of options at returner if they part with Erickson; that includes Ross, Adam Jones, Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon, Brandon Wilson and even Tyler Boyd. All have experience returning kicks at some point in their football careers. Most of those guys also give the Bengals something at the return position Erickson couldn’t, and that is the home run ability. Erickson was consistent, but he never was able to make it to the end zone. His top speed just doesn’t make it all too possible in the NFL.
Outside of A.J. Green, the Bengals don’t have any receivers with experience like Brandon LaFell, making him unlikely to be cut. That makes him an asset in group of receivers that is largely made up of rookies and second year players. The odds of making the team seem to be stacked against Erickson at this point. But, he proved everyone wrong in 2016 and could very well do the same in 2017.
Jeremy Hill: running back
The Bengals might as well have started a countdown for how much longer Hill will be a Bengal after selecting Mixon in the second round. Hill is entering the final year of his rookie deal with Cincinnati, and you should expect him to finish out the final year of his deal here. With Bernard coming off an ACL injury, it’s highly unlikely the team moves on from Hill. Still, Mixon overall is just better suited for this offense, so once Hill’s contract is up he will almost certainly be looking for work elsewhere.
The NFL is becoming more and more of a shotgun league, and that simply doesn’t suit Hill’s style of running. He is most effective running behind a fullback, but Dalton performs better from the shotgun. This creates a very hard situation for the offensive coordinator, and it just ultimately creates a highly predictable pattern of running from the I-formation and passing out of the shotgun. Mixon, however, has almost exclusively run out of the shotgun formation during his career.
Hill is far removed from his breakout rookie season, and he has struggled with everything except reaching the end zone (he scored 9 times last season). If Mixon proves his ability enough during the summer, Hill could be out of a starting job sooner than later.
Wallace Gilberry and Will Clarke: defensive end
The Bengals reloaded at pass rusher during the draft by adding Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. While the Bengals are experimenting with Lawson at linebacker, he will still see time at defensive end during passing situations. The Bengals also traded for Chris Smith from the Jaguars This will create quite the competition at defensive end between Gilberry and Clarke for a roster spot.
At first glance you’d probably think Gilberry is the obvious choice to be released, but he was brought back late last season because the defensive line wasn’t getting it done without him, namely Margus Hunt and Clarke. Hunt isn’t on the team anymore, and Clarke may be following suit this summer. Clarke has been pretty disappointing after being drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He has 4.5 total sacks in three seasons, and he looked lost at times last year. Gilberry played five games with the Bengals last season and recorded 2.5 sacks. He is also 32-years-old.
The Bengals choice between these two players will likely come down to their confidence level with Clarke to turn it around. Either way expect both of these players to fight for their roster spots during training camp.
Randy Bullock: kicker
It was fairly obvious when the Bengals drafted Jake Elliott in the fifth round that Bullock’s job was put on the line. Bullock came in last year after Mike Nugent’s struggles became too much. He was a perfect six of six with extra points and made five of his six field goals.
Elliott hit more than 80% of his field goals in his final two seasons at Memphis, and has the leg to allow the Bengals to attempt some 50+ yard field goals. He was 10 of 16 from more than 50 yards with 56 yards being his longest. Bullock will probably have a chance at sticking to the roster, but Elliott would have to fail miserably for that to somehow happen considering the Bengals invested a fifth round pick on him.
Every defensive tackle outside other than Geno Atkins and Andrew Billings
The defensive tackle group could have the most competition out of any position group on the Bengals’ roster. The team added Ryan Glasgow to the fold, and they also could use Willis inside during obvious passing downs. Last year’s Round 4 pick Andrew Billings will essentially be a rookie in 2017 after losing his true rookie season to injury. The Bengals parted ways with Domata Peko after 12 years, but veterans like Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson will have to fight for their spots while younger guys like Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams do the same.
One could assume Hardison makes it simply because he is young still, but he hasn’t played since drafted two seasons ago. Sims has been solid since rejoining the team, but he could easily be overtaken if the younger guys flash any sort of ability. Thompson and Williams have had a hard time even getting on the field during their careers, which could prove true again this season. Williams could beat out Sims and Thompson due to upside alone, considering he is still only 24-years-old. He would still have to show the Bengals a lot of improvement in camp though. His age won’t get him a free pass over those guys if they outplay him.
Odds are, the Bengals will have to make many tough decisions to make this summer with so much talent being added back to the roster from injury and via the draft.