The Cincinnati Bengals drafted two wide receivers in the 2017 NFL Draft and suddenly, the wide receiver group is very crowded.
In trying to make sense of where John Ross (Round 1) and Josh Malone (Round 4) fit among the Bengals' offense, Pro Football Focus questioned if they're going to be looking to steal away Tyler Boyd's role in the slot. Boyd was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft and had a solid rookie season, previewing what he’ll be capable of long-term with more development and experience in the NFL. Boyd put up 54 catches on 81 targets for 603 yards and 1 touchdown in 2016.
But could new draft picks be coming in to take his role away just one year later? It doesn’t seem like it as both Ross and Malone figure to play on the outside, leaving Boyd his spot in the slot. More at risk of having his spot taken is Brandon LaFell, who was re-signed this offseason to a two-year deal. LaFell's deal can actually be voided after this season, so while he'll almost definitely remain in Cincinnati this season, his 2018 season is up in the air, if this year's draft picks produce as expected.
Here’s what PFF had to say:
Though John Ross and Josh Malone were efficient in their limited slot usage last year, with a respective 5.28 YPPR (yards per route run, 211 yards on 40 routes) and 4.80 YPRR (197 on 41 snaps), their college usage profiles them as potential upgrades for Brandon LaFell at the ‘Z’ position.
Ross ran only 6.4 percent of his routes from the slot in 2016 (40 of 623), while 81 percent of his yardage came from outside the slot (929 of 1140 yards).
Malone ran only 5.2 percent of his routes from the slot in 2016 (41 of 786), while 80 percent of his yardage came from outside the slot (775 of 972 yards).
Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati’s 2nd round pick from 2016, ran 45.4 percent of his routes from the slot in 2015 (157 of 346) at Pittsburgh and his 2.48 YPRR from the slot ranked sixth overall for qualifying wide receivers from the 2016 draft class.
The Bengals already have a volume slot receiver in Boyd, so Ross and Malone are more likely to replace Brandon LaFell and serve as insurance in the event that A.J. Green struggle with injury again in 2017.
Furthering the point that Ross will excel on the outside, PFF provided these interesting stats, which highlight how he can be used in Cincinnati:
- His 3.04 yards per route run last season ranked 14th among college receivers with at least 100 targets.
- Ross ranked 11th among FBS receivers last year, dropping only 4.71 percent of his catch opportunities.
- Ross caught 48.1 percent of his deep targets last year, which ranked eighth among FBS wide receivers who had at least 25 deep targets.
Other than these draft picks, the Bengals' current wide receiver roster includes A.J. Green, Boyd, Chris Brown, Cody Core, Alex Erickson, Jake Kumerow, LaFell and Alonzo Russell. A few undrafted wide receivers are expected to be announced later this week, too.
Whose spot do you think is most in jeopardy after the Bengals brought in Ross and Malone via the draft?