The Cincinnati Bengals brought in 13 undrafted players who just missed the cut in the 2017 NFL Draft. As a rule, most undrafted players are lucky to even make it as practice squad additions for a few years in the NFL before fizzling out due to many of the problems that led to them not being drafted in the first place. But, the Bengals may have found a few players, who could surprise a lot of people by making an unexpected impact.
Bleacher Report graded every team’s undrafted haul and gave the Bengals a “B” for their efforts in undrafted free agency.
The Big Ten has long been a conference that bangs out NFL linebackers with regularity. And as the Cincinnati Bengals try to get younger and more athletic at the position, the team went the B1G route with a pair of undrafted free agents.
One, Hardy Nickerson Jr., is...well it's pretty obvious whose son he is. The 232-pound weak-side man put up big numbers at the University of Illinois, but he doesn't impress as being especially fast. Or especially agile. Or especially strong.
Nickerson does have a motor that doesn't quit, though, and Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett talked up his leadership and experience while speaking with Geoff Hobson of the team's website.
“Smart. Physical. Captain. Plays like a coach’s son. Great to get him,” Haslett said. “I just hope he doesn’t come in here telling me I’m doing it wrong.”
But Nickerson will have a familiar foe trying to take his roster spot, in a player who is in many respects a carbon copy.
Like Nickerson. Brandon Bell of Penn State is a bit undersized at 233 pounds. Like Nickerson, Bell was a prolific producer in 2016, piling up 89 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
And like Nickerson, Bell's clearest path to a roster spot probably lies in proving his worth on kick and punt coverage as a rookie.
It's not at all a stretch to imagine one of those linebackers sticking with the Bengals.
The question is which one.
Nickerson and Bell are certainly two players who could potentially make an impact as the Bengals’ linebacker corps experiences a big transition. Two of the unit’s three starters from 2016, Rey Maualuga and Karlos Dansby, are no longer with the team. Therefore, it could be the perfect time for one of the young, underrated linebackers to make their marks. In addition, there are a few other undrafted players not mentioned who also have the potential to make a big impact with the Bengals in 2017 and beyond. Here’s a look at three players who could prove highly successful in Cincinnati.
Demetrious Cox, S, Michigan State
The former Spartan safety could be coming to the Bengals at the right time. The ultra-versatile Cox will fight to be the beneficiary of any roster openings and beyond the starters, no backup’s spot is safe. He has experience at both cornerback and safety and could be a useful insurance policy in the defensive backfield if he utilizes his impressive instincts and properly develop his tackling technique. In 2017, he’s most likely to thrive on the practice squad, but in 2018, he could emerge as a threat to others on the roster.
Stanley Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky
The Bengals’ running back position is in a massive state of flux right now, which bodes well for the undersized, yet explosive former Wildcat. He won’t beat out the likes of Giovani Bernard or Joe Mixon, but there is potential (if not a strong likelihood) for the Bengals to move on from the under-performing Jeremy Hill and the aging Cedric Peerman in the next year.
Williams reminds me of Darren Sproles. Sproles entered the league with a higher pedigree, but Williams displays a lot of the same tendencies and could be an excellent change-of-pace back for when defenses start to figure out Bernard and Mixon.
Kent Perkins, OG/OT, Texas
The Bengals proved how little they value the guard position this offseason by letting standout right guard Kevin Zeitler sign with the Cleveland Browns. The team did add Andre Smith and they plan to move him to right guard, but you could make an argument that Kent Perkins was the team’s biggest direct investment at the position this offseason. That’s right - an undrafted free agent is the most notable direct move the Bengals made to replace one of the best linemen on the team.
For that reason, Perkins has a surprisingly good chance to make the practice squad, or even the 53-man roster, if he can utilize his versatility and solid blocking technique to overcome his problems with speed and strength. As Andre Smith ages tries his luck at a new position and Christian Westerman fights to take over as the starte, Perkins could develop as a solid backup guard.