There may not be a harder challenge to accomplish than earning a roster spot with the Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted cornerback.
That’s the unenviable task Tony McRae is facing. The 2016 undrafted free agent out of North Carolina A&T faces a daunting task of competing at roster spot at a position that’s very deep. So deep, it includes four former first round picks as well as a third rounder, fourth rounder and fifth rounder, all slated ahead of him on the depth chart.
What are his chances of making the roster, and where does he currently stand in the pecking order at his position?
Weight: 185 pounds
College: North Carolina A&T
Hometown: Laurinburg, N.C.
Experience: First-Year Player
McRae is currently signed to a two-year, $1,020,000 contract with the Bengals, including an average annual salary of $510,000. In 2017, McRae will earn a base salary of $465,000, but there will be no dead cap if he’s waived, according to Spotrac.
McRae is currently scheduled to be an exclusive rights free agent in 2019.
A first-year NFL player for 2017, McRae originally joined the Bengals in August 2016 as a college free agent. The 5'10", 185-pound cornerback played four seasons (2012-15) at North Carolina A&T and was a first-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selection as a senior. ESPN had McRae pegged as the 85th-best cornerback prospect entering the 2016 NFL Draft.
During his junior season, McRae started all 12 games and made 62 total tackles with 46 of those unassisted, grabbed five interceptions and had 16 passes defended. He also returned 14 kickoffs for 360 yards (25.7 per return) and a touchdown, so the return game could be where he makes an impact as well.
In 2015, teams threw at McRae far less as he finished with only one interception. He did lead the Aggies with 55 tackles as a senior and also averaged 28.3 yards on kickoff returns. For his career, McRae appeared in 46 games over four years at NC A&T. He totaled 153 tackles, nine interceptions and 27 pass deflections.
That wasn’t enough to get him drafted. The Oakland Raiders signed him as a college free agent following the 2016 draft, but was released on May 16 before catching on with the Bengals in training camp. McRae made the Bengals' initial practice squad last September, but was released prior to Week 1. The team then added him back to the practice squad when tight end Matt Lengel was signed away by the New England Patriots. He then signed a futures contract with the Bengals following the completion of the season, landing him on the offseason roster.
McRae is facing the daunting challenge of making the roster at a spot where at least five spots are already locked up. Darqueze Dennard, William Jackson III, Adam Jones, Josh Shaw and Dre Kirkpatrick are locks to make the roster, and guys like Keivarae Russell and Bene Benwikere have a leg up on McRae since they have regular-season NFL experience.
There’s also sixth-round rookie Brandon Wilson, who could play cornerback, safety and running back for the Bengals, so it will be almost impossible for McRae to make the roster. He’s probably around the seventh or eighth corner on the depth chart heading into training camp, which is far from an ideal spot for any player.
Then again, we’ve already seen Jackson and Dennard miss significant time due to injury, so it’s not crazy to envision McCrae sneaking onto the final roster. And because McRae spent part of last season on the Bengals’ practice squad, the team may try to get him back there again since he’ll be one of the few corners with practice squad eligibility.
Roster Odds: 5 percent.