The fluidity of the Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver position in 2017 is no secret. The Bengals saw fairly disappointing results in 2016 from the unit and responded by drafting two new very talented, speedy receivers. However, the room for improvement could benefit Jake Kumerow who, according to wide receivers coach James Urban, is ready to take the next step.
“It’s time for Jake,” Urban told Jim Owczarski of Cincinnati.com. “He’s gotta go, and he knows it. He’s stepped up so far and I expect nothing but Jake’s best. Jake knows how to do it, and it’s time for him to show what he can do.”
The Bengals signed Kumerow as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2015. He has been a practice squad mainstay ever since signing his rookie contract. He finally received his first call-up to the active roster for the Bengals’ 2016 Week 17 win over the Baltimore Ravens, although he did not see the field in the game. With that experience, he is expected to make a play for a roster spot in 2017. Since joining the roster, Kumerow has been a fan-favorite, but opportunity slipped through his fingers last year as he was injured for a good chunk of training camp and the preseason.
“Coaches have maybe a higher expectation for me this year in that I know the offense better and I’ve been here compared to guys that haven’t,” Kumerow said. “So yeah, possibly they might hold a higher expectation of me but I always hold high expectations for myself so I’m just ready to go man and ready for these games to start coming.”
That said, as much experience and expectations as Kumerow will have, this will be the toughest year yet for him to find a place on the roster. Following the release of James Wright earlier this offseason, a roster spot at the position did open up, but the Bengals made up for it by drafting two very talented players who look poised to be locks for the roster.
The Bengals certainly won’t cut first-round pick John Ross in favor of Kumerow. It would also be very surprising to see him beat out fourth-round pick Josh Malone, who has already received plenty of high praise from the team. That said, the hope is Kumerow will use that as motivation to find success regardless of the competition.
“Hey, look, they’re all fighting for jobs in the NFL,” Urban said. “And our goal is that every one of them work in the NFL this year. I think we have the talent to do it, and I think our guys are working hard to achieve that goal. So, they know what the reality is. They’re no dummies. None of them have shied away, and I don’t expect them to. And all of them know that if not here, then somewhere. And that’s how our mindset is.”
Expecting a player in his third season, with only one game of active-roster experience and no production in that game to make a roster push at a crowded position is perhaps a bit foolish. He won’t beat out guys like A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, or Ross, and would be extremely lucky to beat out guys like Cody Core and Malone. Second year receiver Alex Erickson is the Wild Card in this scenario. But, his proficiency as one of the top kick returners in the NFL makes it seem unlikely the Bengals would deem his roster spot up-for-grabs. Then again, maybe the Bengals will worry about special teams roles later when everything shakes out.
“Everybody is everything right now,” Urban said. “They may be playing some positions and we find out who can do certain things. And the way you do that is you throw ‘em in and make ‘em do it. So you know hey, I’ve never done that particular route before, well, you’re doing it now so here you go.
“That’s the way we’re just rolling through. That’s how I handle it this time of year. I know that’s how you develop them and I know that’s how you get guys to go. And the idea is when we hit training camp, we’ll have a pretty good idea of who’s doing what and then we’ll start fine tuning from there.”
The Bengals are revamping their roster in 2017, with the potential to look very different from their recent incarnations. That process is always beneficial to talented underdogs like Kumerow.