Former back-to-back Division III champion Jake Kumerow is vying for a chance to finally play in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals after spending the last two seasons on the team’s practice squad. The 6’4” wide receiver is suddenly one of the most experienced guys in a unit that features three second-year players, two 2017 draft picks and some other rookie undrafted free agents. Can Kumerow take advantage of his experience and earn a spot on the 53-man squad? Somehow, it’s going to be harder than ever to do just that, despite it being Kumerow’s third year in the NFL.
Alex Erickson talks Bengals, wide receiver competition and more
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Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Bartlett, Illinois
Experience: Third-year player
Draft status: Undrafted free agent, 2015
Kumerow is signed to a two-year, $1,020,000 contract with the Bengals, including an average annual salary of $510,000. In 2017, Kumerow will earn a base salary of $465,000, while carrying a cap hit of $465,000. He has not dead cap attached to his deal, per Spotrac.
The son of former Dolphins first-round pick Erik Kumerow and cousin of Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, Kumerow had to move down to Division III football to help kickstart a college career that had stalled in Illinois after beginning his journey with the Fighting Illini as a walk-on in 2010. He waited to make an impact there, but his last two years at Wisconsin-Whitewater showed he could play football at a high level. Could he do it at the highest level, though? That is what he’s been trying to prove since signing with the Bengals in 2015.
For two offseasons, Kumerow has been fone of the hottest names in the preseason for the Bengals, often looking like the favorite to earn the last wide receiver spot on the roster. In his first summer with the Bengals, the team was loaded at the position with both Marvin Jones Jr. and Mohamed Sanu flanking A.J. Green, but last year he had a chance after the former two left for greener pastures. Unfortunately an injury kept him quiet in August and prevented him from making an impact until the final preseason game against the Colts, He caught three passes for 60 yards and it was too little, too late as a fellow undrafted free agent from Wisconsin surpassed him in the pecking order to make the final roster. Alex Erickson and Kumerow are set again to fight for the same final roster spot, but Erickson has the heavy advantage as the NFL’s leader in kick return yardage in the 2016 season.
Other than Green, nobody in the wide receiver unit has been on the Bengals’ 53-man roster for more than one season. Kumerow, after being part of their practice squad for the last two years and getting called up for their Week 17 clash against the Ravens, will have to take advantage of his knowledge of the playbook and the offense to have any chance of making the 53-man roster.
This is probably the best receiving corps than the Bengals have had since the Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry, and Erickson really has the edge over Kumerow. Erickson was so impressive last year that the team appears to be ready to go with seven wide receiver, instead of the normal six.
Kumerow has always received high praise by coaches and teammates, and wide receivers coach James Urban has always been very high on him.
"Jake has unbelievable get-off. When I do my get-off drills, he'll be right with all of them in their first five or 10 yards,” Urban said in 2016. “He really threatens the vertical. He comes off [the line of scrimmage] aggressive and he can really start and stop. Some of the routes need to be cleaned up. We run routes a little bit differently than he ran them. But he can run fast and stop -- really well."
And from 2017, “It’s time for Jake. He’s gotta go, and he knows it,” Urban said. “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 competition is mighty, with Green leading the pack as the established superstar, and Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, Josh Malone as locks to make the roster. Cody Core and the aforementioned Erickson are above him right now, but Urban also expects competition to drive Kumerow and get the best out of him.
With that being said, it would probably take two injuries, at least, to open room for him on the 53-man roster. If any of the other seven guys go down, the Bengals will surely plug another hole elsewhere. Kumerow’s chances are slim, but there’s a chance he can earn a roster spot if he impresses in the preseason, even more so than he’s done before. Those performance, though, would have to be otherworldly.
Roster odds: 2 percent.