Where does fourth round draft pick Josh Malone fit into the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive picture in his rookie season?
That question will be answered once the 2017 season gets underway, but at first glance, it’s hard to figure out. Consider he’s joining a now-crowded wide receiver group that features A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, 2016 second rounder Tyler Boyd, 2016 sixth rounder Cody Core and 2017 first round pick John Ross. Oh, and there’s also the NFL’s 2016 kick return leader Alex Erickson.
So, how does Malone fit in and what should be expected of him as a fourth round draft pick?
“He showed us what we thought he was,” wide receivers coach James Urban told Bengals.com of Malone’s OTA efforts. “He’s big and he’s fast and he has a good natural feel for the game. He’s learning how to run our routes and do things our way like any of them are – especially new guys. But he has some real ability.”
The Bengals typically keep six receivers on the roster and five on the active gameday roster. There’s been talk of keeping seven receivers on the roster this year, but even so, they won’t all be among the 46 players on the field on Sundays. To get there, Malone will need to show he’s among the five best receivers in a talented group, and he’s already impressing his fellow rookie receiver and No. 9 overall draft pick, John Ross.
“To be his height and run as well as he does and catch the ball as well as he does – I think he’s got a bright future,” Ross said. “It’s going to be awesome to play side-by-side with him.”
Malone is fast, but so is Ross, and he's big, but so is Green. So how will he stand out among the Bengals' receivers? He puts himself in the best position to catch the ball, fights to make tough catches and outruns defenders with physicality and aggression. He also has some run blocking experience, which is key for rookie receivers who want to get on the field. He’ll need to show that and more this summer as he fights to earn playing time.
Another important component to Malone making it onto the field is developing chemistry with his quarterback. Last year, we saw it took some time for Dalton to develop chemistry with LaFell, Boyd and Core. This year, it will be up to Ross and Malone, with the help of Dalton, to speed up that process.
“Andy is a vet and knows what he’s got to do,” Malone said of his new quarterback. “I was in a no-huddle offense at Tennessee, so seeing his command in the huddle is impressive. It’s the way he carries himself and the standard he holds himself to.”
As he should be, Malone is using LaFell and Green to learn from as he adjusts to the playing at the NFL level and learning the Bengals’ playbook. And, he’s enjoying the veteran guidance he’s receiving.
“It’s just his personality really,” Malone said of LaFell’s veteran leadership. “He’s a great guy to be around and just listening to what he says and watching what he does is very impressive. It’s great to see how he goes about his business. He gives me a lot of advice and A.J. (Green) does, too. I’m following both of them around and trying to get the most out of it.”
Malone may not be all that involved in the offense this season, though if he turns some heads in training camp and the preseason, anything is possible. For now, he’s learning the Bengals’ offense and getting ready to for training camp.
“There’s new terminology and a lot of new wrinkles and words that you’ve never heard before,” Malone said. “I’m just learning it the best that I can and going out there and executing on the field.”