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Ranking the Bengals’ roster: 31-40, the core depth

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Although these players are overshadowed by some of their more successful teammates, this bunch is expected to make the 53-man roster. Though, strong training camps from some of the players ranked between 41 and 90 could unseat at least a few of these Bengals.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After coming this far in ranking the players on the Bengals roster by importance to the team, it is time to start talking about players who likely won’t have to fight to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster. This group, in particular, consists of players who, for whatever reason, are generally overlooked when discussing some of the most important players on the team. But, the Bengals understand their worth and are likely to involve them as much as possible.

This group, ranked 31-40, should have no problem making the final roster and might even find a few opportunities to make an impact during the regular season. Surprises happen all the time, but each of these players brings something to the table the Bengals absolutely love and do not want to part with.

So far, we’ve ranked the #41-90 players on the Bengals’ roster:

#81-90, the little chance group

#71-80, the dark horses

#61-70, the tough cuts

#51-60, the roster bubble

#41-50, safe for now

Next, we move on to the players ranked 31-40, in no particular order:

Darqueze Dennard, cornerback

Although his career so far has been slowed down by injuries, the Bengals still believe Dennard can be a consistent contributor going forward. This was never more apparent than when the Bengals picked up his fifth-year option this offseason, which keeps him on the team through 2018. That means his ‘contract year’ is put off until next year, which is probably a good thing for the young cornerback who has seen a number of setbacks inhibit his development.

Will Clarke, defensive end

So far, Will Clarke’s development has not lived up to his third round status. He has only recorded 15 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and two pass deflections in his career, with no starts. Then again, most of that production came in 2016 (10 tackles, four sacks, one deflected pass), which also happened to be the only season he was active in all 16 games. He could easily be passed on the depth chart by rookie third round pick Jordan Willis, but 2017 is a contract year for Clarke, so expect him to pull out all the stops to save his slowly-developing career.

Wallace Gilberry, defensive end

Gilberry proved he belongs with the Bengals last season by initially signing with the Lions in free agency, fizzling out, then returning to Cincinnati to record eight tackles and 2.5 sacks in five games. At 32 years old and not playing at the same level he did in his first two seasons with the Bengals (35 tackles, 14 sacks, two fumble recoveries [one touchdown], and two pass deflections), there is no guarantee for Gilberry’s role with the team going forward. But, having a reliable veteran depth presence could be huge for a position currently in flux.

Alex Erickson, wide receiver

Erickson’s ability to return kicks will keep him in Cincinnati without much question. Although he does demand an extra roster spot for a player who won’t contribute much on offense, it is a good thing for the Bengals to have a designated kick returner who doesn’t worry about the toll pulling multiple roles takes on your body. Finishing as the AFC’s top returner in terms of average yards per return in 2016 (27.9) certainly justifies his continued spot on the team. In 2016, he recorded six catches on eight targets for 71 yards, which isn’t too shabby for the lowest many on the totem pole at wide receiver.

William Jackson III, cornerback

As he missed his entire rookie season with a torn pectoral, it is hard to peg Jackson III’s importance to the team. For now, being in the same category as Darqueze Dennard makes sense because they both still have a lot to prove as a result of injury. From the perspective of talent and potential impact, Jackson III’s value shoots through the roof. Unfortunately, he is now set back a year and must earn his way into the Bengals ranks.

Christian Westerman, guard

The hype surrounding Westerman has been palpable ever since the Bengals picked him up in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, despite being projected as high as the second round. Unfortunately, his play strength and ability to adapt to the NFL speed kept him from recording any snaps in his rookie season. He is still the same mind-boggling athlete with the strength, width, and versatility to develop into a starter. But, until he does, he has to be purely considered a backup.

Josh Malone, wide receiver

Despite top-end size and speed for the wide receiver position, Malone’s acceleration and questionable hands allowed NFL teams to sleep on him in the 2017 NFL Draft until the Bengals picked him up in the fourth round. The Bengals have discussed their desire to roster seven receivers this offseason, suggesting the Bengals expect him to impress in training camp enough to make the final roster with ease. But, he will need to use this offseason to significantly refine his game if he wants to earn more opportunities to display his long-term value to the team.

Carl Lawson, linebacker

Purely from a talent perspective, Lawson could be in a higher category. Unfortunately, his five-star rating out of high school saw little development at the college ranks due to injuries, so he panned out to be a fourth round prospect. He has been impressing in training camp and could rise through the ranks of the depth chart over time, but right now he has to be considered a pure depth player who could potentially see rotational snaps.

Josh Shaw, cornerback

Shaw defaults to the depth category purely due to how crowded the cornerback position is. But, don’t let that distract you from his 12 starts in 2016. His 31 tackles, three pass deflections, and one interception in those 12 starts are promising and, with some development, he could push Adam Jones out of his role as Dre Kirkpatrick’s complement in the defensive backfield.

Clark Harris, long snapper

Quietly one of the Bengals longest tenured and most reliable players, Harris has held down the long snapper role since 2009. He is tied with punter Kevin Huber as the two longest-tenured players with the Bengals. There has been a hiccup or two in Harris’ eight years with the team, but for the most part he has served as the ever-reliable special teams snapper on punts and field goals with virtually no competition for his job. Don’t expect that to change any time soon, barring a sudden drop in performance.