The Cincinnati Bengals open training camp on Friday, so what better time than now for a projection of the opening day 53-man roster.
During the course of the next six weeks, the current 90-man roster will slowly be trimmed down to just 53 players on the 2017 Bengals roster. Here is a best guess at who those lucky 53 will be with training camp just days away.
Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
Expect no surprises here. As long as McCarron keeps impressing the coaching staff like he did during the course of his career, he'll continue to hold down the backup job behind Dalton.
The only question is if third-stringer Jeff Driskel makes the roster as a developmental quarterback. For now, we’re keeping him off the roster, even though he made it and remained there for all of the 2016 season.
RUNNING BACK/H-BACK (5)
Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Joe Mixon, Ryan Hewitt (h-back)
There is almost no competition here in terms of roster spots. Mixon won’t be cut as a second-round pick. Veterans Hill and Bernard are locked into their spots, while Peerman is a quality, experienced backup who makes a big impact on special teams. The Bengals will stick with that familiarity, but promising undrafted free agent Boom Williams will push Peerman for that final spot.
WIDE RECEIVER (7)
A.J. Green, John Ross, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson
Green, Ross, LaFell, Malone and Boyd are all locked in. Then you've likely got Core and Erickson winning the final two spots. The Bengals have already made it clear they want to keep seven receivers, which is good news for the fringe guys.
The Bengals will also opt to keep seven receivers due to the lack of depth at tight end, and the Bengals prefer three or four receiver sets anyhow.
TIGHT END (3)
Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
There's no real surprise here with Kroft and Uzomah being the lone backups behind Eifert. Even with all three being injury prone to some degree, they’re all expected to be healthy and ready to compete when camp opens.
However, don't be surprised if another tight end is added during final cuts from another team if any of these guys get hurt in training camp or the preseason.
The team did spend a seventh-round pick on Mason Schreck, but he’s a developmental guy who probably lands on the practice squad, unless something unforeseen happens. The Bengals also have Hewitt to work at tight end, which helps lead to only three 'true' tight ends making the roster.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
Tackle (4): Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (3): Andre Smith, Clint Boling, Christian Westerman
Center (2): Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson, J.J. Dielman
As thin as the offensive line is, figuring out who makes it is pretty easy. Winston should be returning as insurance at both tackle spots while also playing some backup guard. Fisher and Ogbuehi are also locks for the roster as the projected starting tackles.
Johnson is locked into his spot after signing a two-year extensions this offseason. He gives great depth at guard and center.
2016 fifth-round pick Christian Westerman likely has his spot locked up as he has the potential to become a quality starting guard in Cincinnati, and he may be a backup center as well.
That leaves Hopkins, fifth-round rookie J.J. Dielman and Alex Redmond fighting for the final lineman spot. Hopkins’ experience and ability to play both guard and center make him attractive, but Redmond has done well during offseason workouts, so don’t count him out.
That said, the Bengals aren’t cutting a fifth-round pick, so expect Dielman to win this spot.
Total on offense: 26
DEFENSIVE LINE (8)
Defensive End: Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Jordan Willis, Wallace Gilberry
Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, Marcus Hardison
This might be the hardest area to project on the roster due to the number of quality bodies here, as well as how many guys can play multiple positions. The Bengals will be able to keep just four 'true' defensive tackles because of Gilberry and Hardison doubling as a tackle and end.
Former third-round pick Will Clarke is squarely on the bubble as the former second-round pick has failed to show much of anything in his first three seasons. One thing that will hurt those fringe defensive ends’ chances of making the roster is linebacker Carl Lawson probably lining up at end a lot on passing downs. That helps spell the end for Clarke.
The final spots come down to Gilberry, Hardison, Sims, DeShawn Williams, Brandon Thompson and David Dean. Gilberry should win one of the spots given his impact, versatility and experience, qualities the Bengals value heavily, almost to a fault. Hardison also has a lot of potential as an interior pass-rusher and even an edge defender, so he too makes the cut.
Fourth-round rookie Ryan Glasgow is all but locked into his roster spot as a fairly high draft pick.
Vontaze Burfict, Kevin Minter, Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans, Vincent Rey, Carl Lawson
Linebacker is pretty much set with Burfict, Rey, Vigil and Minter having their spots locked up. There’s also fourth-round rookie Carl Lawson, who should get a lot of run as as nickel pass-rusher at defensive end, but is listed on the roster as a linebacker.
That leaves P.J. Dawson, Hardy Nickerson, Bryson Albright, Brandon Bell, Marquis Flowers and sixth-round rookie Jordan Evans to fight for those final spots. I have the Bengals keeping just one more backer, which ends up being Evans, who the Bengals probably prefer to keep as a 2017 sixth round draft pick. Dawson could land on the practice squad for another year, but he could be unseated there by Nickerson or Bell.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
Cornerback: Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, William Jackson III, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw
Safety: George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem, Brandon Wilson
This is one of the harder groups to project with so many quality players fighting for roster spots. At cornerback, however, the top five spots are locked in, including Shaw as the starting slot corner, though he may also be playing some safety this year as well.
That leaves KeiVarae Russell, Tony McRae and Bene Benwikere to battle for the final corner spot(s). In this projection, I have Cincinnati keeping just five corners since Brandon Wilson can play corner and safety. I believe his spot is secure after the Bengals traded up to draft him in the sixth round of this year’s draft. He'll essentially be the emergency sixth corner.
However, one of these fringe corners could sneak onto the roster for Week 1 if Adam Jones’ one-game suspension holds up. He won’t count toward the 53-man roster for that one game, so that helps a guy like Russell or Benwikere make the final roster for at least a week. My guess is Russell gets the nod if Jones remains suspended.
The safety spots are relatively secured with Iloka and Williams’ spots locked up, while Smith and Fejedelem also should feel safe.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Kicker: Jake Elliott
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris
There’s no real competition here. The only question is if Jonathan Brown makes the practice squad to give the Bengals a little security if Jake Elliott struggles or gets injured.
For comparison, be sure to go read Rebecca’s projection from back in early May. The big difference is she thinks the Bengals cut Peerman and go with just three true running backs since Wilson can also play there. I personally just can’t see Peerman being cut unless he really struggles in camp and the preseason, but it’s certainly an option thanks to Wilson’s rare level versatility.