As we continue to categorize the Cincinnati Bengals players by their importance to the roster, we come to the dark horse candidates. Right now, these players all seem to be decidedly on the outside looking in. But, they each possess plenty of talent, despite being held back by some major obstacles. Don’t be surprised to see any of these players end up on the practice squad, or even make a push for one of the last roster spots following a surprisingly strong training camp and the preseason. One thing helping these guys is the elimination of the first roster cut day. The NFL used to have two roster cuts, one from 90 to 75 and a second from 75 to 53. This year, the NFL eliminated the first cut and rosters will go from 90 to 53 following the final preseason game.
Here are the players we’re ranking 71-80 on the Bengals’ roster, in no particular order.
Darrin Laufasa, fullback
Laufasa barely beats out Cethan Carter (who was in the 81-90 group) in these rankings because of his experience at the fullback position. The Bengals like H-backs, but they already have a solid one in Ryan Hewitt. Laufasa is more of a traditional fullback who helped the UTEP Miners average 185.5 rushing yards per game. He honed his skills as a mobile blocker in college and will look to transfer that to the NFL. He won’t beat out Hewitt for the fullback spot, and the Bengals are unlikely to keep a backup at the position around, even on the practice squad. But, under the right conditions, it may be possible to convince the Bengals to keep some insurance around at the position, and Laufasa seems like the man for the job.
Chris Smith, defensive end
The Bengals don’t often make trades for players, but their offseason trade for Smith, the former Jaguars defensive end, seemed like the exact kind of trade the Bengals would make. They sent a conditional seventh round pick to Jacksonville for Smith, likely based on whether he makes the final 53-man roster. Therefore, the Bengals are not necessarily invested in keeping him around for the sake of value, so the roster battle could be a difficult one to crack. Then again, he was impressive for the Jaguars last offseason and preseason and the Bengals saw enough in him to make the trade happen.
Demetrious Cox, defensive back
Cox looked like he was going to be a mid-round cornerback after a productive junior season with the Michigan State Spartans. Unfortunately, he and the team saw a dip in production in 2016. Combined with his assault charge earlier this year, it made him seem decidedly undraftable to every NFL team. The Bengals, however, saw enough promise to give him a chance to compete with the team this offseason. He has the talent to make a push for a practice squad spot, and even work his way onto the roster some day. But, for now, he has a significant amount of work ahead of him with a crowded defensive back group.
Karel Hamilton, wide receiver
Despite being one of the best wide receivers in the FCS in 2016, Hamilton’s pedigree was simply not noteworthy enough for scouts to pay him much mind in the 2017 NFL Draft. In four years at Samford University, he put up 279 catches for 3,803 yards and 31 touchdowns. Working against him is that he is a bit undersized at 6’0” and 199 pounds. The Bengals’ do not seem to have any open receiver spots to grab this season, but if Hamilton plays up to his potential, he could make the team’s practice squad.
Alonzo Russell, wide receiver
A practice squad player for the Bengals in 2016, Russell’s ceiling in 2017 is likely in the same spot. Last year, his size and technique were enough to get him noticed by the Bengals, although not enough to get him picked up in the 2016 NFL Draft. Going forward, he will need to improve his play speed and learn to better fight off coverage if he wants to keep his practice squad spot. The Bengals’ wide receiver position is absolutely overflowing with young talent, so it is extremely unlikely he will be able to break onto the roster, but he is talented enough to be considered one of the favorites for a practice squad spot.
Kent Perkins, offensive guard
The former Texas Longhorn was a big part of the reason D’Onta Foreman was able to break into the national spotlight, putting together the 19th best rushing game in the NCAA. The Bengals desperately need a boost to their running game, and Perkins could help in that regard. The Bengals’ guard position is in flux right now, so it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see Perkins work his way in as an insurance policy at the position, but he will probably have to do it from the practice squad with Andre Smith, Clint Boling, Christian Westerman, and Trey Hopkins all currently in front of him.
Dustin Stanton, offensive guard
Another talented guard who could work his way in as an insurance policy is Stanton, a former Oregon State guard. He is extremely versatile, with experience at tackle, guard, and tight end. Otherwise, he brings about the same level of run blocking ability as Perkins, helping the Beavers set a single season rushing record with 5.2 yards per carry. His versatility puts him ever so slightly ahead of Perkins in the race for a roster spot, although not far enough ahead to guarantee much, and certainly not far enough ahead for a real chance at a roster spot.
Landon Lechler, offensive tackle
Lechler takes over the famed No. 77 jersey from the recently departed Andrew Whitworth, although it would be surprising to see the North Dakota State product make nearly as big of an impact. He received first-team honors in his conference last year for his impact at right tackle, a position at which he has started every game for the past three years. He could be a dark horse candidate for a roster spot, with only three other tackles on the roster. But, it would likely require him moving to the left side of the line, which could be very difficult. He seems to be have a ceiling of landing on the practice squad, although if he exceeds expectations this offseason, anything is possible when it comes to the Bengals’ offensive line.
Hardy Nickerson, Jr., linebacker
One of the most promising undrafted free agent from the Bengals’ 2017 draft class is the son of former Steelers and Buccaneers’ five-time Pro Bowler, Hardy Nickerson Sr. The younger Nickerson brings an undeniable tackling form and leadership to his game and absolutely flourished under his father’s direction at Illinois. He is small for a linebacker at 6’0” and 232 pounds and looks slow by NFL standards but he should have an opportunity to make a surprise push for a roster spot.
Stanley Williams, running back
Running back is a crowded position for the Bengals in 2017. If any undrafted player can convince the Bengals to keep him around in some capacity, it’s the former Kentucky standout. Given Jeremy Hill’s continued struggles going into a contract year, and Cedric Peerman’s progressing age, there seems to be more than enough room for Williams to develop into a rosterable running back down the line. For now, however, the practice squad appears to be his more likely landing spot. He may be undersized, but he uses it to his advantage with his very elusive running style. Don’t be shocked if he turns out to be the next long-term third man at the running back position for years to come, but also don’t be shocked if he doesn’t make the roster at all.