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Setting expectations for Bengals’ offensive rookies

Which rookies should you climb on the hype train for, and which rookies should you start tempering expectations for now?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals-Minicamp Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals had an incredible draft, and seemingly brought in several difference makers at varying positions. That includes first round wide receiver John Ross and second round running back Joe Mixon. The hype surrounding these two skill position players has led many fans to pile on the hype train as they day dream about these rookies coming in and immediately setting off offensive fireworks.

While Ross and Mixon seemed destined for success in their rookie years, Bengals’ fans should temper expectations. Often, rookies hardly get significant playing time or are eased into the game. There have been plenty of exceptions to this (A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, for example), but the question remains whether any of the Bengals’ rookies on the offensive ball have a chance to make a significant impact this season.

Wide receivers: John Ross and Josh Malone

Ross was the first round pick for the Bengals this season, and his selection set the tone for the rest of the draft. The Bengals wanted to get faster, and with Ross’ blazing speed the team added a deep threat they clearly missed last season. Malone was an incredible prospect to pick up in the fourth round, but the Bengals have had mixed results as far as mid-round receivers. Still, should we expect Ross or Malone to be out on the field early and often?

The Bengals history with receivers has been pretty clear. They like to bring along the new receivers slowly. Guys like Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones varied in their rookie snaps, but neither came out and had a major role in the team’s offense. Jones finished third in snaps among the receivers with more than 300, and Sanu finished fifth with only a little more than 200. That year, Andrew Hawkins had a clear hold on the No. 2 receiver role behind A.J. Green.

Malone would be lucky to see these kinds of snaps. He will be competing for chances on the field with Cody Core, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and Ross. Malone is more likely to be a contributor down the road and may not see the field at all on offense this season. The odds of him working his way into a contributing role this season seem to be slim.

On the flip side, last year’s offensive output shows there is hope for Ross to make his way onto the field more than other rookie receivers. Boyd finished his rookie season in 2016 with 739 snaps on offense. This was easily more than half the snaps on offense all season. Obviously that is bloated a little from the Green injury, but he was still going to be at least the third most active receiver by a large margin.

The one thing going against Ross really is the competition at the position for snaps. Green is obviously the top guy, but after that it seems like an open competition to let the cream rise to the top. If Ross can come in and show why he was drafted so early he could follow other high draft picks like Green and Boyd and be incredibly active on the field. Otherwise, we could be waiting a few weeks for him to acclimate to the game. Expect Ross to start off slow and see increased snaps if he earns them. As for Malone, don’t expect to see him on offense unless there are injuries to other receivers.

Snap count projection for Ross: 500-700 snaps

Snap count projection for Malone: 0-100 snaps

Running back: Joe Mixon

Luckily for us, we have two prime examples of how the Bengals bring along second round running backs. Both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard were drafted in the second round of their respective drafts. Both also had similar arcs to their rookie seasons.

Bernard was drafted in 2013, and while Benjarvus Green-Ellis started most of the games, Bernard was clearly the more involved back. He had almost 200 more snaps than Green-Ellis. Hill had a similar rise the following season. Bernard came in as the starter after Green-Ellis was released in 2014. Hill didn’t get too many touches before Bernard went down with an injury. After that, Hill had his explosion onto the scene, and Bernard was the one who was living with whatever scraps he could get. Bernard and Hill finished the season within 10 snaps of each other (510 for Bernard and 501 for Hill).

How does Mixon fit into the Bengals’ offense in 2017? He’s likely to start as the backup, just like Bernard and Hill did in their rookie seasons. Barring a huge change in philosophy or injury, Hill will enter the season as the starting running back. However if Mixon shows he has the hot hand offensively, don’t be surprised if he takes away most of Hill’s snaps. Mixon will see playing time early on, and if he effectively utilizes the snaps he sees, he will likely see an increase in his role each week. Bernard could also complicate things depending on when he comes back from the ACL injury from which he’s recovering. The team could choose to let Bernard come back slowly, and let Hill and Mixon compete for the job in front of Bernard. Based on Mixon’s college production, it wouldn’t be surprising for him to take on a large role in the Bengals’ offense by the middle of the 2017 season.

Snap count projection for Mixon: 400-600 snaps

Late round picks: J.J. Dielman, Brandon Wilson and Mason Schreck

It is rare for a late round pick to have an early impact for the Bengals in their rookie year. Jones, as I said before, finished third among the teams’ receiver in terms of playing time in his rookie season, but he was the last offensive rookie to do something like that after being drafted in the fifth round or later.

Dielman looks like he was drafted to be the backup at center if Russell Bodine leaves in free agency next offseason. Dielman was a fifth round pick and last year’s fifth round offensive lineman didn’t play a single snap all season and was only active for one game. Dielman would need to significantly impress this summer to see the field at all as a rookie. It’s unlikely he plays as a rookie unless there are multiple injuries along the offensive line. But, he will almost definitely make the team’s roster regardless.

Brandon Wilson is interesting because he played so many positions in college. He’s actually listed as a safety on the team’s roster, but, he could be thrown in for a few plays on offense as a running back, something he did in college, too. Mostly, he’ll be used on special teams as a gunner on punts and as a kick returner.

Mason Schreck has little chance of making the 53-man roster. The Bengals have Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah and Ryan Hewitt who is a fullback/tight end combo. It’s more likely Schreck is stashed on the practice squad for the future and he’s unlikely to see any playing time in 2017 unless multiple tight ends get injured at the same time.

Snap count projection for Dielman: 0-100

Snap count projection for Wilson: 0-50

Snap count projection for Schreck: 0

What do you think of these projections?