The Cincinnati Bengals have already made their desire to roster seven receivers in 2017 very clear. Without much argument, we can all guess those players will be star receiver A.J. Green, first round pick John Ross, veteran Brandon LaFell, developing youngster Tyler Boyd, star kick returner Alex Erickson, talented rookie Josh Malone, and young receiver full of potential, Cody Core. So far, Core has done an excellent job of convincing fans and coaches of his latent talent and potential to develop into a dangerous weapon for the team.
Unfortunately for Core, the preseason has been a perfect example of what life on the Bengals’ roster in 2017 will be like. His lone catch so far came in preseason Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Granted, it was an impressive 17-yard catch, helping breathe life into the Bengals’ game-tying drive in the second quarter. But, after that, he was injured and was unable to play in the second preseason game. It’s unclear if he’ll play this week.
Core was regularly praised by the coaching staff in training camp. His natural ability to play so quickly and his size make for a very useful ‘secret weapon’ of sorts. It isn’t particularly difficult to see why the Bengals want to keep him around. Despite falling short when compared to the other top receivers on the roster, his potential value to the team is undeniable. That is, if the team can find a way to use him.
It should be noted, Core likely won’t be active on gamedays if he makes the roster, unless other receivers are injured. Therefore, making the roster will not necessarily mean he will have opportunities for success. In all likelihood, even if the Bengals do activate him for games, he will be relegated to special teams. He will be a very seldom used ‘secret weapon’ for the team to throw into the mix when opposing teams have figured out how to shutdown other parts of the offense. Even then, it would be surprising to see him record more than a catch or two in any given game.
However, don’t let Core’s ceiling in 2017 take away from his long-term potential. If he continues developing as part of the Bengals’ roster and uses his opportunities to improve, it could set him up for success down the line. LaFell, for example, will be 31-years-old in November. Sure, he is a key piece of the wide receiver corps now. But, the older he gets, the more the Bengals will need to think about their replacement plan.
Boyd seems like the best option for the Bengals replacing LaFell’s impact when the time comes. He already showed glimpses of what he can do in 2016, and will no doubt be asked to show more as LaFell ages and, eventually, is phased out. Although it is very difficult to say what the Bengals’ concrete plans are at the position, their preference for using their own players to fill holes fits well with predictions like this.
So, assuming Boyd is, in fact, the post-LaFell answer, the WR4 role will be up for grabs. Alex Erickson will likely occupy a roster spot, although won’t be used much as a receiver, and mostly as a special teamer. For now, that leaves Core and Malone to battle it out for the final major contributing spot.
Right now, Malone will be battling it out for snaps, and this season will hopefully show which can be more productive long-term. But, Core has the potential to surprise if he continues to develop as expected. By the time his rookie contract runs out in 2020, he could carve out a niche for himself on the Bengals’ roster and start contributing more consistently. However, don’t expect that to happen in 2017.