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Bengals roster 2017: 53-man prediction heading into roster cut week

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The Bengals have just a few days before the 53-man roster will be shaped for the 2017 NFL season.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Three preseason games are in the books for the Cincinnati Bengals and in less than one week, the 53-man roster will be revealed.

The Bengals have one preseason game remaining, but don’t expect to see any starters playing as it will be time for the backups to prove their worth and give one last fight for their roster lives.

Heading into the final week of the preseason and with roster cuts coming on Saturday, here’s my latest 53-man roster projection, which has actually changed quite a bit since the end of July.

QUARTERBACK (3)

Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron, Jeff Driskel

I’m actually not convinced AJ McCarron is any better than Jeff Driskel and the hype surrounding McCarron may be very overplayed. The Bengals seem to love Driskel and if a trade doesn’t happen involving McCarron this week (and a trade is highly unlikely considering how poorly he’s played in the preseason) I expect the Bengals to roster three quarterbacks for the second straight year.

RUNNING BACK/H-BACK (4)

Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon, Ryan Hewitt (h-back)

Tra Carson received just one rushing attempt in the third preseason game and it seems he may have been injured in the exhibition contest. After Cedric Peerman was hurt in his first preseason action on Sunday and subsequently put on season-ending Injured Reserve, I see the Bengals going with just three running backs and Hewitt at h-back. The team will keep Carson and maybe Williams, too, on the practice squad.

Cut: Tra Carson, Jarveon Williams, Darrin Laufasa

WIDE RECEIVER (7)

A.J. Green, John Ross, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, Cody Core, Josh Malone, Alex Erickson

I’ve maintained all summer the Bengals will keep seven receivers on the roster and my mind has not been changed. The one surprise could be cutting Cody Core after he failed to make a catch on Sunday on two targets. Core has a ton of potential, but not a lot of on-field production. He even let a touchdown go right through his hands in the endzone last weekend. When the Bengals tried hard to feature him last year, he mustered up 200 yards on 27 targets in five games. Core looked great early on this offseason, but it hasn’t been supported in the preseason. Unfortunately he missed the second preseason game due to injury after leaving the first game early. For now, I think the Bengals will go with seven receivers, but if one is cut from that group, it’s likely to be Core.

Cut: Chris Brown, Kermit Whitfield, Alonzo Russell

TIGHT END (3)

Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah

C.J. Uzomah is still nursing an ankle injury and no update has been given on when he may return. He did hit the rehab field on Tuesday for the first time since the injury occurred. Assuming he isn’t placed on Injured Reserve, the Bengals will go into the season with the same three tight ends they’ve had for the last two years.

Mason Schreck was injured in Sunday’s game (putting his spot even on the practice squad in jeopardy) and Cethan Carter has looked decent, and is now likely headed for the practice squad with Schreck banged up.

Cut: Mason Schreck, Cethan Carter

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

Tackle (3): Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Andre Smith

Guard (4): Clint Boling, Trey Hopkins, Christian Westerman, J.J. Dielman

Center (2): Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson

In the latest Cincy Jungle 53-man roster projection from Jason Marcum, Eric Winston was cut and I believe that will be the case. Winston has lost a step with age this offseason and Andre Smith has been better as a backup tackle. Smith played backup left tackle on Sunday and actually performed quite well. With Trey Hopkins securing the starting spot at right guard, Smith can be moved back to tackle as a backup on both sides of the line.

Alex Redmond did well on Sunday, too, and he could make it over rookie J.J. Dielman, but I see the Bengals trying to get Redmond to the practice squad and keeping Dielman on the roster as a weekly gameday inactive, unless/until injuries occur.

Cut: Eric Winston, Landon Lechler, Kent Perkins, Cameron Lee, Alex Redmond, Dustin Stanton

Total on offense: 26

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

Defensive End: Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Jordan Willis, Chris Smith

Defensive Tackle: Geno Atkins, Andrew Billings, Ryan Glasgow, Pat Sims

This group is filled with tough decisions. Chris Smith has solidified his spot on the roster after three great preseason showings, including his latest with the starters. Michael Johnson is likely to maintain his starting job, but will be spelled more often than ever, which is a good thing for everyone. Jordan Willis and Ryan Glasgow have both performed well in the preseason and combined with being draft picks this year, their spots are locked up. Andrew Billings hasn’t been assuring enough as an option to start at nose tackle, and because of that, it seems Pat Sims will stick on the roster this year. Tough cuts are coming at this position with Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams on the outside looking in. The same is true for Will Clarke, in the final year of his rookie contract, who seems unlikely to make the cut.

Cut: Marcus Hardison, David Dean, Will Clarke, Ryan Brown, DeShawn Williams, Josh Tupou, Wallace Gilberry

LINEBACKER (6)

*Vontaze Burfict, Kevin Minter, Nick Vigil, Jordan Evans, Vincent Rey, Carl Lawson, *Hardy Nickerson, Jr.

With Hardy Nickerson and P.J. Dawson missing the third preseason game, the battle for the final linebacker spot(s) seemed to have eased. The group who would make the 53-man roster seemed to be set on Sunday afternoon with Burfict, Minter and Vigil starting followed by Rey, Lawson and Evans backing them up. Then, it was announced Burfict is facing a five-game suspension to start the 2017 NFL season. If the suspension sticks, another linebacker may make the initial roster until Burfict returns from suspension. It’s likely to be either Dawson or Nickerson, with both having their individual perks. For now, I’m going with Nickerson, a smart linebacker who the Bengals reportedly love. The one issue is his back injury suffered in the second preseason game. It’s unclear if he’ll play in the final preseason contest, which may be necessary for him to make the roster. Burfict will not count toward the 53-man roster until after his suspension. Once the suspension is over, Nickerson, or someone else, would get cut as a result.

Cut: Brandon Bell, P.J. Dawson, Bryson Albright

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)

Cornerback: **Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, William Jackson III, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw, KeiVarae Russell

Safety: George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Derron Smith, Clayton Fejedelem, **Brandon Wilson

Shawn Williams is currently injured, but the Bengals are banking on his return in the first month of the season. He’s likely to be on the 53-man roster and not be relegated to Injured Reserve to start the year, which is good news.

With Adam Jones suspended for Week 1, he won’t be on the 53-man roster until Monday heading into Week 2. While he’s out, I see Wislon making the cut as the extra defensive back on the roster during that time. After Jones returns, the Bengals will need to decide what to do to make room, which could include moving Wilson, or someone else.

It seemed strange when Wilson was taken off the Non-Football Injury list this week. He could have stuck there heading into the season, making him ineligible for the first six weeks of the 2017 NFL season while not counting toward the 53-man roster. But, the Bengals chose to take him off the injury list and have him practice with the team heading into the final preseason game. Will he play on Thursday? That remains to be seen. But since they took him off the injury list, it seems the coaches have a plan for the player for whom they traded up in the sixth round to draft. The team has traded up in the draft a total of four times in 50 years, making Wilson a special player in Cincinnati. It seems unlikely they’d part ways with him so quickly.

Cut: Bene Benwikere, Tony McRae, Demetrious Cox

Total on defense: 24

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

Kicker: Randy Bullock

Punter: Kevin Huber

Long-snapper: Clark Harris

Randy Bullock has been the better kicker in the preseason, but it’ll be difficult for the Bengals to admit defeat with their fifth round rookie. If the kicking competition is real, Bullock has won the job over Jake Elliott.

Cut: Jake Elliott

Total on special teams: 3

What do you think? Who do you believe I have wrong?