The Cincinnati Bengals have a glutton of talented receivers, but Josh Malone has the talent to make an impact as a rookie.
Is Malone’s roster spot secure, and where does he stand on the depth chart heading into the regular season?
In our final 90 players in 90 days feature, we take a look at one of the Bengals’ fourth round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Position: Wide receiver
Hometown: Gallatin, Tenn.
Spotrac has Malone’s four-year deal worth up to $2,999,241, including a $599,241 signing bonus prorated into four installments of $149,810 during the next four years. If waived in 2017, the Bengals will have a dead cap hit of $599,241.
By taking Malone with the 128th pick in this year’s NFL Draft, the Bengals made it very clear they weren’t happy with their offense last year, which finished 24th in points per game after ranking seventh in 2015. After taking Washington receiver John Ross and Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in the first two rounds, they added another playmaker in Round 4 with Malone.
The former Tennessee Volunteers receiver was one of the best receivers in the SEC last season. The 6’3”, 208-pound Malone caught 50 passes for 972 yards (19.4 avg.) and 11 scores last season.
Most draft experts had Malone projected as a top-100 prospect in this year’s class. Part of the reason why Malone didn’t get more love was because he was hit or miss in his first two seasons of college football, catching 54 balls for 636 yards and three scores in 19 games from 2014-15.
Even so, for Cincinnati to get him at No. 128, it was a solid pick in terms of need and best player available. At 6’3” and 208 pounds, Malone brings a big target who put up solid workout numbers at the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash to go with his impressive size.
According to Mock Draftable, four of Malone’s closest physical comparisons are Andre Caldwell, Cody Core, Quincy Morgan and Armon Binns. He fits the Bengals’ physical profile at the wide receiver position, and we’ve already seen that at work this preseason.
The Bengals are certainly used to finding impact receivers in the latter rounds. Since 2001, we’ve seen guys like T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Tab Perry, Dezmon Briscoe, Marvin Jones, James Wright, Cobi Hamilton and Cody Core go from being late-round receivers to making impacts of varying degrees in their pro careers, whether it was with the Bengals or elsewhere.
Malone has a great shot at becoming the latest to do so, though his preseason showings haven’t measured up to how well he performed in offseason workouts and training camp. In three games, Malone has caught just five passes for 47 yards and one score.
Malone probably won’t see the field much as a rookie. With veterans Brandon LaFell and A.J. Green being joined by promising slot man Tyler Boyd and the first round pick in Ross, Malone will be battling Cody Core and Alex Erickson just to be active on game days, let alone get meaningful snaps. That doesn’t take away from the immense potential Malone possesses, but don’t expect to see much of it during his rookie season.
Odds: 95 percent.