This will be the final time the fringe roster players get to showcase themselves and prove if they’re worth keeping. Here is a look at the most heated battles taking place tonight:
Eric Winston vs J.J. Dielman vs Christian Westerman vs Alex Redmond
A quadruple-threat match is brewing along the offensive line with several guys vying for the final 1-2 spots. The incumbent Eric Winston is looking to retain his spot as a backup guard and tackle, but he’s struggled mightily this preseason.
That’s allowed other lineman to make a push for the final roster, namely J.J. Dielman, Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman. Dielman and Westerman have played well on the interior while getting reps at guard and center, though it looks almost certain one of them gets cut if Winston keeps his job. Redmond has also played well and is looking to make a name for himself as an undrafted addition in 2016.
Ideally, the Bengals cut Winston and keep two of these young talents. They have brighter futures while under contract for 3-4 more years, while Winston may be past his last legs.
KeiVarae Russell vs Bene Benwikere
It’s possible the Bengals keep both of these cornerbacks to have six at the position available for Week 1. Adam Jones will be suspended for that game, which is why Russell and/or Benwikere are in position to make the team.
The Bengals have a loaded cornerback group that both Benwikere and Russell are fighting for a place among. Assuming William Jackson III, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw and Dre Kirkpatrick are the top four cornerbacks (during Jones’ suspension), Russell is looking to make earn the final spot after spending his rookie season with the Bengals.
Benwikere, however, is looking to snatch that spot away after signing with Cincinnati this offseason. He’s made plenty of plays in the preseason, though he didn’t stand out quite as much as Russell, who looked good in camp and every preseason game thus far.
P.J. Dawson vs Brandon Bell vs Hardy Nickerson
With Vontaze Burfict suspended for the first three games, the Bengals figure to keep an extra linebacker for Weeks 1-3. With Marquis Flowers being dealt away, this battle is essentially down to Brandon Bell, P.J. Dawson and Hardy Nickerson.
Nickerson was injured in the second preseason game though and needs to get back on the field tonight. Bell had a nice camp and looked good in three preseason games, but Dawson is the more experienced backer. He’s also a former third-round pick, so there is some fringe of incentive to keep him if it’s a close battle. This is one of the top battles to watch tonight.
Jeff Driskel vs every fringe player
The Bengals are strongly considering another three-quarterback setup in 2017, which they did in 2016 with Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron and Jeff Driskel. Driskel is once again making a strong push for the final roster, and you could make a good argument he’s one of the team’s 53 best players.
However, a third quarterback has very little value, even in today’s quarterback-dominated NFL. While Driskel may offer some potential, he may never play a snap this year. Is keeping a guy sitting on the bench all year worth it over the likes of Tra Carson, Russell, Marcus Hardison, Jordan Evans, Dielman, Westerman or Dawson?
One of those guys will likely be out of his job if Driskel makes the team. That’s why every player on the bubble needs to outplay Driskel on Thursday, and he, in turn, must shine the brightest to keep his spot.