Every year there are players who make the Cincinnati Bengals’ 53-man roster who at one point no one thought would make the cut. That has not changed at all this year, with several surprises squeaking onto the roster. Two former undrafted free agent rookies managed to make the roster just like Alex Erickson did last year. Hopefully these players can show they deserved their roster spots and make meaningful contributions to the team in 2017.
Here’s a look at the five biggest surprises on the 53-man roster.
1. Alex Redmond
There was a lot of competition across the bottom end of the offensive line. There was some competition at the top, too with Trey Hopkins taking over a starting spot at right guard that many people thought Andre Smith would earn. (The Bengals had been hoping that, too, but the Smith at guard experiment failed miserably.) At the bottom of the offensive line depth chart, Redmond ended up taking a roster spot from a Bengals draft spot. Redmond was a guy who the Bengals seemed to like in 2016, but the depth of the offensive line caused him to miss out on a roster spot, while clinging to the practice squad all year. This year, he quickly made some noise and managed to cause the Bengals to cut a draft pick (J.J. Dielman) which shows what the Bengals think of him. Dielman ended up getting scooped up by the Los Angeles Rams on waivers and now is on their 53-man roster.
2. Cethan Carter
Carter was not really on anyone’s radar going into the preseason. He was an UDFA who also doesn’t look like your typical tight end being a bit undersized. However, he had a really strong showing in the preseason. Then Tyler Eifert missed a game due to tendinitis and C.J. Uzomah suffered an ankle injury, of which we still aren’t fully aware of the severity. Once Uzomah recovers, Carter may be on the chopping block, but for now, he’s on the 53-man roster.
3. Randy Bullock
Jake Elliott was the guy everyone thought would end up winning the kicking competition due to the fact the Bengals spent a fifth round pick on him. Elliott ended up struggling throughout training camp and had three misses in the preseason (two if you ignore the ambitious 60-yard attempt). Bullock, however, kicked excellently not missing a kick until the fourth preseason game. If it was a close competition, Marvin Lewis said Elliott would have won, but Bullock easily won the competition by a large margin. Elliott may have a chance to become the Bengals kicker down the line, as he made the practice squad, but as of now, Bullock has earned himself the job.
4. Hardy Nickerson Jr.
There were high hopes for Nickerson coming in after a solid college career and coming from a football family. However, there appeared to be a bit of a logjam ahead of him at linebacker. With the Marquis Flowers trade and the Vontaze Burfict suspension, a spot openered for Nickerson. Nickerson takes the fifth true linebacker spot with Lawson being more of a defensive end than a linebacker. Nickerson may be a cut candidate after Burfict returns in Week 4, but it’s impressive he was able to take a roster spot in the first place.
5. Chris Smith
Smith was a player who no one had much expectations for going into training camp. Then he managed to absolutely dominate during the preseason, eventually securing himself a roster spot. It wasn’t a surprise that Smith made the roster following his preseason performance, but what is surprising is no one really expected he would perform nearly this this well in Cincinnati. The Bengals gave up just a seventh round pick to get Smith from the Jaguars before the 2017 NFL Draft. The hope is he can help the Bengals’ pass rush which struggled off the edges last season. After seeing him in the preseason, the hopes are high for what he can add to the team.
The biggest hope is that all of these players can contribute in some way this year. The team seems to be in win-now mode after cutting three of their rookie draft picks. Now the biggest question is how much these young players will actually get to play. A player like Smith should be able to make a big addition to the Bengals this year, even changing the look of the defense. Will he accomplish that? We’ll begin to find out on Sunday when the Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens at 1:00 p.m. ET at Paul Brown Stadium.