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Bengals rising player rankings: Who is Cincinnati’s No. 1 young talent?

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Who are the Bengals’ top young players? We ask you to weigh in and vote on the team’s top risers.

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Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals

Despite the Cincinnati Bengals’ 7-9 losing record from 2017, there are some reasons to be optimistic in regards to the upcoming season and beyond.

One of those reasons is the collection of good, young talent that the Bengals have on the team’s roster. Players like Carl Lawson and Joe Mixon gave fans good reasons to be optimistic for the future. But how do the Bengals’ best young players stack up?

Each week we’ll list five of the Bengals’ top prospects (players who have been in the league for two years or less) for you to vote on, and the Cincy Jungle community will determine the Bengals top prospects.

Whoever gets the most votes this week will be declared the top prospect. Another player will fill his spot next week, and you’ll get to vote for the #2 prospect. We’ll continue until we’ve put together a top 10 list.

Here are the candidates for the #1 spot:

Joe Mixon, RB

2017 statistics: 178 rushes for 626 yards (3.5 average), 4 touchdowns. 30 receptions for 287 yards totaling 913 total yards from scrimmage.

Why he should be rated this high: Mixon is a special talent. His elusiveness and ability to find a lane with non-existent blocking turned what should have been stuffed negative plays into modest, positive yardage all season long. When he finally got blocking in front of him during his final four games of the season (he was out for the games against the Viking and Bears), he showed off what he could do. He averaged five yards per carry during that span. He also showed good hands as a receiver as he hauled in 30 receptions for 287 yards.

Why he should not be rated this high: Despite being a dynamic playmaker, he only averaged 3.5 yards per carry. Mixon also had almost as many fumbles lost (two) as he had touchdowns (four). He only had a single 100 yard rushing game all season, and it was against the Browns.

Alex Erickson, PR/KR/WR

2017 statistics: 39 punt returns for a 7.1 average (0 touchdowns). 32 kick returns for a 20.7 average (0 touchdowns). 12 receptions for 180 yards and 1 touchdown.

Why he should be rated this high: Unheralded and undrafted, Erickson has proven doubters wrong since he earned a spot on the Bengals’ roster as a rookie. He did something quite difficult in the Marvin Lewis era, and won a starting role as a rookie. He secured the punt return and kick return roles by beating out Brandon Tate. Despite many drafted wide receivers on the roster, Erickson doubled his receptions and yardage from his rookie season, and he caught 75 percent of the passes which he was the targeted receiver.

Why he should not be rated this high: Erickson finished 44th among all NFL players who returned a punt, with his 7.1 average, and 57th among all NFL players with his 20.7 kick return average. Erickson was responsible for six fumbles this season (one lost). He is a very replaceable returner and receiver who lacks a next gear and doesn’t wow you with any special traits.

Carl Lawson, OLB

2017 statistics: 16 total tackles, 8.5 sacks.

Why he should be rated this high: 8.5 sacks should pretty much say it all. Not only was he able to get to the quarterback and rack up plenty of hurries, but he did it despite limited playing time, only seeing the field in 41 percent of the Bengals’ defensive plays. He was one of the most efficient pass rushers in the entire NFL and displayed a variety of effective pass rush moves which allow him to continually get to opposing quarterbacks.

Why he should not be rated this high: Lawson is a good pass rusher, but he is something of a one dimensional player, leaving a little to be desired as a run stopper. He ranked 21st in tackles on the Bengals, behind many backups such as Josh Shaw, Jordan Willis, Ryan Glasgow and Jordan Evans. His run blocking will need to improve for him to see the field more often.

Nick Vigil, LB

2017 statistics: 77 tackles, 1 sack, 5 passes defensed, 1 interception.

Why he should be rated this high: Vigil started 11 games during his second season before a lingering ankle injury ultimately sent him to Injured Reserve. His 7.0 tackles per game still led the Bengals despite playing through that injury. Early in the season Vigil showed that his game had taken a step forward from his rookie campaign, as he looked like a solid NFL linebacker worthy of the third round selection the Bengals surprisingly used on him in 2016.

Why he should not be rated this high: After some flashes early in the season, Vigil struggled for much of the year. He finished as the 84th ranked linebacker in the NFL per Pro Football Focus with a 35.1 score, which puts a number to the struggles that Vigil had on the field. Despite the struggles that the Bengals’ linebackers had as a whole in 2017, Vigil is not a lock to be a starter next season.

William Jackson, CB

2017 statistics: 25 tackles, 1 interception (returned 75 yards for a touchdown).

Why he should be rated this high: After missing his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve, Jackson showed why the Steelers were right to be miffed when the Bengals selected him one pick ahead of them in the 2016 NFL Draft. Through Week 14 he had only allowed a passer rating of 41.6 on passes targeting him (good enough for second best in the NFL), and had allowed an NFL best 40.5 catch rate. His 0.53 yards per cover snap ranked second among all cornerbacks, and he dominated against Steelers All-Pro Antonio Brown, allowing zero receptions on eight targets with four pass breakups. He ended the season ranked by PFF as the seventh best corner in the NFL.

Jackson is also a stellar playmaker when the ball is in his hands or in his reach. In college he returned three of his eight interceptions for touchdowns, averaging over 26 yards per interception return, and his lone interception for the Bengals this season went for a 75 yard score.

Why he should not be rated this high: There’s not a whole lot to say to bring down Jackson. If anything, we could harp on his lone interception, or his run support, which isn’t other-worldly. How could we forget him not pushing Le’Veon Bell out of bounds allowing him to run for a score in their second meeting of the season. Still, who are we kidding, he’s clearly one of the better Bengals young stars.

Poll

Place your vote for the Bengals’ #1 rising player

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Joe Mixon, RB
    (191 votes)
  • 1%
    Alex Erickson, PR/KR/WR
    (22 votes)
  • 10%
    Carl Lawson, OLB
    (148 votes)
  • 0%
    Nick Vigil, LB
    (11 votes)
  • 74%
    William Jackson, CB
    (1104 votes)
1476 votes total Vote Now