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Bengals rising player rankings: Who is Cincinnati’s No. 4 young talent?

The Cincy Jungle community voted Carl Lawson #3, so who is ranked #4?

Houston Texans v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Despite the 7-9 losing record, there are some reasons to be positive for the upcoming season and beyond.

One of those reasons is the collection of good, young talent that the Bengals have on their roster. Players like Carl Lawson and Joe Mixon all 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 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.

  1. William Jackson, CB
  2. Joe Mixon, RB
  3. Carl Lawson, DE/OLB
  4. TBD

Based on the early voting and comments, it was pretty clear which three players would be ranked in the top three (although the order was debatable). But, now it gets interesting as we sort thru the best of the rest.

The candidates for the #4 spot:

Alex Erickson, PR/KR/WR

2017 statistics: 39 punt returns with a 7.1 average and no touchdowns. 32 kick returns for 20.7 average and no touchdowns. 12 receptions for 180 yards and a touchdown.

Why he should be rated this high: Unheralded and undrafted, Erickson has proven the doubters wrong since he earned a spot on the Bengals roster as a rookie. He did something quite difficult in the Marvin Lewis era, winning 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, as 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 he was 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.

Nick Vigil, LB

2017 statistics: 77 tackles and one sack. Five passes defensed and one 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 on, Vigil struggled for much of the season. He finished as the 84th-ranked linebacker in the NFL per PFF with a 35.1 score, which puts a number to the struggles that Vigil had on the field. Despite the struggles that the linebackers had as a whole in 2017, Vigil is not a lock to be a starter next season.

John Ross, WR

2017 statistics: 0 receptions. 1 rush for 12 yards. 1 fumble lost.

Why he should be rated this high: Ross was made the #9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft because he is a fast, explosive receiver. His record 4.22 time in the 40 yard dash stole the headlines, but he also leapt an impressive 133 inches in the broad jump. Ross isn’t just a great straight-line athlete who one can hope to teach to play wide receiver, but in college displayed his ability to run good routes and track deep passes. In his last season at the University of Washington, he showed he is more than just a deep route runner, as he secured 81 receptions for over 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Why he should not be rated this high: Ross had more lost fumbles in his rookie season (one) than he had receptions (zero). That’s not a very exciting ratio. Ross was a weekly “healthy scratch”, regularly benched in favor of low drafted, or undrafted, guys like Cody Core, Alex Erickson, and Josh Malone. Football is not a tea party. Instead, it’s a physical, full-contact sport which doesn’t bode well for a smaller, fragile player like Ross. Ross suffered a torn ACL in 2015, not to mention knee and shoulder injuries, and apparently, he injured the other shoulder with the Bengals. Speed is great, but at some point it doesn’t matter how fast a guy can run if he’s only running to the trainer’s table.

Ryan Glasgow, DT

2017 statistics: 23 tackles

Why he should be rated this high: From his walk-on days at the University of Michigan, Glasgow has been an overachiever. He is a tough competitor who played hard-nosed football. Something of a draft afterthought from the 2017 draft, the fourth-round pick worked into the second most defensive snaps on the team among all defensive tackles, with 412 for 36 percent of defensive plays. He also contributed 170 special teams snaps, which topped all other defensive linemen on the team by a healthy margin.

Why he should not be rated this high: Glasgow is a high floor, low ceiling type. He didn’t offer any impressive traits in the 2017 combine, and likely projects as a rotational backup in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked him 91st among interior defensive linemen with his 71.2 grade.

Tyler Boyd, WR

2017 statistics: 22 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

Why he should be rated this high: Boyd is an NFL ready slot receiver who has strong hands and can move the chains. He’s not A.J. Green or Chad Johnson, but has a role and can serve it well. Boyd delivered 54 receptions for 603 yards as a rookie, which made his demotion in playing time last year one of the more confusing personnel decisions the team made in 2017, along with John Ross’ non-existence on the field. When Boyd was finally allowed to play, he caught 10 passes for 130 yards in the final two weeks of the 2017 season, including the 49-yard game-winning touchdown against the Ravens in Week 17.

Why he should not be rated this high: Boyd can struggle to get open and his lack of playing time in indicative of the Bengals coaches view on his ability to help the team. The team even made him a healthy scratch in Week 2. He’s a solid prospect, but he doesn’t have the upside to be any more than a third or fourth receiver on an NFL roster. Outside of one bad display of coverage by the Ravens last year, he barely averaged eight yards per catch, and is not a threat to do much once he has the ball in his hands.

Jordan Willis, DE

2017 statistics: 25 tackles, one sack

Why he should be rated this high: Willis joined the Bengals as the reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year with his 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss that he compiled with Kansas State in 2016. He was productive and athletic, as he showed off his 39” vertical jump and 4.53 speed in the 40 yard dash at the combine. He showed his worth as a run defender, collecting 25 tackles in limited playing time.

Why he should not be rated this high: In his rookie season Willis was relegated to being the fifth best edge defender, being outplayed by standout rookie Carl Lawson, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and even Chris Smith who was acquired via a trade during the offseason. At this point in his career, he seems to have a game similar to Michael Johnson as a rotational run defending defensive end, with an occasional pass rush. That’s not bad, but not every exciting either. He looks to join the recent line of Big 12 Defensive Players of the Year who haven’t translated their Big 12 success into NFL production (Prince Amukamara, A.J. Klein, Arthur Brown, Jackson Jeffcoat, Paul Dawson, Andrew Billings, Frank Alexander).

Jordan Evans, LB

2017 statistics: 38 tackles and two passes defensed

Why he should be rated this high: Evans was drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft and saw most of his playing time in the second half of his rookie season. He is athletic with great game speed and can play all three positions on all three downs. He can come downhill in a hurry to make a play and is a solid defender in the passing game with a dozen passes defended and four interceptions at Oklahoma.

Why he should not be rated this high: The biggest knock on Evans coming out of Oklahoma was the one thing you expect linebackers to do well - tackle. He takes bad angles and can struggle one-on-one in space, missing tackles. He also had moments where he didn’t play physical enough, allowing broken tackles. He does a good job at taking on blockers, but to the fault of losing the ball carrier.

Andrew Billings, DT

2017 statistics: 13 tackles

Why he should be rated this high: Despite being in the league for two seasons, Billings is still only 20 years old and arguably one of the strongest players to enter the league when he was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He is a big, strong people mover with a lot of room to develop into a dominant nose tackle in the NFL. As Marvin Lewis does with his younger players, Billings played sparingly in his first healthy season (his second season) for the first eight games before seeing his playing time increase significantly during the final half of the season, playing about half of the team’s defensive snaps.

Why he should not be rated this high: Billings finished the season ranked 177th among interior defensive linemen per Pro Football Focus, with a 43.6 rating. Despite playing over 330 defensive snaps he only managed to make 13 tackles, or one tackle for every 27 defensive snaps. He missed the entirety of his rookie season after suffering an injury in training camp, so already has an injury history.

Josh Malone, WR

2017 statistics: 6 receptions (on 17 targets) for 63 yards and one touchdown.

Why he should be rated this high:

As a senior in high school Josh Malone was named Mr Tennessee as a football star, and was one of the top five wide receiver recruits nationally. He stayed home and played for the Tennessee Volunteers and was a starter early in his career. But Malone kind of disappears in the Vol’s non-existent passing game, until his junior year when he lived up to the hype. In that year he became a field stretcher par excellence, averaging over 19 yards per receptions en route to leading the Volunteers with 972 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. His quarterback Joshua Dobbs had a 144.4 rating on passes when Malone was targeted – which led the SEC. He’s a blazer with 4.40 speed in the 40 yard dash and adjusts well to passes in the air. He plays physical, willing to block and go over the middle. He has a lot of upside as a deep threat.

Why he should not be rated this high:

Despite having strong, soft hands, Malone is more of a body catcher, which works against him as can be seen in only hauling in 6 of 17 targets for the Bengals last year. He is fast, but not quick and struggles to get separation other than longer routes when he can get up to speed. Two key areas for a wide receiver are getting open and catching the ball with his hands – two areas where Malone needs to develop before anybody confuses him for the Bengals’ next Marvin Jones.

Christian Westerman, OL

2017 statistics: N/A

Why he should be rated this high: Westerman’s scouting report out of college has him rated as one of the better pass blockers in the 2016 draft. He is a “quick twitch” lineman who is athletic enough to get off the ball quickly and moves well for a lineman. He also showed off his strength at the NFL Combine with 34 repetitions of 225 lbs. After spending the good part of two seasons on the Bengals’ bench, Westerman started two games for the Bengals, and helped the offense flourish, as Bengals running backs ran for about 150 yards in each of those games with an average over 5.0 yards per carry.

Why he should not be rated this high: Despite being widely regarded as a mid to early round talent, there is a reason why Westerman fell to the fifth round, and a reason why he couldn’t crack the Bengals struggling offensive line the past two years. Despite being athletic for an offensive lineman (like Cedric Ogbuehi) and one of the strongest linemen (like Russell Bodine), he had another characteristic that he shared with Ogbuehi and Bodine – a lack of functional playing strength. As a draft prospect, Westerman rarely generated much push as a run blocker and would get beat by both quickness and power in the running game.

Alex Redmond, OL

2017 statistics: N/A

Why he should be rated this high: The general consensus was that Alex Redmond entered the draft before he was ready, as a very raw prospect. He was the youngest draft-eligible player in the 2016 NFL Draft at 20 years old, but it’s speculated that academic troubles at UCLA forced his hand, and he went undrafted. While his intelligence in the classroom has been questions by scouts, there is no doubt he is intelligent on the field. In college he did a good job anticipating twists and moving defenders, able to respond well with his blocks. Has been praised by Bengals coaches and teammates, as a physical, intimidating dude who is developing a power game to go with his athletic movement skills, and is young enough that he is really just starting to tap into his potential.

Why he should not be rated this high: Redmond was undrafted because he wasn’t ready for the NFL when he entered the draft two years ago. He was raw and unpolished with his technique and lost leverage when blocking. He was considered a late round, or undrafted free agent – which is what he was. He didn’t possess the desired girth for an interior lineman, being a little narrower than ideal, and could get caught off balance run blocking. There were also concerns about his intelligence and work ethic, which forced him into the NFL Draft before he was ready. If he couldn’t beat out the likes of Russell Bodine, Cedric Ogbuehi, Trey Hopkins, and Jake Fisher on one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, then he probably hasn’t overcome the issues that made him undraftable in 2016.


Bengals #4 prospect

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Alex Erickson, PR/KR/WR
    (61 votes)
  • 9%
    Nick Vigil, LB
    (79 votes)
  • 28%
    John Ross, WR
    (234 votes)
  • 4%
    Ryan Glasgow, DT
    (40 votes)
  • 20%
    Tyler Boyd, WR
    (167 votes)
  • 13%
    Jordan Willis, DE
    (116 votes)
  • 1%
    Jordan Evans, LB
    (16 votes)
  • 3%
    Andrew Billings, DT
    (33 votes)
  • 5%
    Josh Malone, WR
    (48 votes)
  • 2%
    Christian Westerman, OL
    (25 votes)
  • 1%
    Alex Redmond, OL
    (16 votes)
835 votes total Vote Now