When the 2018 NFL season kicks off, Brandon Josiah LaFell will likely be only one of two Bengals wide receivers with at least 80 career receptions to his credit. LaFell, who turns 32 this season, brings the receiver group something that is in short supply among the receiver group: experience.
Entering his ninth season, LaFell has played four years with the Panthers, two with the Patriots, and two years with the Bengals. He’s never led any of those teams in receiving, but he’s always been a solid contributor as a second or third option.
Last year LaFell played in all 16 of the Bengals games, catching 52 passes on 89 targets (58%) for 548 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers may not sound too exciting, but the 548 yards and 52 receptions actually ranked second for the Bengals, whose quarterbacks accounted for less than 3,400 yards last year.
What are LaFell’s chances of making the roster, and where does he currently stand in the pecking order at his position?
Weight: 210 pounds
Hometown: Houston, TX
Experience: Ninth-Year Player
LaFell is in the second year of a two year contract extension that he signed with the Bengals following the 2016 season. He will become a free agent following the 2018 season. He has a cap hit of $4 million this year and a dead cap of $1 million. Before signing the two year extension, he had previously signed a one year deal worth $2.5M for the 2016 season.
The former three-sport athlete from Lamar High School in Houston Texas left the state to play football at LSU. After red shirting his first year and playing sparingly as a red shirt freshman, he emerged to lead the Tigers in receiving in his final three seasons. As their top receiver he caught 50, 63, and 57 passes for 656, 929, and 792 yards and 4, 8, and 11 touchdowns. Those numbers may not jump off the page, but LaFell was clearly the top offensive weapon on LSU Tiger teams that were not exactly offering the most prolific passing attack in the NCAA.
After his fifth year at LSU he joined the loaded 2010 wide receiver draft class which included Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Golden Tate, Emmanuel Sanders, Eric Decker, and Antonio Brown. At the combine he had one of the slower 40 yard dash times (4.58) and shorter broad jumps (115”), but was selected 78th overall by the Panthers in the third round. As a draft prospect, his positives were big size, soft hands, and ability to work the middle of the field, while his biggest drawbacks were a lack of high-end speed and some concentration drops.
Given the complete lack of experience behind LaFell and A.J. Green, LaFell’s roster spot seems like it should pretty much be assured. But, it’s interesting to see Marvin Lewis say LaFell is “feeling the heat” from the young receivers on the roster. And, while he was the No. 2 guy in Cincinnati last year — including in team drills — he’s now lining up as the No. 3 receiver in the early days of training camp.
Outside of Tyler Boyd’s career 76 receptions, the remaining group of Cody Core, Alex Erickson, Josh Malone, John Ross, Auden Tate, Devonte Boyd, Kermit Whitfield, and Ka’Raun White have combined for only 41 career receptions.
While his job may not be in jeopardy, LaFell’s playing time very well could be. Last season he had four drops compared to 52 receptions, and only registered a paltry 45.7 rating from Pro Football Focus (compared to a 62.4 for Tyler Boyd). With the presumed health of John Ross, and a hopeful third-year break out from Boyd, LaFell could find himself in a battle to retain his spot on the totem pole as the Bengals’ second wide receiver.
Roster Odds: 80 percent.