The Bengals finalized their initial 53-man roster on Saturday and left us with several surprises. While some players were obvious candidates to be kept or cut, injuries made things more complicated.
Given surprising preseason performances, injuries to many players, or just plain luck, there were five players who defied some expectations and made their way onto the roster. Keep in mind, the Bengals’ 53-man roster today will not be the 53-man roster on Sunday in Indianapolis. Players like Cody Core and Davontae Harris may land on Injured/Reserve by Monday with the potential to come back later in the year.
CUT: Michael Johnson
As far as not making the roster, Michael Johnson’s release was a surprise. The cut saves the Bengals $4.2 million in cap space this year as they move on from the veteran defensive end. This move goes hand-in-hand with the Bengals moving on from guys like George Iloka and Brandon LaFell. There’s some thought he could be back on Monday.
ON THE ROSTER: Auden Tate
Even though rookie WR Auden Tate was a touchdown machine at Florida State in 2017, his 4.68 40-yard time cost him dearly. He almost went undrafted in 2018 because of his slow speed, but the Bengals decided to spend their last pick on him. Many thought he wouldn’t even make the roster. But he did!
But Tate impressed in rookie camp, training camp, and the preseason. His wide reach and strong hands helped overcome his lacking speed. However, Bengals’ Geoff Hobson reported that Tate might be on the outside looking in. Even though many felt he deserved a spot, it seemed probable that he would not make the final cuts.
While he may not see much playing time this year, the Bengals will continue to develop him.
ON THE ROSTER: Mason Schreck
Another seventh round pick, the Bengals selected Ohio native TE Mason Schreck late in the 2017 draft. He spent all year on the Bengals’ Injured/Reserve list after getting hurt in the 2017 preseason.
Schreck had a decent showing in the preseason, collecting nine receptions with 118 yards. But he fumbled twice in the few games in which he played, so his ball security might have been a bad enough issue to keep him off the roster. However, his consistency in other areas combined with an injury to Cethan Carter and the release of Ryan Hewitt helped create an opening on the final roster.
Stat that may not have been noticed as most fans tune out during final quarters of these preseason games: Mason Schreck led the Bengals in receiving this preseason: 9 for 118, 13.1 per.— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) September 1, 2018
ON THE ROSTER: Mark Walton
The fourth round pick out of Miami failed to live up to his billing during the preseason. Rookie RB Mark Walton only gained 21 yards on 22 attempts despite playing behind the same offensive lines as Tra Carson and Brian Hill. Carson did well to earn a spot, gaining 77 yards with 20 carries and rushing for two touchdowns. But Hill rushed for 87 yards in 17 attempts, so he should have won out over Walton every day when you compare stats. But Hill was cut in favor of Walton, showing that the Bengals would favor their own draft pick over someone they signed off the Falcons’ practice squad. The Bengals weren’t going to cut a healthy, fourth round rookie.
ON THE ROSTER: Tony McRae
There is a log-jam at the cornerback position after the Bengals drafted two in 2018. CB Tony McRae has been good over the last few preseasons, but just hasn’t been able to break his way onto an opening day roster. He looked to be sitting behind the likes of KeiVarae Russell and Darius Phillips as the sixth cornerback.
McRae was held back from most of training camp due to an ankle injury, but when he recovered, he played well enough to keep his job. As Hobson wrote, “McRae didn’t play Thursday night after he made his season debut in Buffalo, that may indicate he’s made it and they wanted him to rest the sprained ankle he’s been nursing since early in camp.”
As a result, KeiVarae Russell was cut...
CUT: KeiVarae Russell
Russell’s preseason finale performance was not great and that hurt his roster chances. Now, he’s on the waiver wire, but if he makes it through he could return to the Bengals once some guys currently on the roster are moved to Injured/Reserve. The Bengals initially got Russell on the waiver wire in his rookie year when the Chiefs cut him during roster cut weekend.
ON THE ROSTER: Josh Tupou
An undrafted second-year player out of Colorado, Josh Tupou had a tough road to the roster this year as a young interior defensive lineman. When the Bengals released Chris Baker, the jam cleared ahead of Tupou. The last spot on the defensive line came down between Tupou and Andrew Brown (a fifth round pick from this years’ draft), but Tupou played much better this preseason. So here, the rookie draft pick was cut, as was the veteran Johnson.