Breaking into the NFL after being passed over in the draft is no easy task. It takes hard work and a little bit of luck, but seven players have overcome all obstacles to clear final cuts make the Bengals’ 53-man roster.
The former undrafted free agents on the Bengals’ 53-man roster are running back Tra Carson, offensive linemen Trey Hopkins and Alex Redmond, defensive lineman Josh Tupou, linebackers Vincent Rey and Hardy Nickerson, cornerback Tony McRae, and wide receiver Alex Erickson.
Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the suspended list and does not currently count toward the 53-man roster, but is also a former undrafted free agent.
Rey is among the best known of this group and is a great success story. Signed in 2010, Rey was placed on the practice squad for most of his rookie year. He became a spot-starter in 2013 and has been a valuable backup for the Bengals since then. Despite going undrafted, Rey has become one of the leaders on the defense and has been a stand-up member of the Cincinnati community.
Hopkins and Redmond are returning for their second seasons on the active roster after beginning their careers on the practice squad. While Hopkins fought for and won the starting job at right guard last season, Redmond may have that job this year. Whoever ends up starting will be a valuable member of the line going forward.
One fan favorite that ended up making the roster is Carson, who saw plenty of setbacks in his two years with the Bengals. He played on the practice squad in 2016 before being placed on IR in 2017 following a nasty preseason injury. But he finally made the 53-man roster this season after earning a spot among the running backs over Brian Hill. Carson was one of the best running backs for the Bengals this preseason, rushing for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Carson is the only player on this list that will be making his roster debut on opening day.
Others who have played on the active roster Erickson, Nickerson, McRae, and Tupou. The later three were placed on the practice squad last year after being cut, and all three were promoted at some point but were used sparingly and out of desperation. Nickerson and Tupou both had great preseasons this year, which helped them win decisive position battles. McRae overcame an injury that kept him out of most of the preseason, he made good use of the limited time he had. Erickson wowed in his rookie year preseason, beating out Brandon Tate for the Bengals’ returner job. That job still belongs to him in addition to being a backup receiver.
Whether they get playing time or not, it is still an incredible milestone for these guys to wear a white color-rush uniform in Indianapolis next Sunday.
For those undrafted players who didn’t make the roster, their work is not done. Players like Quinton Flowers, Jordan Franks, Chris Worley, Junior Joseph, and Brandon Bell could be added to the practice squad and make their way onto the roster later this year. The common factor between most the players mentioned above is time spent on the practice squad. Interestingly, no rookie undrafted players made the cut.
For some of the players who didn’t make it, they are only one injury away from a promotion to the roster.