Minimal impact has been the consistent theme for the 2019 Bengals’ rookie class. For a team that relies so heavily on the NFL Draft, this is not the reality Cincinnati wants to face nine weeks into the season.
Playing time has not been the main issue. Four of their first six draft picks have either started or established themselves as role players. Injuries have only really hindered two players, but one of them was poised to solve one of their biggest weaknesses.
Through eight games, the rookies who’ve played for the Bengals simply haven’t done enough to push the needle for a struggling team. There’s still time, however, for some rookies to make a positive impression while the team is in full-blown evaluation mode.
Let’s evaluate where each rookie’s stock is at halfway through the year.
There’s nothing really to talk about with Williams, who’s been injured since the beginning of Summer, but he’s listed here because of what could be still to come. The first week of December is when the team will decide if Williams is ready to play for the first time.
In a lost season, there’s no benefit of playing Williams aside from getting some tape of him for next year. He of course won’t play at all if he’s not 100% ready and healthy, but giving this offense the best possible offensive line is important for the evaluation process.
Current stock trend: No change — Nothing has changed for Williams. He may come back, he may not. There’s no more current information that tells us anything different.
If you bought into the propaganda the Bengals spread about Sample during OTAs, that’s on you. For four years in college, Sample had always been a limited receiving option at the tight end position, despite boasting above average athleticism. The quarterback situation at Washington never did him any favors, but at some point, you just have to produce. Sample never did, and expecting notable production in his rookie year was the equivalent of chasing fool’s gold.
The true disappointment for Sample has been his underwhelming run blocking. This was a true asset Sample showcased in college and it’s been a rough transition into the pros. He’s Pro Football Focus’ 64th-ranked (out of 73 who’ve played 20% of their team’s snaps) tight end in run blocking. When you compare him to qualifying rookies, he’s only ahead of Noah Fant and behind five others.
When you factor all of that into consideration, there’s no real wonder why Sample has only played 18% of the offense’s snaps. He’s been underwhelming in the areas the team hoped he’d improve in and the areas they expected competence.
Current stock trend: Down — As of right now, the status quo hasn’t shifted much for Sample, but with Tyler Eifert potentially becoming more involved in the offense, Sample will continue operating as the team’s third tight end. The opportunities for him to be a more productive receiver have to be dwindling as the season progresses.
Representing the only true change the Bengals made at linebacker this offseason, Pratt has been inconsistent at best in his first 101 snaps of his career. Because of this, you can understand why the position group is still a gigantic weakness on the roster.
We saw Pratt getting gently rotated in with Preston Brown from Week 3 to Week 5, playing 31 snaps in those three games combined. The 30 snaps he played in Week 6 alone against the Ravens is when the troubles started popping up. Major lapses in coverage during that game and in Week 8 against the Rams have attributed to his PFF grade ranking near the bottom for rookie linebackers thus far.
The good news is that Pratt has shown value in the areas he excelled at in college. He’s a fierce tackler who is good at reading his keys and exploding into his fits. For as much as he’s been exposed in coverage, he’s been one of their better run defenders.
Current stock trend: Down — This is largely the same situation Sample is dealing with. The area that the Bengals need Pratt the most is where he’s struggling the most. His impact has not given a struggling defense the boost it so desperately needed. Placing all of that on Pratt was unfair, but he hasn’t given defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo much reason to play him more than he has.
Well, well, well, if it isn’t the man of the hour.
The idea of Finley starting over Andy Dalton went from just plausible to a stone cold reality last week. Finley has been observing the anemic Bengals’ offense from the bench all season, and now is being given the chance to lead it in a new direction.
Having A.J. Green in the lineup is an advantage Dalton didn’t have this year in a new offense, but it’s not like Finley is being dropped into an ideal situation for his first ever starts. His job is to keep the offense afloat and give his pass catchers a chance. Expecting anything more than that could be problematic, but the Bengals are surely going to find out anyways.
Current stock trend: EMPHATIC UP — Finley has eight weeks to prove he’s the true replacement for Dalton. His stock may never be higher than it is right now.
Wren’s usage this season has been predominantly based on the deficiencies of the rest of the defense. He was active Week 1 because the team was only carrying four linebackers and since then, he’s been playing mostly as an edge defender due to the team’s dwindling depth at that position.
Wren has never been an edge defender before, so he’s been, unsurprisingly, ineffective in the majority of his snaps thus far. It’s hard to judge him right now because he’s playing out of position and quite honestly, he’s been moving further and further away from where he belongs since he got into the NFL. Wren is a nose tackle, and he’s been aligned at that spot only a handful of times this season. Not ideal.
Current stock trend: No change — Right now, there’s an equal amount of positive and negatives working for and against Wren. Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson returning to the lineup should keep Wren inside where he belongs, but his snaps may decrease as a result of that. The more Wren plays, the better, so long as he plays at spots that fit his strengths.
From backup, to starter, to backup again, Jordan has experienced a more turbulent start to his career than any other draft pick for Cincinnati this year. Upon rejoining the starting lineup in Week 4 after he missed Week 3 with an injury, Jordan was then benched for Billy Price in Week 6. With four starts under his belt, Jordan is currently one of PFF’s three-lowest graded offensive lineman through Week 9.
It was clear early on once the regular season began, Jordan was not ready to start. The decision to try him out at left guard wasn’t a bad one in hindsight, considering their limited options after Clint Boling’s retirement, but they eventually made the right decision to bench him. It’s just difficult to justify it all because his replacement, Price, has been pretty much just as bad. But it’s better to see what Price is now, since he’s in his second year.
Current stock trend: Down — This seems harsh because Jordan might’ve lost his chance to start over Price altogether, but that’s also indicative of how bad the situation is. Maybe Jordan gets a crack at right guard or center if injuries pop up there. For now, he’s a last resort backup because of the way he’s played.
Williams has only been active for four games thus far and has played in three of them. After making a quick appearance in Week 6, he’s logged 26 special teams snaps over the previous two games. With the roster becoming healthier by the day, odds are Williams will return to the inactives list, but it was nice to get his legs wet.
Current stock trend: No change — Being the third-string running back on the worst rushing offense in the NFL, the opportunity for Williams to succeed has not been high. His special teams snaps gave him slight experience, but it’s not like they were foreshadowing to a future role. Williams’ role hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the season, thus no change in stock.
The only other rookie starter from this season was the undrafted darling that stole our hearts in the preseason. Willis’ fall from grace was pretty abrupt considering how meteoric his rise up the depth chart was, and considering it’s helped lead to the re-emergence of Auden Tate, we can’t complain too much.
Willis was a starting receiver along with Tyler Boyd and John Ross III up until Week 3 when he was benched. In his two starts, he caught four passes for a total of 36 yards on eight targets and 78 routes run. The change to Tate has paid off, relatively speaking, and Willis’ time on the bench didn’t last long. He was cut after Week 7 and subsequently added to the practice squad, where’s he been ever since.
With A.J. Green coming back and possibly Ross after that, don’t expect Willis to get promoted back to the active roster.
Current stock trend: Down — Willis has been reduced to a disposable body after asserting himself as a promising contributor. Life comes at you pretty fast, especially when you’re an undrafted rookie.
We of course cannot forget the other undrafted receiver. After spending the first four weeks on the practice squad, Morgan got the call up once Ross was placed on the Reserved/Injured list. His impact as a receiver has not been his claim to fame, but that’s alright. His special teams prowess is what’s worth talking about.
With four games to his name, Morgan is PFF’s 11th-ranked special teamer when looking at just rookies. This is out of 107 qualifying first-year players.
On all four phases of special teams work, Morgan has been exemplary, particularly as a gunner on the punt coverage unit. He’s been a consistent force flying down the field and forcing fair catches or downing punts close to the goal-line.
Current stock trend: Up — If special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons was still looking for his Cody Core replacement, he definitely found it in Morgan. Even with Green’s return imminent, Morgan should continue to be a factor as the team’s fifth receiver and crucial special teams component.
So, what do we make of Dolegala’s situation now? With Dalton benched, does this make Dolegala the No. 2 or is he still going to be rocking street clothes on the sidelines. We don’t really know and we won’t until this Sunday against the Ravens.
Regardless where he stands on the depth chart, if Finley is getting a chance to prove his worth, maybe this bodes well for Dolegala to get the same opportunity later in the season. That’s a big maybe, though.
Current stock trend: ...Up I guess? — Again, we don’t know what Dalton’s benching truly means for Dolegala, it could very well mean nothing. At the same time, it could mean not nothing as well.