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Bengals 2018 Rookie Review

11 rookies took at least one snap for the Bengals in the 2018 season. Here is how all of them played.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The last draft of the Marvin Lewis era was a bit of a roller coaster.

After targeting their biggest need in the first round, they traded back in the second round and ended up acquiring two high-upside defenders in the process. They double downed at a premium position in the fifth round, and selected one of the more prominent names left in the seventh round.

As it is for any team’s draft class after just one season, it’s far too early to make final judgements. But what have they shown in the rookie seasons? What should they be projected to do going forward? Allow this comprehensive review to answer both of those questions.

Billy Price, C (first-round pick, 21st overall)

  • Games played (started): 10 (10)
  • Offensive snaps (%): 558 (55.97%)
  • Special teams snaps (%): 34 (7.52%)

The standard for first-round picks playing their true rookie seasons is pretty low in Cincinnati, so Price topping the number of snaps played by Dre Kirkpatrick (42), Darqueze Dennard (301), Cedric Ogbuehi (75) and John Ross (17) in their rookie seasons combined is a win by itself. Price’s 558 offensive snaps in his true rookie year places him fourth out of the nine first-round picks the Bengals have drafted this decade; considering his foot injury that sidelined him for six games, we should just be thankful we got to see that much of him.

When he was on the field, the product was not first-round worthy. Be it rust from the injury or just his shortcomings from his college tape re-surfacing at the pro level, Price wasn’t exactly an asset of a blocker. His lack of length and core strength got him into trouble against competent a-gap lineman, but his explosion and athleticism in space was a welcome sight after watching four years of Bodine.

Here’s to hoping Price mitigates his issues with refined technique the way Bodine never could, be it at center or guard — pending on where the new coaching staff prefers him.

Jessie Bates, FS (second-round pick, 54th overall)

  • Games played (started): 16 (16)
  • Defensive snaps (%): 1,114 (98.67%)
  • Solo tackles: 73
  • Pass deflections: 7
  • Interceptions: 3
  • Special teams snaps (%): 25 (5.53%)

The second round has been routinely kind to the Bengals in recent memory (sans Margus Hunt and Jake Fisher), and Bates is no exception to this trend. Only fellow safety Shawn Williams played more total snaps than Bates, who played 1,130 to Bates’s 1,129, but Bates topped Williams and all other defenders in snaps played, and for good reason.

At the midpoint of the season, Bates was rightfully part of the rookie of the year discussion due to his ballhawking abilities translating into early season production. As the Bengals’ season began to fall off the rails, so did Bates’ notoriety, but his level of play didn’t diminish whilst the rest of the defense proceeded to implode in front of him.

This defense hasn’t seen a talent like Bates since the prime of Reggie Nelson, and even Nelson may not have the upside of a guy like Bates. The phenom turns 22 this February, and his best football is still yet to come.

Sam Hubbard, DE (third-round pick, 77th overall)

  • Games played (started): 16 (0)
  • Defensive snaps (%): 508 (45%)
  • Solo tackles: 27
  • Sacks: 6
  • Tackles for loss: 7
  • Forced fumbles: 1
  • Special teams snaps (%): 232 (51.33%)
  • Offensive snaps (%): 12 (1.2%)

No rookie for the Bengals had the support system that Hubbard had this past season, and the hometown pass rusher shined in a handful of home games throughout the year. Five of his six sacks came inside Paul Brown Stadium, and his progression as an edge defender was evident at times down the stretch.

But that progression is far from over. Hubbard has acceptable bend to his game, but he’s going to win in one-on-one situations with his hand usage over his athleticism. When tackles got their hands on him early, he was stifled and didn’t showcase the strength or quickness to work back inside.

We may not see a sizable jump in his sack and tackle for loss numbers in 2019, but his goal should be to force more consistent pressure while remaining a stout edge-setter in the run game. He’ll likely never be an elite player, but he’s own his way of being a worthy contributor for years to come.

Malik Jefferson, LB (third-round pick, 78th overall)

  • Games played (started): 12 (0)
  • Defensive snaps (%): 11 (0.97%)
  • Solo tackles: 1
  • Special teams snaps: (%): 215 (47.57%)
  • Solo tackles: 4

There always seemed to be at least one top-100 pick for the Bengals that somehow never sees the field in their rookie season for no good reason. Jefferson was 2018’s poster child of that trend, and he has the most to gain out of this draft class entering 2019.

Jefferson had the elite athleticism and production production coming out of a power five program, and he was also a 21-year-old for most of the season. The reason why he lasted until the third round is because he had only one year of worthy tape. He was raw, plain and simple. If that’s the reason why he saw less snaps than games played, it’s not a good enough reason considering how those that played in front of him performed. But what’s done is done.

The Bengals have major decisions to make at the linebacker position this offseason, but Jefferson should be given a fair shot to play significant snaps in his sophomore season.

Mark Walton (fourth-round pick, 112th overall)

  • Games played (started): 14 (0)
  • Offensive snaps (%): 93 (9.33%)
  • Rushing attempts: 14
  • Rushing yards: 34
  • Receptions (targets): 5 (8)
  • Receiving yards: 41
  • Special teams snaps (%): 137 (30.31%)
  • Solo tackles: 3

Through three rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Bengals had yet to take an offensive tackle. Entering day three of the draft, with a few decent options left on the board, many thought they were bound to take one. Instead, they took a running back because of his proficiency on special teams.

Simple logic told us from the start that Walton would not have many opportunities to touch the ball this past season. When Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard went down with their respective injuries in the early portion of the season, Walton saw was lightly featured in the offense, but limited touches and production came from it. Once Mixon and Bernard came back, Walton essentially disappeared to special teams.

Being a special teamer is better than getting cut, which could be a possibility for Walton with how his offseason is going. After getting arrested for marijuana possession in January, Walton was later arrested for battery in an altercation with a women just a few weeks later. The outlook on his playing career is even more unclear than when the season ended.

Davontae Harris (fifth-round pick, 151st overall)

  • Games played (started): 3 (0)
  • Special teams snaps (%): 15 (3.32%)
  • Solo tackles: 1

Harris’ season was almost over before it began when he injured his knee in the second week of the preseason. On the day the Bengals’ roster needed to be finalized, Harris was originally placed on the final roster so he could be eligible to get the IR-return designation after eight weeks.

Sure enough, the Bengals used the IR-return designation on Harris came after right before the deadline and three weeks later he was counted on the active roster. He appeared in three of Cincinnati’s final four games, and only played special teams.

This was essentially a lost season for Harris, but the expectations for him were low to begin with. His transition from Illinois State to the NFL was a big leap to take already, but not playing a single snap on defense didn’t help him. The potential is still there, though, and he’ll be a name to remember when training camp begins in the summer.

Darius Phillips, CB (fifth-round pick, 170th overall)

  • Games played (started): 16 (0)
  • Snaps (%): 232 (20.55%)
  • Solo tackles: 18
  • Pass deflections: 2
  • Forced fumbles: 1
  • Special teams snaps (%): 125 (27.65%)
  • Solo tackles: 1

Phillips was drafted right after Harris, but had a better chance of making the roster from the beginning because of his ability as a kick returner. After giving him nine total kickoff and punt returns in the preseason, Phillips saw just three punts with him back to return; he fair caught one of them, and ran the other two for a total of 24 yards.

Very quickly did the Bengals phase Phillips out of returning duties and strictly as a special teamer and a backup to nickel cornerback Darqueze Dennard. When Dennard injured his shoulder against the Steelers in Week 6, Phillips was inserted as a key contributor in his role, where he fared relatively well. He had his occasional lapses but was a sound tackler in space and minimized big plays in coverage downfield.

With Dennard entering free agency, Phillips could be primed to take his spot for good in 2019. If Dennard returns, you could do far worse as a backup. Phillips looks like he could become best fifth-round pick the Bengals have had in a while (looking at you Christian Westerman).

Auden Tate, WR (seventh-round pick, 253rd overall)

  • Games played (started): 7 (0)
  • Offensive snaps (%): 77 (7.72%)
  • Receptions (targets): 4 (12)
  • Receiving yards: 35
  • Special teams snaps (%): 43 (9.51%)
  • Solo tackles: 2

If players were deemed busts by their fan’s perception, Tate would be one of the biggest busts of the year (only half-kidding). The truth in the matter was, right or wrong, Tate was never a lock to make the roster and even if he did, he wasn’t likely to make much an impact as a receiver. Tate was even cut in the middle of the season, only to be signed back on to the practice squad hours later.

When A.J. Green started missing time, Tate was given the chance to prove himself. Unfortunately, his true opportunities came just from weeks 12 and 17, when he played 32 and 33 offensive snaps, respectively. He caught three passes for 30 yards in those two games.

In a new offense, with maybe even a new quarterback, Tate could find himself like he did at Florida State. As of now, he remains an unathletic receiver who still needs major work with his route running. The expectations surrounding him should remain modest.

Jordan Franks, TE (undrafted free agent)

  • Games played (started): 6 (0)
  • Offensive snaps (%): 17 (1.71%)
  • Receptions (targets): 2 (3)
  • Receiving yards: 37
  • Special teams snaps (%): 103 (22.79%)
  • Solo tackles: 1

One of two college free agents originally signed by the Bengals in the spring to play in the regular season, Franks became a last resort when the offense was hit with several injuries at the tight end position. He appeared in five games, but was primarily used on special teams. His athletic profile makes him an intriguing piece going forward as the tight end position could see a major transformation this offseason with Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft C.J. Uzomah and Matt Lengel all becoming free agents.

Niles Scott, NT (undrafted free agent)

  • Games played (started): 6 (0)
  • Defensive snaps (%): 46 (4.07%)
  • Solo tackles: 4
  • Special teams snaps (%): 1 (0.22%)

Tight end wasn’t the only position to become decimated from injury. The defensive tackle position saw a few players go down for the season for Cincinnati, and they had to look for help on the market on a couple occasions. Scott was signed off the Denver Broncos’ practice squad in late November and appeared in the Bengals’ final six games. Backing up Andrew Billings at nose tackle, Scott flashes solid run-stopping ability in his limited playing time. He should be in the mix this offseason to make a run for the roster.

Chris Worley, LB (undrafted free agent)

  • Games played (started): 2 (0)
  • Special teams snaps (%): 37 (8.19%)
  • Solo tackles: 1

The third rookie from Ohio State to play for the Bengals this year, Worley was on the practice squad up until Week 16 when he was called up when Jordan Evans became destined to finish the season on injured reserve. He did make some noise in the preseason, enough for the team to keep him around for the rest of the year, but he figures to be a long-term backup. When the linebacker position sees the rebuild it so desperately needs, he should be given a chance to show why he deserves to stick around.

Draft picks that didn’t play

Andrew Brown, DT (fifth-round pick, 158th overall): After dealing with a hamstring injury for most of training camp, Brown’s season was very much in jeopardy. 73 snaps in the final two weeks of the preseason were not enough for him to earn a roster spot, but he was signed on to the practice squad. Brown was then placed on the practice squad/injured list in November after suffering a hand injury. The Bengals have since signed him to a futures contract, so he’ll be back this offseason.

Logan Woodside, QB (seventh-round pick, 249th overall: Woodside’s case was a peculiar one last summer when he wasn’t given any practice reps until well into training camp. This could’ve been for disciplinary reasons as he was arrested for a DUI several weeks prior, but it seemed like he was destined for the practice squad from the moment he was drafted. The Bengals never got the chance to put Woodside there after they cut him because the Tennessee Titans signed him to theirs. Now, Woodside is the starting quarterback for the AAF’s San Antonio Commanders.

Rod Taylor, OG (seventh-round pick, 252nd overall): Taylor’s career with the Bengals couldn’t have started any worse as he went down with a torn ACL in the team’s first training camp practice and was later placed on injured reserve. Hopefully he’ll be fully recovered by the time OTAs start up this spring so he can compete for a roster spot.