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Getting Pharoh Cooper may signal bigger offensive role for Alex Erickson

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With the Bengals signing former Pro Bowl kick returner Pharoh Cooper, Alex Erickson could get an expanded role on offense now.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that the Bengals were absolutely loaded at the wide receiver position in training camp, Zac Taylor played the waiver wire and signed Pharoh Cooper, who was just waived by the Cardinals.

In a corresponding move, the Bengals waived Josh Malone. By Monday, the Bengals had let go of Malone, Cody Core, Ventell Bryant, and Stanley Morgan (even though he was signed to the practice squad).

What does Cooper offer that none of these other wideouts can? All-Pro return ability.

Cooper has 25 catches (he had none in 2018) in 33 career games with the Rams and the Cardinals, so his gifts as a receiver are not what the Bengals were looking for.

In 2017, his best season by far, he averaged 12.5 yards a punt return and a league-leading 27.4 yards per kick return. He was selected to the Pro Bowl and the fist team All Pro.

So what is the plan? Are the Bengals adding a second returner to tag-team with former conference-leading kick returner Alex Erickson? Or is there another plan for Erickson?

While the Bengals had plenty of depth at wide receiver, the top-end talent is a little thin for comfort. The Bengals will start Tyler Boyd, but Damien Willis is starting for the injured A.J. Green and John Ross will have an unknown, albeit “valuable,” role in Week 1. So who do the Bengals lean on?

The preseason starters in Week 1 were Core and Malone, who are now elsewhere. The Bengals will have to choose between Erickson and Auden Tate for the lion’s share of snaps if Ross is unavailable.

Many of us were surprised when Core was released because he had a defined role. He was the first wide receiver off the bench for offense and a special teams gunner and blocker. This could be Erickson’s new job.

In previous years, Erickson was primarily a kick returner who played on offense pretty much only when someone else needed a breather. He had a career high 20 receptions in 2018, but there’s a great chance he could get even more than that in 2018.