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Bengals roster projection: Summer vacation edition

Here’s our first roster projection for the 2021 Bengals.

Bengals.com

A whole month stands between us and the Cincinnati Bengals kicking off training camp.

It is during this yearly down time that we look ahead at a season’s worth of unknowns. And after tracking a few weeks of offseason workouts, it’s time to rollout our first Week 1 roster projection of the Summer.

Quarterbacks (2)

  • Joe Burrow
  • Brandon Allen

Any doubt regarding Joe Burrow not being ready for the season opener has been erased within the last month. If Burrow reaches 100% before September arrives, there’s no need to even think about either Kyle Shurmur or Eric Dungey making it on as the third quarterback. One of them will likely stick around on the practice squad.

Running backs (4)

  • Joe Mixon
  • Samaje Perine
  • Chris Evans
  • Pooka Williams Jr.

This is Joe Mixon’s season to truly take off. Giovani Bernard is gone, and while Samaje Perine is still here, all signs are pointing towards Mixon taking on more work in the passing game.

Rookies Chris Evans and Pooka Williams Jr. are listed as running backs, but their collective impact might be mostly as receivers. Evans has natural pass-catching ability and won’t need to carry the ball very much with Mixon and Perine ahead of him on the depth chart. Williams is built like a slot receiver and will have chances to win a spot as the team’s punt returner. Even if he loses that battle, he can build a good case to make the team purely as an all-purpose flex player.

Wide receivers (6)

  • Ja’Marr Chase
  • Tee Higgins
  • Tyler Boyd
  • Auden Tate
  • Trent Taylor
  • Mike Thomas

The top four here are set in stone. Below Auden Tate is where the action is.

Mike Thomas vs. Stanley Morgan Jr. could be interesting. Both are special teams veterans who don’t have a lot of value as pure receivers, which is why there may only be room enough for one of them. Trent Taylor is the current favorite to replace Alex Erickson at backup slot receiver and punt returner.

A team that uses three receivers on nearly every down needs quality depth at the position, so there’s an argument to keep seven here. But holding onto both Evans and Williams creates a different path. The sum of their receiving abilities can equate to a seventh receiver.

Tight ends (3)

  • C.J. Uzomah
  • Drew Sample
  • Thaddeus Moss

A competition between Mason Schreck and Thaddeus Moss won’t be too exciting, but it will represent the only potential drama at the tight end position. Schreck has been with the team since 2017 and still has yet to catch a regular season pass. Moss has his history with Burrow, and that’s enough right now for us to push him ahead of Schreck. He’ll need to solidify himself on special teams to lock in his spot.

A fourth player will surely be kept on the practice squad, as one of Mitchell Wilcox, Pro Wells, or even Cheyenne O’Grady won’t be attracting much attention from the rest of the league.

Offensive linemen (10)

  • Jonah Williams
  • Quinton Spain
  • Trey Hopkins
  • Jackson Carman
  • Riley Reiff
  • Fred Johnson
  • Xavier Su’a-Filo
  • Billy Price
  • Michael Jordan
  • D’Ante Smith

Hakeem Adeniji’s torn pectoral might be what allows the Bengals to keep all 10 of their latest draft picks. The key word: Might.

The battles to watch for in camp will take place inside the tackles. Jackson Carman is likely going to beat out Quinton Spain or Xavier Su’a-Filo for one of the guard spots, and since Spain was getting first-team reps at left guard during OTAs, Su’a-Filo’s might become expendable to make room for younger options. That said, his salary isn’t too big to keep him as the first guard off the bench. Michael Jordan showing much-needed improvement is his only chance of staying on as a reserve.

Trey Hopkins’ recovery is another variable to account for. Billy Price is the starter until Hopkins comes back, which means Trey Hill has a shot to stay on as the backup center if Hopkins’ recovery takes longer than expected. He might have to be stashed on the practice squad in all likelihood.

Defensive linemen (10)

  • Sam Hubbard
  • D.J. Reader
  • Larry Ogunjobi
  • Trey Hendrickson
  • Joseph Ossai
  • Mike Daniels
  • Cameron Sample
  • Khalid Kareem
  • Tyler Shelvin
  • Renell Wren

Devastation hit the Bengals’ defensive line last year. Geno Atkins was never healthy, Carlos Dunlap forced his way out of town, and depth at defensive tackle reached an all-time low thanks to several injuries before and during the season.

Six new additions via free agency and the draft have helped reshape this group. Larry Ogunjobi replaces Atkins at 3-technique, and Trey Hendrickson replaces Carl Lawson at defensive end. That same urgency to bolster depth will likely be represented during final cuts. Josh Tupou will surely be given reps to earn back a roster spot after opting out, but with Renell Wren back in the picture and Tyler Shelvin’s promise, he very well could end up on the outside looking in. The same can be said for seventh-round pick Wyatt Hubert, who may be the final cut to get the roster down to 53 names.

10 is a bit on the heavy side, but defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo should be willing to accept two or three game day inactives for the sake of securing decent depth after witnessing last year’s travesties.

Linebackers (5)

  • Logan Wilson
  • Germaine Pratt
  • Akeem Davis-Gaither
  • Jordan Evans
  • Markus Bailey

Not much was done to enhance this position because there seems to be optimism in the incumbents improving. Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt are the projected starters, but the other three will have chances to contribute, especially when teams like the Baltimore Ravens force them to play with three backers for most of the game.

Akeem Davis-Gaither got those opportunities last year and should get more this season. Jordan Evans will continue being a special teams savant, and Markus Bailey remains an ideal fifth guy to round out the group. No further action is required.

Cornerbacks (6)

  • Trae Waynes
  • Chidobe Awuzie
  • Mike Hilton
  • Darius Phillips
  • Eli Apple
  • Tony Brown

The best backup on the entire team might be Darius Phillips, and a backup is all he’ll be unless injuries attack the position again. His chances of cracking the starting lineup were wiped out when Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton were signed. It’s unfortunate for Phillips, but having him as the first cornerback off the bench is a blessing from the team’s perspective.

Eli Apple should have a good shot joining Phillips behind the starters considering his familiarity with Anarumo. Tony Brown is the safest bet to round out the group, but that sixth spot should be wide open for the entirety of training camp and the preseason.

Safeties (4)

  • Jessie Bates III
  • Vonn Bell
  • Ricardo Allen
  • Brandon Wilson

Pretty straight forward here. Allen, the experienced former starter with leadership all over his resume, is an ideal Shawn Williams replacement. Brandon Wilson was re-signed to continue taking back kickoffs and filling in on defense every now and then. Jessie Bates’ extension is soon to come, and Vonn Bell gets two more chances to meet JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle. Keeping a fifth safety doesn’t seem necessary.

Specialists (3)

  • Clark Harris
  • Kevin Huber
  • Evan McPherson

There will be a “competition” between Evan McPherson and Austin Siebert, but the real battle might be between Kevin Huber and Drue Chrisman at punter. Huber re-signed for a year, but Chrisman is under contract for three years as an undrafted free agent.

Eventually, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons will need to replace the soon-to-be 36-year old Huber, and Chrisman is the first real punter they’ve carried alongside Huber into training camp. Just something to think about for a month.