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Bengals Week 18 rookie stock report: Who will be a factor in the postseason?

Ja’Marr Chase is riding hot into the playoffs, but will Jackson Carman get another shot before next season?

NFL: JAN 09 Bengals at Browns Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

They were rookies during the regular season, but the playoffs tend to be a natural equalizer if you’ve never been here before.

Cincinnati’s rookie class of 2021 becomes the first since 2015 to jump right into the postseason following their first year-long grind. Several of them have been key contributors at some point during this chaotic year, but whether or not they’ll be depended on now is mostly out of their control.

Before the postseason kicks off with Bengals vs. Raiders, let’s check in on Cincinnati’s rookie class and project what kind of an impact they’ll make in a potential playoff run.

Ja’Marr Chase

Yeah, he might make a play or two.

Chase didn’t have to break Chad Johnson’s single-season franchise record for receiving yards to let everyone know he’s become a complete receiver. There is something to be said about getting hot for the playoffs, and Chase is the personification of that. He’s figured out how to win in multiple ways, and that poses problems for the Raiders and other potential playoff opponents.

Going back to that first Raiders game, Chase was held to just three catches for 32 yards on six targets. Las Vegas did their best to stay on top of him in coverage and made his life difficult when he got downfield. They ultimately couldn’t stop him from getting open in the end zone and scoring a fourth-quarter touchdown, but it was far from Chase’s best outing.

The Bengals have since learned how to involve Chase out of the slot, and the Raiders will have to be prepared for that. That added dimension has made Chase a reliable producer regardless of the attention he draws from the backend of coverages. The Raiders’ secondary will attempt to be the only one he’ll have to deal with this month.

Jackson Carman

Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Monday that the starting guards will not change for Saturday. This means, despite a clean and pressure-less game against the Browns, Carman will remain on the sidelines on Saturday as the first guard off the bench.

The only thing that could change that is Quinton Spain suffering a setback with his ankle injury. One thing can change that. Head coach Zac Taylor is expecting Spain to be fine, and sure enough, the veteran did practice on Tuesday. Don’t celebrate too early, though. Riley Reiff’s ankle was declared good enough to play through as well before the team placed him on Injured Reserve. You just never really know until you know with that injury.

It’s not just Spain dealing with injury. Hakeem Adeniji has been dealing with a knee injury since Week 15. He played 37 snaps in Cleveland before he limped off the field with what looked like the same injury.

Health is a factor too often overlooked in the postseason, and the Bengals have it basically everywhere except the offensive line. Spain and Adeniji should be fine to play this weekend, but Carman will be on call in case the worst occurs.

Cam Sample

Speaking of injuries, Sample has returned to practice this week. Not having the rookie defensive end paved the way for Wyatt Ray to play 63 snaps over the last two weeks. Noah Spence even had to be elevated off the practice squad for a game, but that was due to other injuries at the position as well.

In truth, the difference between Ray and Sample right now is minimal. You could make the argument that Ray is the better option after strip-sacking Case Keenum this past Sunday. If we were to order the three reserve defensive ends in a single column in terms of depth, both would be under Khalid Kareem anyways. We’ll see how the rotation shakes out between the two of them now that Sample is back.

Tyler Shelvin

If Week 18 was Shelvin’s audition to play more often in the playoffs, then it looks like it’s on to next season. The rookie did not look the part of a quality nose tackle in his 42 snaps in Cleveland. It’s a shame too since Josh Tupou suffered a knee injury that will likely keep him out of Saturday’s game.

Here’s the difference experience can create in this league. Shelvin has been on the active roster all year, awaiting opportunities to play as a fourth-round draft pick with four years on his contract. The first time he’s called on to play a meaningful role, he produces a 29.8 grade, per Pro Football Focus. Now look at veteran Mike Daniels, who’s been working on the practice squad the entire year. Daniels gets the same opportunity and plays 48 quality snaps (69.5 grade). Both players have gotten the same amount of practice time, yet one was significantly more prepared than other when given the chance.

Tupou seems to be out for most of the postseason, and Daniels should get his snaps over Shelvin. They could elevate Daniels every week they’re alive in the playoffs, or just secure him a roster spot by removing Tupou or someone else. Whatever the case may be, the rookie Shelvin likely got demoted by Daniels.

D’Ante Smith

We got to see Smith play as an actual offensive lineman Sunday when he got the start at left tackle, in which he allowed a sack to Myles Garrett. Hardly an inexcusable act, but it is what it is.

The difference between Shelvin and Smith is the team isn’t needing to count on Smith anytime soon. There isn’t some rotational spot along the offensive line that Smith needs to fill in now. He’ll likely be inactive Saturday, and Fred Johnson will resume duties as the backup swing tackle.

Further injuries to the o-line are the only way we see Smith again until the offseason.

Evan McPherson

Very rarely do kickers get weeks off, but McPherson earned his. The rookie, nursing a minor groin injury, watched from the sidelines Sunday as Elliott Fry made the most of his opportunity. Fry has since reverted back to the practice squad, and McPherson is getting right now that the bright lights are here.

McPherson has had ample clutch moments in his first 16 games. As his head coach likes to say, he’s answered the bell, regardless of the situation. Here’s a new challenge for McPherson: The cold.

The Alabama native and Florida alum has kicked in mostly warm weather his entire life. It was right around freezing when the Kansas City Chiefs came into town two Sundays ago, and it will be freezing all afternoon when the Raiders roll in. It’s not an exaggeration to say Saturday will be the coldest the 22-year old has ever been kicking. Paired with a recovering groin, McPherson’s range will be put to the biggest test of his life.

Trey Hill

Trey Hopkins’ return to an expected level of play and continued health kept Hill on the bench for the past month. Hill got the nod in Cleveland and had to make a position change to right guard due to Adeniji’s mid-game injury. Keaton Sutherland took over at center while Hill returned to right guard for the first time since Week 8.

Like Carman, Hill will be one of the first linemen off the bench should anything happens.

Chris Evans

Running behind an offensive line composed of mostly backups, Evans averaged five yards a pop on a season-high seven carries against the Browns. The rookie split reps with Trayveon Williams while Samaje Perine got the day off and Joe Mixon rested on the COVID list.

Evans will maintain his role as the third-string back behind Mixon and Perine, and at least this weekend, don’t expect to see much of him on offense.