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Jake Browning putting his best foot forward for the Bengals

Is his preseason performance enough to make the final roster and even be Joe Burrow’s backup?

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals Albert Cesare-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have the benefit of having “the guy” at the quarterback position. Despite enduring preseasons with a global pandemic, recovering from a devastating knee injury and an appendectomy, Joe Burrow is around the top of most NFL quarterback lists in just his third season.

Going into 2022, it would seem that veteran Brandon Allen once again had a major advantage in securing the backup quarterback spot. His relationship with Burrow, as well as his familiarity with Zac Taylor and the system seemingly gave him the upper hand.

With Burrow sitting out after rupturing his appendix, Allen was taking first-team reps. In the preseason, he played careful football, limiting big chances and working to complete a high volume of passes to other backup players in which he hasn’t had the opportunity to garner a lot of chemistry.

In the three preseason games, the quarterbacks behind Allen showed their stuff as well. Drew Plitt was winging around the field, but he was let go in the team’s effort to get to 80 players on the roster earlier last week.

Jake Browning was playing a little bit of “Allen ball” in the first stages of the preseason, but took another eyebrow-raising step on Saturday night versus the Rams. Browning completed 19 passes on 24 attempts (79% completion rate) for 173 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions and zero sacks netted.

His 110.6 rating showed his outstanding work, as he often displayed the Burrow-espque ability to elude pressure and make throws on the run. Against Los Angeles, he hit undrafted rookie free agent tight end Justin Rigg on a nice throw for the decisive touchdown in the contest.

In the 2022 preseason, Browning has finished with a stat line of 42-for-64 (66% completion rate) 452 yards (150.7 yards per game), one touchdown pass, zero interceptions, one lost fumble (three total) and two sacks amassed against him. His worst outing was the opener against the Cardinals and he’s steadily shown improvement.

He’s also shown the ability to net first downs with his legs this preseason. Browning had 33 yards rushing, which, as we saw in the postseason last year, can be a very valuable asset to wins.

For those unfamiliar with Browning’s pre-Bengals career, he spent time with the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 2019-2021. He spent last year on the Bengals’ practice squad.

After his sophomore season with the Washington Huskies, Browning was looking like the next big thing headed to the NFL. He finished that season with 43 touchdowns versus just nine interceptions and 3,430 yards en route to a 12-2 finish.

However once John Ross (2017 draft) and Dante Pettis (2018 draft) left the program, Browning’s numbers began to decline dramatically. In fact, in his final two years at Washington, Browning combined to throw just 35 touchdowns, compared to that gaudy number in 2016.

Regardless, Browning has been showing some nice growth this preseason with the Bengals. Allen has been his usual, steady self, but Browning has brought some additional excitement.

But, what does it mean for Browning, Allen and the Bengals’ roster?

Last year, Cincinnati only kept two active quarterbacks on the roster, with Browning hanging on the practice squad. The previous year was a bit of a roster anomaly with Burrow tearing ligaments in his knee, and the 2019 season also had just two quarterbacks on the active roster in Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley.

With heavy competition at the offensive and defensive lines, as well as in the secondary, it’s likely the Bengals keep two quarterbacks once again. Could Browning usurp Allen for a final roster spot? Or, will his preseason performance force the team to keep three signal-callers?

Every year at this time, fans clamor for preseason heroes to remain on the roster for fear that they’ll never clear waivers to get to the practice squad. While that sentiment largely gets proven incorrect, quarterbacks are always in high demand in the NFL.

Right now, Browning seems to have the inside track for at least a practice squad spot with the team. But, as it always goes this time of year, Cincinnati runs the risk of losing him on the waiver wire.

There are benefits in sticking with “the devil you know”. The aforementioned familiarity and, in the case of the Bengals, they’ve seen Allen and an imperfect roster win regular-season NFL games.

However, being aware of the height of the ceiling with certain players also keeps the antennas perked. We’ve seen Allen throw touchdowns to Tee Higgins and other starters in the past, but how would Browning fare with starters, if he had to be called upon?

The Bengals have been in the enviable and recently-unfamiliar position of needing to shore up backup and rotational roles. There are a number of those backup spots and particular players that are receiving more attention than they would have garnered in recent seasons.

Regardless, Browning has done all he can to potentially make the roster, or the practice squad. His performance against the Rams should give the Bengals’ brain trust a lot to think about this weekend.