The longest year of their lives are only halfway over, but making it this far as an NFL rookie is an insane accomplishment. The transitions only get crazier as the year progresses. Going from the college game to a stressful pre-draft process, and then to an NFL offseason that goes 1000 miles per hour. And after all of that, there’s still the gauntlet of an NFL season ahead of them.
The Cincinnati Bengals appear to have picked a good group of rookies. Training camp and preseason ball have allowed us to gauge where the first-year players are at, and with Week 1 on the doorstep, we have a sense of what to expect from them. Let’s start with the draftees.
Role: First defensive back off the bench
It was a near-perfect preseason for the 31st overall pick. Hill played almost every position in the defensive backfield while Jessie Bates III was away and the rest of the starters watched from the sidelines. He showed how his instincts can compound with his explosion to make impactful plays against the pass. That works as a deep safety, an overhang defender, and a blitzer from the slot.
Hill will undoubtedly be asked to play all of those roles during the season, which not only enhances his value, but makes the selection an even better one in hindsight. Hill was billed as the best player available from where the Bengals were positioned in the draft, but there was a conversation regarding what value he’d bring with Bates and Vonn Bell occupying starting gigs. Hill confirming his versatile skillset is great news for his drafting being wise from both a long-term and short-term perspective.
Role: Injured Reserve to return
The rookie many assumed would end up starting this year may have to wait until 2023 for that chance. Taylor-Britt suffered a core injury in the days leading up to the team’s first preseason game and hasn’t practiced since. His ending up on I.R. was of little surprise, and while it’s uncertain how long he’ll need to fully recover, it’s not a season-ending injury by any means. Season-derailing? Now that’s another thing entirely.
By the time Taylor-Britt is 100%, half the season could be over. And even if he is able to play, why would defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo restart a competition at cornerback that likely never existed anyways? Taylor-Britt is Eli Apple’s backup at best this year.
Role: Reserve 3-technique
There weren’t a ton of takeaways for Carter’s offseason. He flashed at camp, made some positive plays in the preseason, and solidified his role behind B.J. Hill. That was the expectation, and he met it. With 10 defensive lineman on the roster, Carter will be one of the seven or eight active on game days because of the depth he provides.
What remains to be seen is the impact Carter can make as a pass-rusher. While he was mostly stout against the run in August, his positive reps against the pass where far and few between. His ongoing development there is why you might only see him rotate in with Hill on early downs throughout the season. Tracking his third-down participation will be interesting.
Role: Starting left guard
The most popular first-year player not named Dax Hill is the lone starter of the rookie class. Volson ran with the opportunity at left guard and didn’t look back, and although he’s far from a high-quality starter, he’s their best option right now.
Volson’s preseason featured performances that instilled belief in where he’s at, and where he can go from here. You got the sense that while the speed of the game is still taking him by surprise, his ability to react and re-anchor was there. In the run game, he’s even further along mentally from what we saw in three exhibitions. His current base is high enough for the coaches to trust him out of the gate, and to receive coaching for development to ensue. There will undoubtedly be rough moments early on, but that just comes with the territory.
Role: Injured Reserve (to return?)
It’s easy to fly under the radar as a fifth-round pick. Anderson wasn’t put under the spotlight like his teammate Hill last month, but he performed worthy of one. He looks the part of a disciplined-yet-aggressive downhill safety with some range to boot. Physically, there’s some room to grow as he puts on NFL strength, and he will have the time to do so.
For now, Anderson is the fifth safety on the roster with a hamstring injury. His time on I.R. could be as little as a month, or it could be a lot longer. The team has a limited number of I.R. activations, and they have four active players on the list right now. So long as the top four safeties remain healthy, Cincinnati might not need Anderson to play much this year. He’ll have all the time he needs to get right.
Role: Reserve left edge defender
August started much better for Gunter than it ended, but the seventh-round pick still made a good enough impression to crack the initial roster. The player he was in college is the same player he is in the NFL: A forceful power rusher with great closing speed. That style of play sparked highlights in camp and the beginning of the preseason.
There’s plenty to like about Gunter, but he’s got five edge defenders in front of him, all of whom are further along than him. He needs seasoning as a rusher, which is why he won’t be active unless injuries occur.
Allan George received the thrill of making a 53-man roster and the harsh reality of getting cut in a span of five days. He definitely earned a roster spot after showing out at cornerback during the preseason, and the defense’s lack of depth there gave him a window to seize. Ultimately, the team chose to go light at cornerback and stash George on the practice squad after waiving him. It would not be surprising to see him elevated this week.
Kwamie Lassiter II entered training camp as the main competitor to Trent Taylor at punt returner. Lassiter’s longest of three punt returns in the preseason went for four yards. Not exactly the most riveting case. It was his work as a receiver that kept him in the roster conversation, but if Kendric Pryor couldn’t make it through cuts, Lassiter didn’t stand much of a chance. The Bengals were glad Lassiter cleared waivers when Pryor didn’t.
Devin Cochran arguably had the cleanest preseason out of any Bengals offensive linemen. It definitely helped that he played just one position (right tackle) throughout the month. Now, he’ll likely fill in on both sides of the center on the practice squad.
Cal Adomitis did about as well as a rookie long snapper could while going up against Clark Harris’ luscious locks. He should feel no shame ending up on the practice squad.
Yusuf Corker is one of the newest additions to the Bengals as he filled on the final practice squad spots after final cuts. The rookie safety out of Kentucky had a solid first preseason for the New York Giants, including a 25-snap performance against the Bengals. You can safely assume that game caught Cincinnati’s eyes.
Ben Brown would’ve been a practice squad candidate had he stayed healthy. A biceps injury cost him most of his final year at Ole Miss, and the same injury has him on season-ending I.R. We’ll see him next year. Desmond Noel also landed on season-ending I.R. after playing two preseason games.