The Cincinnati Bengals are in a very interesting situation heading into the 2018 season. At many positions, the team is both young and deep, but other critical ones are needing a new influx of talent this offseason.
With a more aggressive approach in free agency, the spots they will be looking to address in the NFL Draft are becoming more and more apparent. However, there are some fringe players and veterans looking to latch onto significant roles, in one form or another, and they could find a productive niche.
Here are five players to keep an eye on for possible contributions, despite preconceived notions and what has yet to transpire in the draft.
Josh Malone, wide receiver: Despite some disparity given from recent Pro Football Focus WAR scores from Malone in his rookie year, there is promise. He’s the very definition of a “height/weight/speed guy” and flashed a little bit as a rookie with a 25-yard touchdown catch in 2017.
However, despite all of the promise, Malone is pegged to be the fourth or fifth receiver in 2018 behind A.J. Green, John Ross and Brandon LaFell—and that’s not even counting the possibility of the team adding another weapon in this year’s draft class.
Throw in Giovani Bernard, Joe Mixon and Tyler Eifert as additional weapons, and we can see how Malone could easily get lost in the shuffle. Heck, even return man Alex Erickson had as many touchdown grabs as Malone last year.
Still, there are a few things pointing to Malone being a contributor in the 2018 Bengals offense. Bill Lazor is in his second year as the team’s offensive coordinator and he is looking to rekindle the offensive explosiveness of the 2005 and 2015 squads. Cincinnati is also looking to distribute the ball more and are in the midst of a revamping of the offensive line.
At 6’3”, Malone could become an interesting red zone option for Andy Dalton at the very least.
Mason Schreck, tight end: Another guy who is down the totem pole in his position on offense and is entering his second season could end up making an impact. On special teams, Schreck could be a contributor in a variety of ways.
If we’re talking on offense though, it’s more of an issue of opportunity. While everyone hopes Eifert is the guy who reverts back to 2015 form, both he and C.J. Uzomah have had their share of injuries in their respective careers.
Should those injury issues arise again in 2018 and Schreck avoids the ones who hit him last year, he could be a necessary commodity on offense. And, if those lauded pass-catching skills that brought him to Cincinnati last year hold up, he could be a valued security blanket for Dalton.
Christian Westerman, offensive lineman: What the Bengals’ starters will look like on the offensive line from right tackle to center this year is anybody’s guess. The prevailing belief is that the team is going to take a small handful of linemen in this year’s draft to remedy the issues that have plagued them over the past couple of seasons.
When Cincinnati selected Westerman in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, many believed he was a second-round talent in whom the Bengals got a steal. There was also talk of Westerman being able to play both guard and center, if needed.
With both the center and right guard spots open this year, there is a possibility that the team looks in-house for replacements. When injuries hit at the end of the year, replacements like Westerman and Alex Redmond came in and the offense performed at a higher level.
Could the Bengals look at different areas in the draft and have confidence in a guy like Westerman to anchor one of the open spots on the line?
Bobby Hart, offensive tackle: Before the Bengals made a splash trade for Cordy Glenn, they added Hart, who fizzled out with the Giants. Common sense tells us that he’s a fringe roster guy who will have to grind for a spot, based on some of his tape and New York letting him walk.
Still, for some of the same reasons mentioned above and for Hart’s massive physical profile (6’5”, 336 pounds), he fits the Bengals’ mold. With his 21 starts over the past three years, he might be a short-term band-aid, especially if the team decides to address the interior of the line in the draft.
He’ll probably be in a fight at right tackle with Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, but given the issues from those two former high picks, he could climb into the starting picture or in “jumbo packages”.
Brandon Wilson, safety: Last year, the Bengals made one of those oh-so-rare moves up in the draft for the versatile University of Houston defender. He essentially had zero impact, racking up just five tackles after being inactive and/or on the practice squad for most of the season.
Still, the reason the Bengals liked Wilson coming out of college was his immense versatility. After all, this is a guy who scored touchdowns four different ways (fumble recovery, interception, kickoff return and rushing) while with the Cougars.
Wilson’s immediate path to contributing looks to be in filling the immense shoes left by Cedric Peerman on special teams. It doesn’t appear that Peerman will be back, so Wilson may be one of the team’s gunners. There is also a little bit of unsettlement in the return game, as Erickson had a pedestrian season and Adam Jones not currently being with the club.
It’s highly unlikely that the Bengals will use Wilson on offense, but he may be useful as a utility player on defense. It seems as if Teryl Austin wants to use more three safety looks this year and if they don’t end up grabbing a new one, Wilson could be in the mix for that role in 2018.