A few years back, I spearheaded a new weekly award for Cincy Jungle known as the Unsung Hero of the Week. In any given football game, there are a group of contributors who aid the team that go beyond some of the most recognized players. It's in that spirit that the award was formed, usually to honor Bengals players who get overshadowed at the skill positions, are overlooked because they work in the trenches, are special teams players or play well as a substitute in the wake of injury.
We've polled our contributors once again for another installment of The CJ's and they gave us a number of good options. Check out the nominations and cast your vote for the winner!
Cody Tewmey: Giovani Bernard, as he took a bit of a backseat to Jeremy Hill in 2015.
Alberto Luque (AKA muertasdeatenas): This is always hard. I've already made a case for Cedric Peerman. Domata Peko, after a very bad 2014 season was far better this year, recording career-high five sacks (previous best was three) and looked active on almost every play he was on the field. However, Leon Hall showed again why he's one of the top slot cornerbacks in the NFL, so if I had to pick one from that list, I'd say Hall.
Alex Healey: Coming into the season, I felt that George Iloka would be one of the best players on defense and was an absolute top of the list as a must re-sign type of guy. In the time that he missed, Shawn Williams didn't just fill in admirably, he made me feel indifferent about the possibility of re-signing Iloka. If, for some reason, the Bengals need to choose among players they want to re-sign because of cap concerns, I'll sleep just fine knowing that Shawn Williams can do everything that Iloka does, and maybe even a little bit more.
Kyle Phelps: You've got to give Kevin Zeitler a lot of credit this year. Despite some of the struggles of the offensive line allowing a lot of pressure (although, not a lot of sacks) on the quarterback position this year, and a running game that simply could not get going to matter how hard the runners tried, Kevin Zeitler deserves more credit than he has received. You can look at the struggles of players like Russell Bodine and Andre Smith to point out just why the Bengals' offensive line was so lackluster at times this season, and then there's a ton of penalties and sloppy plays from guys like Andrew Whitworth and Clint Boling.
Zeitler wasn't perfect, but he played well enough that he deserved a Pro Bowl nod. He was the most consistent player on the offensive line and didn't constantly take steps backwards with stupid penalties. Sure, he wasn't perfect--there were some boneheaded penalties from him like there were from him like there were from everyone else. But, I can't figure out how he wasn't given the honor of making the trip to Hawaii. Andrew Whitworth made it, but I think Zeitler had the better season.
Scott Schulze: Shawn Williams. The third year safety had done little in his first two years in a Bengals' uniform before injuries forced him into a more active role in the latter half of 2015. He acquitted himself well, showing solid play in coverage and tackling, while contributing two interceptions.
Rebecca Toback: The Bengals had so many stars this year that picking an Unsung Hero seems somewhat difficult. I'd go with Marvin Jones. Though Jones wasn't always posting big numbers or scoring touchdowns on a weekly basis, he served a role on the offense and played nearly every snap, every week. Many people were scared about how durable he would be after he missed an entire season due to injury, but he never missed a game in 2015 and was a huge asset to the Bengals, whether it was when he was catching passes or being used as a decoy.
Scott Bantel: Thanks to big seasons by Dalton, A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, a career year for Marvin Jones (65 receptions, 816 yards, 4 touchdowns) flew under the radar. Because of the big names, Jones doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but the fourth year receiver is one of the best number two receivers in the game, and if not for the emergence of Eifert, Jones likely would have put up 1,000+ yards and 8-10 touchdowns.
Jason Marcum: Marvin Jones. He quietly had a career-high 65 passes for 816 yards to go with four touchdowns this past season. While he was rarely the top offensive player in a game, he consistently made 1-2 big plays per game and never hurt the offense.
Dadio McDuck: Giovani Bernard.
Anthony Cosenza: You know what? I'm going to go with AJ McCarron. Part of the criteria for the award is stepping in and playing well in the wake of injury, and McCarron did his part to carry the team after it lost Andy Dalton to injury. While he was 2-2 as a starter, his two losses were near-wins. One in the regular season came in Denver in overtime against a Broncos team playing in the Super Bowl, and the other came in the Wild Card round in which he rallied the team back with a late lead. McCarron finished with seven touchdown passes against three interceptions in the five games he played, and while there are areas for improvement, many other teams would have (and did this season) crumbled with a backup quarterback.