Welcome to the 53-man roster projection, 3.0.
After our post-OTA projection and another prior to training camp, we've reset our opinions and expectations, applying everything we've learned during training camp. In reality, nothing much has changed, giving credence to the theory that most of Cincinnati's roster has already been set. We're not doing silly "unexpected" rosters, or theme-based expectations. We care about one thing: Reality. More specifically... Cincinnati's reality. Let us know what you'd change:
QUARTERBACK (2): Andy Dalton, AJ McCarron
RUNNING BACK (5): Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead, Ryan Hewitt (H-back)
It doesn't appear much has changed at quarterback or running back since we've charted these projections. Running backs James Wilder Jr. and Terrell Watson provided strong relief when Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman suffered injuries during the preseason opener against New York. However, those injuries were short-term discomforts, as both returned to practice the following Monday. It's likely that Wilder and Watson are competing for a spot on the team's practice squad. Could both make the practice squad? Eh.
WIDE RECEIVER (6): A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Mario Alford, Brandon Tate, Jake Kumerow
We've had to take out James Wright (Injured Reserve), which has suspiciously opened significant opportunities for everyone else. Our inclusion of Jake Kumerow is two-fold: 1) we love his effort 2) he hasn't done anything less to warrant favoritism with veterans. Veteran Brandon Tate has convinced me he can be productive, and not just on special teams (he's developing as a gunner). Despite my opinion that Kumerow could become a solid contributor in the the making, his position on the 53-man roster doesn't have solid footing and he could easily be replaced by Denarius Moore or Greg Little (though I don't see the benefit at this stage) because of Cincinnati's preference with veterans. Will he clear waivers to the practice squad?
TIGHT END (3): Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah
Rookies John Peters and Matt Lengel only played two snaps each during Cincinnati's preseason opener against New York. Tyler Kroft is proving himself a decent run blocker and C.J. Uzomah had a team-high 42 snaps among all tight ends. Barring injury, this will probably be your tight end roster.
OFFENSIVE LINEMAN (9):
Tackle (4)*: Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith, Jake Fisher, Eric Winston
Guard (3): Kevin Zeitler, Clint Boling, Dan France
Center (2): Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson
*If Cedric Ogbuehi opens the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, as is expected, he wouldn't count toward the 53-man roster when the season starts.
Injuries and the seeming lack of buzz has me wondering if Trey Hopkins will make the 53-man roster this year. Hopkins was the player many "film experts" praised, supporting arguments that justified Mike Pollak's release.
However, I'm giving Dan France love for two reasons: 1) Fisher and France give Cincinnati two (valuable and) versatile backup solutions at guard and tackle (Hopkins only worked at guard), with Fisher being the primary backup at four positions IF he gets healthy soon (he's missed time and continues to)... 2) Hopkins simply isn't generating the type of buzz he did last year. There's plenty of time remaining for Hopkins to make a run, but if the season were to start today, he'd be out.
DEFENSIVE END (5): Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Will Clarke, Margus Hunt
Despite having not practiced nor participated during training camp, Hunt offers a strong, though meaningless, argument for the 53-man roster. He's a former second-round pick and Cincinnati isn't one to concede a high-value draft pick easily. Even so, linebacker Chris Carter has come on as a decent alternative; though it should be noted that if Hunt makes any impact in the preseason, he'll solidify his position on the team's roster.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (5): Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison
Rookie DeShawn Williams is being praised and had a fantastic camp. As a result, Devon Still is being moved further down the proverbial depth chart. Based on his production on the field, Still probably won't make the 53-man roster unless he has an explosive run through the preseason finale in Indianapolis... even so, it might be too late. Williams, if he clears waivers, should make the practice squad.
LINEBACKER (6)*: Rey Maualuga, Emmanuel Lamur, A.J. Hawk, P.J. Dawson, Vincent Rey, Marquis Flowers
*Much like Ogbuehi, conservative estimates tend to suggest Vontaze Burfict will open the season on PUP -- thus not counting toward the 53-man roster until he's activated.
Nothing has changed my opinion about the team's linebacker roster since our pre-camp projection. Dawson is struggling but he'll make the squad. In fact, if Burfict remains on the team's PUP list heading into the regular season, expect Rey Maualuga, A.J. Hawk and Vincent Rey as the team's starting linebackers in Oakland this October.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (9)
Cornerbacks: Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw
Safety: Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Derron Smith, Shawn Williams
We wouldn't be opposed if Cincinnati released Shawn Williams in an effort to keep rookie cornerback Troy Hill, but ultimately the numbers don't match. Williams is a significant special teams contributor, recording nine tackles (third on the team) after leading the organization with 14 special teams tackles in 2013. In addition, Williams plays a position that lacks depth -- it doesn't make sense to starve the position even more. Leon Hall, who has primarily worked as a slot cornerback, has also put in work at safety... so the option is there.
I think there's a higher likelihood Cincinnati goes short at one position (dumping Hunt?) to give themselves 10 defensive backs in a division that prefers passing.
SPECIAL TEAMS (3)
Placekicker: Mike Nugent
Punter: Kevin Huber
Long-snapper: Clark Harris