You may be surprised with my preliminary expectations for the receiver corps. Things may change several times between now and early September, but this group may look significantly different from last year.
|Starter||On The Roster||Camp Battle||Long Shot|
|A.J. Green||Jordan Shipley
The battles in training camp should be fierce. Is someone going to emerge to be a suitable compliment to A.J. Green? I have no idea who that might be right now. No one besides Green, Shipley and Sanu are safe. Green and Shipley have already been productive on the field, and the Bengals are not cutting a third rounder in Sanu. Everyone else comes in on the same level until they begin to separate themselves.
Starter: A.J. Green
Last year A.J. was 17th among all pass catchers, racking up 1,057 yds in 15 games, outdoing names like Percy Harvin, Greg Jennings and Anquan Boldin. As a rookie getting the ball from a rookie QB, that is truly impressive. Had the Bengals had any other real receiving threat, who knows what his numbers might have been.
Man In The Middle: Jordan Shipley
With 17 games played, Shipley is the second-most experienced receiver currently on the roster. Yikes! Shipley’s 600 yds receiving in 2010 made him a significant threat over the middle, and it makes him the guy most likely to start in the slot. The one concern is his ability to stay healthy. But it is too early to give up on him. When Green is double-covered, he will be the primary beneficiary.
Camp Battler: Mohamed Sanu
Preliminary reports are raising the expectation that Sanu will be in the mold of T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the best possession receiver that the Bengals have had in the Mike Brown era. Like T.J. he is most active in the middle of the field, using his size, speed and awareness to find holes in the zone and take (and dish out) hits. He shields the ball from the defender well and will get to the balls that are close to him.
Although Sanu can split out wide, he is not a true #2 receiver. He really will be competing with Jordan Shipley for the slot receiver, not the #2 WR. He was not a deep threat in college, and he won’t be one in the NFL. But with Sanu, Shipley, Gresham and Orson Charles, we can say for sure that a lot will be happening in the middle of the field.
Camp Battler: Brandon Tate
Tate did not see the field as a receiver in 2011, so I did not count those 16 games in totaling his team-leading 18 games as a receiver. This lack of use seems to make him expendable, and I would not be surprised to see him on the street in August. But cutting Tate also means they are shipping out the guy who collected the fifth most kick return yds in 2011.
Camp Battler: Andrew Hawkins
“Baby Hawk” quickly became a fan favorite in 2011 as a quick, elusive receiver in the mold of Wes Welker, turning short passes into nice gains with his shiftiness. He was simply fun to watch, even if he only made 23 catches. But I do not see his spot as being secure. He has an advantage with a year in Gruden’s system, but he will have to overcome some very talented newcomers to stay on for another year.
New Addition: Marvin Jones
If Sanu is the reincarnation of T.J., then Marvin may be the return of Gumby, the luvable #85. He has great size, speed, strength, and fight. He is the purest #2 receiver on the roster right now. If the Bengals do not add an experienced receiver that does not make his current team’s roster, Jones has a pretty good chance to make the final cut.
Camp Battler: Ryan Whalen
Whalen showed enough progress in 2011 to make the field in the final three games of the season, catching four balls. He is the big type of receiver that the Bengals like. He isn’t terribly fast and is one of the many candidates to work mainly in the middle of the field. He may make the roster as the 6th receiver again, or the Bengals may try to sneak him onto the practice squad if others outperform him in camp.
Camp Battler: Armon Binns
Though not a burner, Binns has a nice blend of size and speed, and coaches are rumored to really like what he can do. With a good camp, he could be the guy who bounces Whalen to the practice squad. If not, Whalen will bounce him. I do not see both Whalen and Binns making the team because they are too similar to each other.
Camp Battler: Kashif Moore
Moore is undersized and lacks several skills that would give him a good shot of making the roster. He is definitely a longer shot to stick. Besides speed, the one thing he has going for him is fantastic character. (If you have not read Geoff Hobson’s story on him, do it now.) A guy with that kind of heart will do a good job of listening to his coaches. We will see if his body can match that big heart.
Camp Battler: Taveon Rogers
If anyone is going to push Marvin Jones for the #2 receiver spot, or Brandon Tate as the return man, Rogers is the guy. He has the speed that the plethora of slot guys don’t have. Howevers, he lacks some size to remain healthy in the NFL. If the strength coaches can add some bulk to him without costing his speed, he has a puncher’s chance.
Long Shot: Vidal Hazelton
Hazelton is sliding backward on a long list of guys best suited to playing in the slot, sitting behind Shipley, Sanu, Whalen and Binns. He spent last year developing on the practice squad. Unfortunately, I think he becomes the victim of the numbers and misses out on a return appearance in Cincinnati.
Long Shot: Justin Hilton
Hilton is a similar player to Kashif Moore, only from an even smaller school (Indiana State). His size and speed are very similar. Unless Hilton is able to show something that Moore cannot, I have to give the edge to the guy from the Big East school over the guy from the Missouri Valley Conference school.
Rumor Mill: Braylon Edwards
When I stopped rolling my eyes and thought about it, this interest actually makes some sense. None of the twelve guys I have listed have played even 20 games as a WR. Zero. So adding a guy with 8 years in the league and some speed to fight for the #2 spot is a reasonable move. (Of course, that speed does the team no good if it is on crutches on the sidelines.) But I don’t think the Jets will let the Bengals sign Edwards. They have a bigger need at WR than the Bengals, and they are more like to offer Edwards more years since the Bengals really only would need Edwards for one.
This will be an interesting fight to watch. Assuming that Green, Shipley and Sanu are already on the squad, then the coaches will have to choose four guys from among Tate, Hawkins, Jones, Whalen, Binns, Moore and Rogers. (My guesses as of today are Jones, Whalen and Hawkins, although I could see Moore bumping Hawkins.) Could they decide to go light at another position to sneak a 7th guy — like Rogers — onto the roster? I could see them trying to slip a couple of these guys onto the practice squad.