July 25, 2017

Who Makes The Cut? WR Edition

This position is the biggest question mark on the roster for the offense, even though it is the most crowded position group on the team. Twelve guys are battling for six spots. The potential is huge. The experience level is frighteningly low.

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.

Wide Receivers
Starter On The Roster Camp Battle Long Shot
A.J. Green Jordan Shipley
Mohamed Sanu
Brandon Tate
Andrew Hawkins
Marvin Jones
Ryan Whalen
Armon Binns
Kashif Moore
Taveon Rogers
Vidal Hazelton
Justin Hilton

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.


  1. Juniversal says:

    This off season will be interesting when it comes to the WR position. I have no clue who will make it as our #2. Jones certainly has the attributes you look for in a #2 but inexperience is a concern (as is the case with the other guys).

  2. Hi Bill,

    Curious to know what the skills are that Moore lacks that will prevent him from making the roster? Thanks

    • Moore certainly has the speed, and that gives him a shot. But he lacks size, both in height (5’9″) and weight (180 lbs). The Bengals generally like their receivers tall, although Andrew Hawkins is smaller than Moore.

      With all of these guys to choose from, I don’t see the Bengals keeping two guys their size. Both are great guys. Hawkins has the advantage of a year in Gruden’s system. If Moore does make the team, I’m guessing it comes at Hawkins’ expense.

      • Bill,

        The NFL is a copycat league. Every team is looking for the next Wes Welker or Victor Cruz, Antonio Brown. Hawkins is only 5’7. He won’t be used to stretch the field like a Steve Smith of Carolina, also 5’9, or Desean Jackson. There is a reason why they have Moore learning the Z and the slot. Some fans are trying to pigeon hole Moore in the slot only. The double move against Kirpatrick for the long Td came from the Z, not the slot.

        • Bill,

          There are exceptions to the protype size that you refer to. The exception here is the 9 5/8″ hands, 43.5″ vertical, 75 1/2″ wingspan, 19 bench press that Moore possesses along with his speed.

  3. Rock, I love that you want to fight for this guy. Keep it up. If he can prove himself as one of the best 6 WRs in camp, I’m all for him. His speed and character are great. But the knocks on him are that he struggles against press coverage, struggles in traffic, and gets knocked off his route. Technique is fixable, but size isn’t. Small guys should not be automatically DQ’ed, but it does cause him problems with fighting off coverage and sustaining blocks.

    I would much rather the team work him at the Z though. They have too many slot guys as it is.

    • Bill,

      We will have to wait and see if the knocks you mention become a factor. FYI, Sanu and Moore each had 19 on the bench press. Speed, strength and leverage would seem to favor Moore. We will just have to wait and see.

      • If he can have that kind of performance again at OTAs, he’ll have my attention. Like I said, if he can earn his way on to the team, more power to him, and I’ll be glad to have him because he would have beaten out some pretty good competition.

        • Shipley is just a shell of himself. The performance in camp so far is:

          1. AJ Green
          2. Binns
          3. Sanu
          4. Hawkins
          5. Moore