The Cincinnati Bengals have solidified themselves as true contenders in the AFC North as well as the Super Bowl over the course of the last few seasons. Led by quarterback Andy Dalton and two-time pro bowl wide receiver A.J. Green the Cincinnati Bengals are in an intriguing situation heading into the 2016 NFL season.
Despite posting a 12-4 record in 2015 and claiming the AFC North Division title, the Bengals lost offensive coordinator and quarterback guru Hue Jackson as well as veteran wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Jackson took a head coaching job with state-rival Cleveland Browns while Jones agreed to a contract with the Detroit Lions and Sanu signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
The team still has plenty of weapons on the offensive end including tight end Tyler Eifert, who had a breakout 2015 season, and their running back tandem of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Sanu and Jones were part of the Bengals organization for their entire career and became part of the culture the team represents, something that is not easily replicated in the short term.
Cincinnati didn’t flinch in contract negotiations with Sanu, who was open about his opportunities outside of Cincinnati.
“I think about it all the time,” Sanu said. “When you’ve got so much talent on one team, it’s hard to get the ball. It definitely crossed my mind going elsewhere. We’ve just got to see how everything unfolds.”
The team saw how it unfolded as both Sanu and Jones found new homes and the Bengals brought in wide receiver Brandon LaFell as a veteran replacement. Among the LaFell signing, the team drafted a pair of receivers in Tyler Boyd and Cody Core to help bolster the positions depth.
Boyd is a 6’1” wideout from the University of Pittsburgh drafted in the second round with the No. 55 overall pick. The former Pittsburgh Tiger made sure his name went down in Pittsburgh football history (he holds the university record with 254 receptions and 3,361receiving). Boyd earned first team All-Conference honors in his sophomore and junior seasons with the Tigers and looks to continue his success with the Bengals.
His hands are considered to be a key element to his game. He’s quick to snatch the ball when thrown his way and has a niche for getting contested passes. A smart player with natural route running tendencies, Boyd is in a position to become a big-time threat in an already dangerous Bengals offense. Double-coverage on A.J. Green is expected at this point, opening up other passing lanes. With the emergence of information this is potentially Tyler Eifert’s last season and the signing of LaFell — Boyd can expect to be the next-man-up in the Bengals rotation with plenty of opportunity to make a big play here and there as he should be inserted in the slot position.
Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson said Boyd must make the biggest impact of the Bengals rookies while adding he will certainly be their slot receiver.
“The new guy who must make the biggest impact to help keep them a contender is Boyd, the second-rounder from Pitt. He is their slot receiver no matter what, it seems, and he did have a good spring. He’s a legit 6’2” and plays with awareness, vision and an uncommon ability to wriggle free in space.”
“I think Boyd becomes a hell of a player. But at a position where rookies traditionally have a slow start, can he give them the production a fourth-year slot receiver like Mohamed Sanu gave them last season right away in that tough opening stretch?”
Core, on the other hand, was the No. 2 option at Ole Miss as he played behind No. 23 overall pick Laquon Treadwell. Core didn’t have a bad career by any means, but playing behind the top-rated wide receiver all season is certainly going to take away some opportunities to shine.
The Bengals took the receiver in the 6th round with the 199th pick. After playing his first two seasons as a special team’s specialist and defensive back, Core played receiver in 2014 and proved to be a great fit at the position totaling 41 receptions for 558 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Unfortunately for Core, Treadwell returned from injury in 2015 limiting his targets – and statistics – as he finished with a stat line of 37-644-4 in 2015. While not the line he would’ve hoped for, the Auburn native still averaged 17.4 yards per catch, illuminating his play making ability.
Bengals wide receivers coach James Urban is excited to coach a big physical receiver like Core. Urban said, “He’s a blocking jet ski. I mean, he’s out there pushing and he finishes blocks so much that we’re like, ‘Oh.’”
While the Bengals are clearly intrigued by their two rookie wide receivers, they still have James Wright as well. Wright returned to practice in June after undergoing microfracture surgery to repair a knee injury in 2014 and hopes to establish himself as a valuable option for Dalton in the future. In 2014, Wright was the No. 3 option behind Green and Sanu as Jones was also banged up with an injury. Recovering has been his priority, and he’s finally able to get back on the field. Even receivers coach Urban gave some advice to the former seventh-rounder.
“The important point there is I said, “Look at the competition in this room. A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,’” Urban said. “The old NFL saying is you can’t make the club in the tub. Injuries happen, but aches and pains, you better find a way to be out there because every day you miss an opportunity you miss to show what you can do.”
Brandon Tate is the other name to watch for in 2016 if you’re a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite struggling to live up to his own expectations, the durable wide receiver (has played in 96 straight games, or six consecutive seasons) received a contract extension in the offseason and looks to contribute to the team whether or not he’s on the field come Sunday’s.
“I’m more of an under-the-radar guy,” Tate said. “Being consistent is the most important part. Just being a good teammate and a good locker-room guy.”
Tate also mentioned that “you can’t look at the past” and “you just keep going.” Tate has yet to have a season with more than 25 receptions since being drafted in 2009 by the New England Patriots, although he has been involved on special teams, and is known to be a great teammate. Tate should have one last shot this season as he has experience over many of the younger players on the Bengals roster.
Although Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones will indeed be missed by the Cincinnati Bengals, it was the right time for a recharge as they look to finally get over the hump and earn a playoff game victory in 2016. The offense, still led by Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, might look a tad bit different, but the Bengals are excited to see who steps up to help take the load off of Green and Eifert in the passing game.
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