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The undrafted free agent doesn’t get much attention from anyone but his mama. While he watches the NFL Draft come and go, and hopes that he’ll sign a contract afterward, the first-rounders are giving interviews and lining up endorsements. Heck, we expect them to blow us away once they hit the field.
But even with all the one-handed touchdown catches and goal-line stands that make us leap to our feet, there’s nothing like an undrafted free agent who surprises everyone with above-his-pay-grade play. Do the Cincinnati Bengals have someone like that in the works? A rookie whose name wasn’t called on draft day, but should be hearing it often in the next few years?
Don’t be surprised if it’s one of these guys.
3 Undrafted Free Agents to Keep an Eye On
1. Brandon Bell (LB – Penn State): Linebacker was definitely a need for Cincinnati. The team inked a capable prospect with Bell, who was all over the field for Penn State last season. He finished with 89 tackles, four sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions. NFL scouts say he’s a student of the game with good straight-line speed (4.7 in the 40). They also mentioned kick coverage as a launching pad for bigger roles. We agree.
2. Hardy Nickerson Jr (LB – Illinois): Anyone who was a fan of football in the 90s remembers five-time Pro-Bowl LB Hardy Nickerson. That includes Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, who coached Nickerson Sr during his final year with Pittsburgh in 1992. Nick Jr certainly has the brand name to be a baller. He gives great effort and has made more than 100 tackles during each of the last two seasons. But there’s lots to work on. To make the team, he needs to react quicker, improve his play strength and pursuit angles, and not run himself out of position.
3. Karel Hamilton (WR – Samford): The biggest knock on Hamilton is that he played against FCS competition. When facing said opponents, he was sensational (111 catches – 1,389 yards – 14 TDs). He stands 6’1″ and can run the 40 in 4.6 seconds, so he’s no pushover. Hamilton also plays at a spot that ranked 18th in the NFL last year in completions. He’s probably the undrafted free agent we’re most excited about on this list. Between Hamilton’s potential, John Ross’ speed and AJ Green’s AJ-ness, the passing game’s future looks bright.
It’s only natural to look at your team’s NFL draft picks and think about which ones will ‘wow’ you. At this point, no rookies will be a bust or a flameout. The future is bright. Your team has the guy who will shock the league and give everyone else fits. If a newbie contributes an extra touchdown, a well-timed sack, or a field goal, it can flip the team’s momentum. And its season.
With as many close games as the Cincinnati Bengals had last year, it makes us that much more excited to see what impact the rookies will make. The crop of college kids that Cincy selected in April can put us on track for the playoffs this season. And if they do that as rookies, just imagine what will happen in the next few years!
So, which newbies will ‘wow’ Cincinnati Bengals fans and make the biggest impact in 2017? Here are our top three picks.
3 Rookies Who Will Make an Impact for the Cincinnati Bengals This Year
1. John Ross – We’ve mentioned this guy before, haven’t we? Ross’ 4.22 speed can’t be ignored. He will naturally be a threat with go routes and force defenses to give him more of a cushion. That alone is dangerous, since he’s a proven pass catcher (81 of them in 2016 for the Washington Huskies). It will be fun to watch opposing secondaries pick their poison between Ross, Tyler Eifert, and AJ Green.
2. Jake Elliott – This was a close one, but we gave the silver medal spot to Memphis kicker Elliott because he touches the ball more. He’s accurate on his kicks which was a trait that was maddeningly absent last year. The past two years, he went 18 of 21 from 40-49 yards. His leg is strong, accurate, and – if he makes the team – a game-changer. Heck, a season-changer.
3. Joe Mixon – JM gets the ball out of the backfield one way or another. In addition to rushing for 1,274 yards for Oklahoma last season, he also caught 37 passes, which was good for 17th among running backs in the FBS. We’ve got him listed third because of how much his fate depends on a subpar offensive line. If the OL can’t gel, Mixon won’t have the impact we’re hoping for – yet.
The 2017 NFL Draft was kind to the Cincinnati Bengals. Very kind. In fact, we’re almost giddy at the thought of what the team will look like this fall. They addressed their needs at running back, receiver, and defensive end … and impressively so. The team took advantage of their 11 picks to improve depth. Quality players were selected early and often. While it wasn’t a perfect draft (like that even exists), you can’t ask for much better from the Bengals.
So why are we excited, and where could the team brass have done even better? Check out our 3 ups and 3 downs from the draft to find the answers.
Cincinnati’s 3 Ups
1. John Ross: You’ve heard us say over and over about how badly the Cincinnati Bengals need a wide receiver who can make AJ Green’s life easier. With John Ross, they’ve found him. In 2016 as a Washington Husky, Ross caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards. He’s so fast (4.22 in the 40), you’re not sure if he has a heart or a Hemi underneath his jersey. Ross’s biggest asset is that he expands the field and draws attention away from Green and tight end Tyler Eifert. That alone would increase the point production of the Bengals’ offense. But Ross is talented enough to be his own TD threat (17 of them last fall at UW). The O is about to O-pen up in Cincinnati.
2. A steal at running back: Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon has all the physical tools to have been a first-round draft choice. But off-the-field issues (more on that later) caused his stock to fall. Remarkably, he was still on the board when the Bengals were up to bat with their second-round pick. Mixon averaged 6.8 yards per carry last year and scored 10 times. If the line can open up some holes for him, the running game will do some impressive things.
3. The Bengals got their kicks: Nowhere in the NFL would a reliable kicker have made a bigger difference than in Cincy in 2016. The 6-9-1 Bengals could have been a playoff team had a few of their closer games turned out different. They lost five games last year by five points or less, along with their Week 8 tie to the Redskins. Drafting Jake Elliott out of Memphis could have as big an offensive impact as taking John Ross. Multiple NFL scouts anonymously called him the best kicker in this year’s draft. The days of Bengals’ fans cringing when the FG unit comes on the field may be over.
Cincinnati’s 3 Downs
1. Mixon’s potential baggage: The controversy stemming from Mixon’s punching a woman in an Oklahoma restaurant in 2014 is a cause for concern on multiple fronts. Someone got hurt. That kind of behavior shouldn’t be tolerated, and those repercussions can be a distraction to the player and the team. Hopefully Mixon will learn from it and keep his nose clean.
2. No big name on the O-line: After losing Kevin Zeitler to Cleveland and Andrew Whitworth to the LA Rams, the Bengals need to replace their two best linemen in a hurry. The team had to spend its draft picks on skill players. Thus, they didn’t land a big ugly worth bragging about.
3. Not enough down points to have a full “down” list: This is a good problem to have. There were not enough shortcomings from the draft to make a full list of “downs”, so we had to make the lack of a down point into its own down point. Because we said we would deliver three down points, and dang it, we’re gonna do it!
The 2017 NFL Draft is in the books. Speaking frankly, we’re pretty excited about this year’s haul for the Cincinnati Bengals. They addressed their biggest needs with players who can each make an impact early and often. Their mid and late-round draft picks have potential. Since Cincinnati lost six one-possession games last year, along with a tie, any improvements can make a difference in the division race – and the playoff picture – for this team.
Let’s get a look at the full list of newbies.
NFL Draft: Meet the New Cincinnati Bengals
1. John Ross (WR, 1st round, pick 9, Washington): He is quicker than the Road Runner when you push the fast-forward button. Ross will force defenses to cover more of the field. That means more touchdowns all around for the O.
2. Joe Mixon (RB, 2nd round, pick 48, Oklahoma): Mixon’s a steal for the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL Draft, who were lucky that he was still on the board. He has the talent to work his way up the depth chart at running back. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to use his 4.5 speed … if the O-line can open up some holes.
3. Jordan Willis (DE, 3rd round, pick 73, Kansas State): The Bengals claimed the 2016 Big 12 Defensive PoY with this pick. He collected 21 sacks over two seasons, so he can bring the heat – which is perhaps Cincinnati’s biggest defensive need.
4. Carl Lawson (DE, 4th round, pick 116, Auburn): Another talented DE who played in a quality conference. He dropped offensive players behind the line 23.5 times in 2016 (sacks and TFLs). He’s had his fair share of injuries, though, so keep your fingers crossed when he’s on the field.
5. Josh Malone (WR, 4th round, pick 128, Tennessee): Malone was productive last year (972 yards, 11 TDs) in a run-heavy offense in the rough-and-tumble SEC. The former 5-star receiver has the talent and opportunity to work his way into the rotation.
6. Ryan Glasgow (DT, 4th round, pick 138, Michigan): Second team All-Big Ten in 2016 who made 8.5 tackles for loss. A good depth-builder at defensive tackle.
7. Jake Elliott (PK, 5th round, pick 153, Memphis): Elliott’s potential impact to the team can’t be overstated. Cincinnati struggled last year with Mike Nugent, who missed six extra points. Six of the Bengals’ games in 2016 could have been won with two field goals or less. If Elliott can continue hitting 80% of his FGs, Cincy’s record could look quite different this year.
8. J.J. Dielman (C, 5th round, pick 176, Utah): He played at Utah, stands 6’5″ and weighs 300 pounds. Now you know as much as we do.
9. Jordan Evans (ILB, 6th round, pick 193, Oklahoma): Evans has good speed and size for a linebacker and has equally good football pedigree – his dad Scott was an all-conference DT for Oklahoma in the mid-to-late 1980s. Jordan was fast enough to intercept four passes in 2016. We say he’s got a bright future ahead.
10. Brandon Wilson (CB, 6th round, pick 207, Houston): Started 40 games over four years and has good game experience. It’s a big step, though, from the American Athletic Conference to the American Football Conference. He’ll need time to develop.
11. Mason Schreck (TE, 7th round, pick 251, Buffalo): Exploded last year with 59 catches for 651 yards and 4 TDs. He has good size (6’4″, 258). And it won’t hurt that he’s learning the position from Tyler Eifert.