Wild things occur in life. In fact, a lot of times, when you’re not expecting it, the most intriguing thing(s) can happen. Life is such for an NFL Undrafted Free Agent as well as myself, a high school teacher and assistant football coach. The percentage chance of either of the first group making the final 53-man roster of their team or me being a contributor for a website that focuses on my favorite team…are to be honest extremely low, like probably < 2% low. My name is Brian Burnham, and this is my introductory piece for Bengals Talk. I hope you enjoy any content I am able to contribute, find it full of levity, insight, and passion, and we can all go on this ride together. Now, back to the original reason for me writing this first piece. As a high school football coach, and recruiting liaison for college coaches that come on our campus to recruit our players, I am given a certain level of insight into the minds of these college coaches that have coached players our beloved Bengals may draft or sign via the un-drafted free agency route. I hope to provide you with some of that unique insight, and provide a percentage chance of each of our 13 current UDFA of 2023 signed post-draft making the final 53-man roster. As I stated previously, this is a long shot for any of our prospects, however, it is not out of the realm of possibilities. “There are nearly 500 un-drafted players currently in the NFL (486 un-drafted players made Week 1 53-man rosters), and there are 15 current members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who also went un-drafted” (Google via NFL.com, 2023).
A lot of us might view being an UDFA out of college as an actual better opportunity than being drafted…say in the 7th round. UDFA’s get to select what team they sign with (provided that team is interested obviously); and, they can select teams where getting on the field may be easier due to current depth, coach familiarity could play a factor, or even simply location could be a factor. The current list of UDFA’s from the Cincinnati Bengals post draft 2023 consists of the following players:
- Safety Larry Brooks; Tulane
- Wide Receiver Malachi Carter; Georgia Tech
- Linebacker Shaka Heyward; Duke
- Wide Receiver Mac Hippenhammer; Miami (OH)
- Wide Receiver Shedrick Jackson; Auburn
- Guard Jaxson Kirkland; Washington
- Defensive Tackle Devonnsha Maxwell; Tennessee-Chattanooga
- Linebacker Jaylen Moody; Alabama
- Linebacker Tyler Murray; Memphis
- Defensive Tackle Tautala Pesefea; Arizona State
- Running Back Jacob Saylors; East Tennessee State
- Tight End Christian Trahan; Houston
- Running Back Calvin Tyler Jr.; Utah State
We will dive into each of these players’ profiles, their NFL potential, and their percentage making the final 53-man roster as well. Let’s get started.
Safety-Larry Brooks: (Tulane University); 5’11 ½”, 200 lbs., wore #31 at Tulane. Larry ran a 4.59 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 36”, Broad Jump was 10’3”, he had a 6.8 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 14 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Average in-line speed and average length cause him to lose WRs in and out of their breaks. He is not long enough to reach over WRs, and not powerful enough to overpower them. He is very mature, and very intelligent, and those traits allowed him to contribute 217 career tackles in 47 career games at Tulane. In a room full of safety prospects post-draft these last two years, he has a slim chance at making the final 53. Percentage chance to make Final 53-Man Roster for Bengals: < 5%.
Wide Receiver-Malachi Carter: (Georgia Tech); 6’1 ⅞”, 191 lbs., wore #7 at Georgia Tech. Malachi ran a 4.71 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 31”, Broad Jump was 10’ 00”, he had a 7.19 second 3-Cone Drill, and his Bench reps were 12 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Malachi Carter played in more games in his career than any other player for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The key to his game is consistency. He is not flashy, and he does not produce gaudy numbers (career high for TD receptions in a season was in the Covid-shortened season of 2020 when he caught three TDs). He must find a way to contribute on special teams to have any chance at making the final 53. Percentage chance to make Final 53-Man Roster for Bengals: < 5%.
Linebacker-Shaka Heyward: (Duke): 6’2 ⅞”, 235 lbs., wore #42 at Duke. Shaka ran a 4.53 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 31”, Broad Jump was 9’8”, he had a 7.32 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 22 at the NFL Combine. My take: Shaka Heyward is an instinctive football player, who when compared to some of the higher prospects at his position, compares very well. He is durable, and was voted a captain in 2020. Some scouts worry about his ability to cover in space, because when you turn on his film, he does not play the same speed his 40 time says he is capable of. He demonstrates stiffness at times, and an inability to get off blocks. Has strengths that equate to a Sam LB in a 4-3 scheme. Lou Anarumo runs a multiple front scheme, but a lot of what he bases out of consists of 3-4 rules and tendencies. Once again, Shaka will need to find his footing on special teams to make the final 53. Percentage chance to make Final 53-Man Roster for Bengals: < 10%.
Wide Receiver- Mac Hippenhammer: (University of Miami-Ohio): 5’11 ¼”, 177 lbs., wore #0 at Miami (OH). Mac ran a 4.58 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 32 ½”, Broad Jump was 9’ 6”, he had a 7.09 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were not recorded at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: A transfer from Penn State, Mac turned in two productive seasons at Miami (OH). Quick in and out of breaks, and does a great job of extending his hands and catching the ball away from his body. He does not, however, possess great route running ability and he lacks another gear to either go get the ball or run away from a defender. His skills in the return game are his only chance of making the final 53 with this room of receivers. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: 5%.
Wide Receiver- Shedrick Jackson: (Auburn): 6’1 ¼”, 193 lbs., wore #11 at Auburn. Shedrick ran a 4.31 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 38 ½”, Broad Jump was 11’ 2”, he had a 7.10 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 13 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Shedrick has lineage being the nephew of Auburn legend RB, Bo Jackson. He also has elite inline speed. Muscle tone is not lacking when you look at Shedrick Jackson, and working hard after the catch is a calling card for him. He bodies smaller corners, and his game equates to playing either X or Z receiver (or both if need be providing versatility, which coaches love). DBs worry about his vertical threat not only because of his speed, but also because he does a great job of pressing the vertical portion of the route tree, thus causing separation in and out of his breaks. However, he does possess a limited route tree. He has not been tested much in college in press man coverage, which he will see a lot of in the league. He will benefit from consistent QB play (doesn’t all skill guys benefit from Joe Burrow as their QB?), but he does need to work on winning contested catches. He does not win enough with his leaping ability. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: 10%.
Guard- Jaxson Kirkland: (Washington): 6’6 ¾ ”, 328 lbs., wore #51 at Washington. Kirkland ran a 5.21 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 26”, Broad Jump was 8’ 3”, his hands measured 10 ½”, 33 ½” arms, he had a 7.95 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 20 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Mid-round talent coming into the draft, Jaxson Kirkland had big shoes to fill as his dad was a first-team All PAC 10 Guard at Washington from 1986-1990. Injuries kept him out of a couple of games per season, plus the Covid year, so after declaring for the draft in 2022, Kirkland petitioned the NCAA for a 6th year to return to school. He allowed only 9 pressures, 2 QB hits, and 0 sacks on the QB earning first-team All-Pac 12 by the coaches, third-team AP All-American, and a second-team All-American selection by USA Today. Kirkland’s draft stock was affected by the fact that he is 25 years old, but being a reliable back-up and potential fringe starter with starts at multiple positions has value in the NFL. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: 20%.
Defensive Tackle- Devonnsha Maxwell: (Tennessee-Chattanooga): 6’1 ½”, 290 lbs., wore #90 at UT-Chattanooga. Maxwell ran a 5.19 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 28 ½”, Broad Jump was 8’ 10”, his hands measured 9 ¾”, 33 ⅛” arms, he had a 7.83 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 30 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: The first thing you need to know about Devonnsha Maxwell is he graduated in three years with honors with a degree in psychology. He was a three time academic All-American, and a three time first-team all SoCon selection entering 2022. Comparing Maxwell’s numbers to Jaxson Kirkland above, his bench reps were 10 more and his 3-Cone Shuttle was .12 seconds faster. That equates to speed and power vs. OL, which are exactly what it takes to be a great interior defensive pass rusher. Having spoken to his position coach, Anthony Shakir, he told me, “Elite interior pass rusher and stout at the point of attack in the run game. Wouldn’t be surprised if he made the 53.” Following up with him I asked, “Elite in FCS or Elite when compared to everyone?” His response, “Doesn’t matter who he’s playing. Two sack game against Illinois last season.” Production across all levels of competition equals football player. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: 40%.
Linebacker- Jaylen Moody: (Alabama): 6’ ¾”, 225 lbs., wore #42 at Alabama. Moody had a foot injury, consequently, he was unable to perform at the Alabama pro day. My take: Having been a three year backup and special teams player, Jaylen Moody decided to enter the transfer portal after the 2021 season. However, he did not remain there long and decided to return to Alabama to play out his final year of eligibility. He managed to earn a starting job, and started 8 out of 10 games beside Henry To’oTo’o at ILB. While both ILBs were overshadowed by the presence of physical freak and athletic phenom, Will Anderson, Jr., Moody was able to establish himself on a retooled Alabama defense while also continuing to contribute on special teams. Moody at times can appear indecisive in pass coverage, and though he can cover players in the flat fine, he loses TEs as they work vertical upfield due to tightness in his hips. Jaylen Moody plays with an extremely high motor, however he rarely makes plays behind the line of scrimmage. He takes good angles and arrives with explosiveness on tackles, however his lack of power causes him to not be able to get off blocks and disappear in the run game at times. Special teams will again be his ticket to any shot at the final 53. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: < 5%.
Linebacker- Tyler Murray: (Memphis): 6’1 ⅛”, 226 lbs., wore #5 at Memphis. Tyler ran a 4.65 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 35 ½”, Broad Jump was 10’ 2”, he had a 7.55 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 23 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Tyler Murray is a one gap defender who transferred to Memphis from Charlotte. He averages about 6 tackles/game, and shows good range in all directions. He is capable in coverage, however lacks power at the point of contact when he tackles. He has potential value as a pass rusher, but must showcase skills and ability to make the team on special teams if he has any chance of making the final 53. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: < 5%.
Defensive Tackle- Tautala Pesefea: (Arizona State): 6’3 ¼”, 314 lbs., wore #44 at Arizona State. Tautala ran a 5.42 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 25 ½”, Broad Jump was 8’ 1”, he had a 8.23 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 16 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: An above-average DL who plays primarily on run downs, Tautala Pesefea is not going to knock you down (pun intended) with his pass rushing abilities. However, he is an above average athlete for his size, and he can hold his own against the run. He struggles with his pad level at times because he is on the taller side, and will lose balance when fighting through double teams (which he receives regularly). He is a situational player being utilized primarily as a Dime package defender against the run and inside the red zone as a situational pass rusher. Pesefea will struggle to get on an NFL final 53 man roster. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: < 5%.
Running Back- Jacob Saylors: (East Tennessee State): 5’10 ⅛”, 199 lbs., wore #8 at ETSU. Jacob ran a 4.66 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 32”, Broad Jump was 9’ 4”, he had a 7.65 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 13 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Saylors had over 3,000 yards rushing for his career at ETSU. Having one D1 offer out of HS, Jacob Saylor flew under the radar coming into college. Injuries kept him in and out of the lineup. Speaking to a coach who was there for a couple seasons with Jacob Saylor he said, “Great team guy, wanted to play special teams even when getting All-American honors. He can reach full speed in two or three strides. He’s a hard runner, good core strength. He’s not going to juke anybody out of the gym, but he ain’t scared either.Durability has been a big issue. He’s not the kind of guy you want to give the ball to for 30 carries a game. He’s more impactful when he gets 10-15 touches at most. Also a solid route runner.” 3,000+ career rushing yards speaks for itself. Marry that with a deep desire to play on special teams, and the Bengals might have found something in their RB room. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: 10%.
Tight End- Christian Trahan: (Houston): 6’ 2”, 256 lbs., wore #85 at Houston. Christian ran a 5.31 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 24 ½”, Broad Jump was 8′ 8”, he had a 7.82 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 11 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Christian is not going to wow you with any part of his game. He is not tall, he is not fast, he is not explosive, and he does not cut in and out of his breaks with any sort of flash or pizzazz. However, he is versatile and he is very productive, finishing second in receptions on Houston’s team in 2022 with 37. Having the ability to run routes and catch passes as a TE, and then be able to line up in the slot and be an H-back without any changes to personnel, makes Christian a valuable tool for a coach like Zac Taylor and OC Brian Callahan. Think of Christian Trahan as a poor man’s Drew Sample. If (big if) he can avoid the Drew Sample injury bug, then there might be a small role for a guy like Chtristian in a room that is still lacking the most depth on the roster. Trahan’s biggest weakness right now is his lack of upper body strength. It causes him to not be reliable as a blocker from the inline TE position. However, his versatility and ability to line up in that H-back position and carry out play-action fakes or be a lead blocker as a puller make him more valuable than, say, just a TE with his same measurables. He gets a slight bump in percentage chance simply for being a TE in a depth-deficient room. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: 5%.
Running Back- Calvin Tyler Jr.: (Utah State): 5’ 7 ½”, 204 lbs., wore #4 at Utah State. Calvin ran a 4.56 40 yard dash, Vertical leap was 34”, Broad Jump was 9’, he had a 7.23 second 3-Cone drill, and his Bench reps were 14 at his pro day according to draftscout.com. My take: Calvin Tyler, Jr. is a spark plug of a human being. He is patient to and through the gap, waiting for OL to clean up the hole or making a jump cut if a defender flashes where he wants to run. His extra burst allows him to be a threat as a receiver, and provides enough in space to be on the second level in above average time. His game must improve in pass protection for him to have any chance to stay on an NFL roster. He has prototypical scat back size, however he must show an ability to pick up blitzing LBs. His age hurts him, as he will be 25 during his rookie year, playing a position that is devalued a lot as it is. To me, he is a cross between Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles who might find a role if injuries cause there to be depth concerns somewhere, maybe even with the Bengals. Percentage chance of making Final 53-Man Roster for the Bengals: < 5%.