ANALYSIS: Bengals’ final 53-man roster projection features a few surprising changes

Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said his staff has some difficult decisions to make after Saturday’s preseason win over the L.A. Rams.

NFL teams need to get their rosters down to 53 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday, and the Bengals have a few bubble candidates that made strong cases to stay -- in some cases at positions where there already seems to be enough depth.

Here is a look at how the final 53-man roster could shape up as the Bengals now start turning toward the opener Sept. 11 against Pittsburgh.

QUARTERBACKS (2)

In: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen

Out: Jake Browning

Notable: Joe Burrow is back for a third year and trying to build off a Comeback Player of the Year season when he led the Bengals to Super Bowl LVI after 2020 ACL reconstruction. The Bengals brought back Brandon Allen on a third one-year deal and he has proven a serviceable backup who knows the system, so it’s unlikely Jake Browning unseats him from that role despite a nice preseason.

ExploreWhat we learned from Bengals win over Rams in preseason finale

RUNNING BACK (3)

In: Chris Evans, Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine

Out: Jacques Patrick, Trayveon Williams

Notable: Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine were the top guys in 2021, but Chris Evans got some good opportunities in his rookie season and seems poised for more production in Year 2. Trayveon Williams looked solid running the ball in the preseason finale and can help on special teams but hasn’t been able to carve out his own role in the offense and the choices seem more difficult at wide receiver. Williams could easily be tucked away on the practice squad, which could be the deciding factor between him and another player the team might be more concerned about losing.

WIDE RECEIVERS (7)

In: Tyler Boyd, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Stanley Morgan, Trent Taylor, Mike Thomas, Kendric Pryor

Out: Trenton Irwin, Kwamie Lassiter

Notable: Tyler Boyd, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins make up one of the best wide receiver trios in the league, but there isn’t a lot separating the players that were in the mix behind them, so it’s a tough choice among bubble guys like Kwamie Lassiter, Kendric Pryor and Trenton Irwin. In the end it seems one of those guys could get rewarded. Special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons had said Lassiter needed to prove himself as a reliable option on punt returns to make this team, but he muffed one in the finale and didn’t do enough to unseat Trent Taylor from that role. In that regard, maybe there isn’t enough to justify keeping Pryor, but he was the stronger offensive weapon and could be a potential candidate for another team so he just might be the last player in.

TIGHT END (3)

In: Hayden Hurst, Drew Sample, Mitchell Wilcox

Out: Nick Eubanks, Thaddeus Moss, Justin Rigg

Notable: Hayden Hurst replaced C.J. Uzomah after he left in free agency to join the N.Y. Jets, and Drew Sample returns for a third season after playing all 21 games last year. Mitchell Wilcox was a big contributor on special teams but injuries to him and Sample could pave the path for another tight end to at least make the initial 53-man roster. Thaddeus Moss had a lot of bad moments in the preseason but has the most experience of the bubble guys.

OFFENSIVE LINE (10)

In: Hakeem Adeniji, Alex Cappa, Jackson Carman, La’el Collins, Trey Hill, Ted Karras, Isaiah Prince, D’Ante Smith, Jonah Williams, Cordell Volson

Out: Devin Cochran, Nate Gilliam, Lamont Gaillard, Desmond Noel

Notable: The starting offensive line seemed set going into camp, but Cordell Volson overtook Jackson Carman in the competition for the left guard spot and in the end it didn’t even seem close. Volson didn’t even play in the preseason finale, joining the starters as holdouts to protect the team from injuries impacting their opening day lineup. Trey Hill earned a lot of praise from the coaching staff and probably had the strongest camp of the backups, who otherwise struggled but at least bring a lot of versatility to the group.

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

In: Zach Carter, Jeff Gunter, Trey Hendrickson, B.J. Hill, Sam Hubbard, Khalid Kareem, Joseph Ossai, D.J. Reader, Josh Tupou, Cam Sample

Out: Domenique Davis, Raymond Johnson III, Tyler Shelvin, Noah Spence, Tariqious Tisdale

Notable: Joseph Ossai showed promise in training camp last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the preseason opener, after turning some heads with a sack on Tom Brady. He didn’t get that kind of moment this preseason but looked strong in his return to practices and will be one to watch. Zach Carter showed why maybe he wasn’t such a “reach” in the third round, as some suggested. He and seventh-round pick Jeffrey Gunter both were disruptive this preseason. Khalid Kareem is probably the biggest question mark of the group after a hamstring injury kept him off the field the past week, but the Bengals saw some good things from him last year and that likely gets factored in as well. Otherwise, there could be opportunity for Noah Spence to sneak in.

LINEBACKER (5)

In: Markus Bailey, Akeem Davis-Gaither, Clay Johnston, Germaine Pratt, Logan Wilson

PUP: Joe Bachie

Out: Clarence Hicks, Keandre Jones, Tegray Scales, Carson Wells

Notable: Joe Bachie’s continued recovery from ACL surgery makes him a prime candidate for the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list, which would clear a spot that Clay Johnston is more than deserving of filling. He recorded 20 tackles in the second preseason game and was all over the place making plays in training camp.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)

In: Tycen Anderson, Eli Apple, Chidobe Awuzie, Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell, Dax Hill, Mike Hilton, Tre Flowers, Cam Taylor-Britt, Michael Thomas

PUP: Brandon Wilson

Out: Jalen Davis, Allan George, Trayvon Henderson, Delonte Hood

Notable: Coach Zac Taylor was optimistic about Cam Taylor-Britt’s core muscle injury not impacting his season, though he will miss time. His recent surgery could necessitate a move to injured reserve, and if that is the case, Allan George or Jalen Davis would be next on the list for consideration. Dax Hill had an extremely impressive preseason at free safety while Jessie Bates was not at camp and could fill a void at cornerback while Taylor-Britt is out, but the lack of depth there was a concern with Eli Apple getting fluid drained from his quad last week.

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

In: Evan McPherson (kicker), Drue Chrisman (punter), Clark Harris (long-snapper)

Out: Cal Adomitis (long snapper), Kevin Huber (punter)

Notable: The Bengals say they want the best punter and Kevin Huber’s experience and comfortability with the team won’t sway their decision. If they start on equal ground, Chrisman seems to have a slight edge and he said he felt more and more confident in his holding ability as camp continued so it should be less of a concern disrupting the flow that Clark, Huber and McPherson had last year on the snap, hold and kick on field goal attempts.

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