Leading up to the start of training camp for the Cincinnati Bengals on July 29, we’re breaking down each position group.
Today’s look is at the wide receivers, the position group that has the most questions and the biggest sure thing on the roster.
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A.J. Green is one of the top receivers in the league and again will be counted on to be the primary target for Andy Dalton as a group of newcomers and unproven youngsters battle for the spots vacated when Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left in free agency.
This should be the most interesting position battle to watch during training camp.
Here are seven things to know about the wide receivers:
Five for five
A.J. Green is the only player in franchise history to go to the Pro Bowl in each of his first five seasons, and those five invites already rank fourth on the Bengals all-time list behind Anthony Munoz (11) and Chad Johnson and Lemar Parrish (six each).
Green also has five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career, joining Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history to achieve that. He would tie Moss’ record run of six straight with another 1,000-yard season in 2016.
Green continues to climb the Bengals career leaders list in a number of categories and could move into first place in at least one of them at some point this season. With 24 100-yard games, he needs seven to pass Chad Johnson’s team-leading total of 30.
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Green also is likely to move into third place on the franchise’s career receptions list in the season opener. With 415 catches, he trails Isaac Curtis by one and Cris Collinsworth by two. Green needs 93 receptions to pass T.J. Houshmandzadeh for third.
And with 45 career receiving touchdowns, Green needs eight to move past Isaac Curtis for third place.
Rookie second-round pick Tyler Boyd still has much to prove in the NFL, but he’s already being compared to likely future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who preceded him at the University of Pittsburgh.
At 6-foot-1, 197 pounds, Boyd isn’t as big as Fitzgerald (6-3, 218), but he broke many of the legends records at Pitt, finishing as the school’s career leader in receptions (254) and receiving yards (3,361) despite declaring for the NFL Draft after his junior season. Boyd also ranks second in all-purpose yards (5,243) at behind another Pitt and NFL legend, Tony Dorsett.
Brandon LaFell is one of three players on the Bengals roster who has appeared in a Super Bowl. LaFell, who signed with the Bengals a free agent in March, set career highs in catches (74), yards (953) and touchdowns (seven) in 2014 in helping New England win Super Bowl XLIX.
Like LaFell, the other two players on the roster with Super Bowl experience were signed this offseason. Cornerback Chykie Brown helped Baltimore win Super Bowl XLVII, and linebacker Karlos Dansby was on the Arizona team that fell to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII.
Of the 13 wide recveivers who will be in camp, rookie Alonzo Russell is one of seven who found their way on to the roster as undrafted free agents, but the unheralded path is nothing new for him.
Struggling to meet college academic requirements out of high school, Russell attended a year of prep school before walking on at the University of Toledo, where he went on to catch 202 passes for 3,076 yards and 24 touchdowns in four seasons.
That got him an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine, but the 6-4, 206-pound target again was overlooked in the draft and ended signing a free-agent deal with the Bengals.
Despite all the uncertainty at the position, the Bengals came in 10th in the ProFootballFocus ranking of all 32 receiving units in the NFL, although a big reason for that was the fact the advanced analytics site factored in tight ends as well.
PFF’s Gordon McGuinness wrote, “The Bengals lost their second and third receivers in Mohamed Sanu (Falcons) and Marvin Jones (Lions) this offseason, but still have one of the best receivers in all of football in A.J. Green. He was fourth among WRs in overall grade last year, with 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns in the regular season, constructing his highest-graded season since entering the league. A complete wide receiver, he averaged 15.0 yards per reception and dropped just three of the catchable passes thrown his way (postseason included) in 2015.”
One of the receivers who will be in the mix for a spot on the 53-man roster is James Wright, who hasn’t played an NFL snap since November of 2014. That was his rookie season and he was really starting to contribute when he suffered a knee injury that forced him to ave microfracture surgery.
Wright made his return to the practice field last month with some light work during minicamp, and the hope is that he will be 100 percent for the start of training camp.