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Which Cincinnati Bengals WRs Could Surge Up The 2022 Depth Chart?

The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a 2021 campaign that showcased one of the most dynamic wide receiver trios in NFL history. They’re looking to run it back similarly in 2022 with a revamped offensive line and a new secondary acquired through the draft. From top to bottom, this year’s roster is shaping to be one of the best in franchise history.

While this could be the Bengals team to hoist its first Lombardi trophy, the NFL is a competitive league. Injuries and the salary cap can derail a season in a hurry. Some fans have wondered if the Bengals have enough depth behind Chase, Higgins, and Boyd, and the answer to that question is no. There is a give and take to every team built in the NFL, and the price the Bengals are paying for one of the most dynamic WR corps in history is a lack of depth behind the big-name stars.

Today, the discussion is about who can step up to be the Bengals’ WR4. To preface this, it should be noted that WR4 isn’t a position or single designation. Different types of receivers are utilized in different ways. How the Bengals would respond to Chase missing a game (knock on wood, I’m already feeling cursed) would most likely be different from how they would handle Higgins missing a game (this article is definitely cursed).

The focal point of all of this is to show who is behind the dynamic trio. For some fans, this may be the first time you’ve heard of some of these players; for others, this may be more about opening a dialogue about where each player is in their development. To facilitate this, I’ve grouped the WRs into a tier list–partly because it’s the internet and tier lists are always popular, partially because discussions like this often overlook nuance. While players have been grouped into a tier list, players within that list have not been ranked. Let’s get at it.

Tier 1: The Veterans

Mike Thomas

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Veteran wide receiver Mike Thomas resigned this season for another year in Cincinnati. It might come as a surprise that out of all the wide receivers on this list, I’m quite possibly the lowest on Mike Thomas. In two seasons with the Bengals, Mike has started one game and appeared in 26. He’s been targeted 32 times with 18 receptions, and his 2020 season was a career-high for him with 132 yards and his only career touchdown.

If I’m so negative on Mike Thomas, then why do I have him in tier 1 of my list? In my opinion, Auden Tate was the best WR (discounting Chase, Higgins, and Boyd) last year. He only had three receptions. The year previous, he had 14. Both seasons are less than Thomas. Zac Taylor likes Mike.

Whether this is because Mike Thomas is better than most of us or because he was on the Rams during Zac’s tenure is irrelevant to the fact that the coaching staff trusts him. He’s also a veteran going into his 7th season in the league. If Mike weren’t in contention for playing time, Cincinnati wouldn’t have resigned him.

The 7th year wide-out is not the locked-in WR4 for the Bengals next season. Instead, he is the measuring stick. The coaching staff and the fans know who Mike Thomas is and what production level he brings to the team. It’s a sharp fall-off from the Wide Receiver trio ahead of him on the depth chart, but Mike Thomas is undoubtedly the floor of expectation as to what to expect from the WR depth this season.

It will be up to the young guys on this list to show they can perform and take the role for themselves. With a crowded top end in the WR corps, this may be the best opportunity a young player could ask for to snag a roster spot for themselves.

Stanley Morgan Jr

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Stanley Morgan Jr, a 2019 undrafted free agent, resigned for two more years with the Bengals this off-season. Unfortunately, Stanley hasn’t had the most straightforward path with the Bengals. In 2019, he played in 11 games as a special teams contributor, but in 2020 he only played six games and spent most of the season on the practice squad.

Stanley, alongside Damion Willis, was hyped up by the Bengals coaching staff their rookie year, but both failed to live up to their early expectations. Nevertheless, he managed to make the roster in 2021 and played special teams in every game for the Bengals.

In his three seasons with the Bengals, he has almost no production to speak of in the receiving game, having career stats of 5 catches for 29 yards off 14 targets. Like Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan hasn’t proven himself with the offense and appears to be more of special teams signing.

Again, like Mike Thomas, Stanley makes it to tier 1 on the list because of his veteran status. However, the upside to Stanley is that he’s younger than Mike Thomas and has managed to scrape his way up the roster over the last few years. This season will most likely tell us if Stanley Morgan can live up to the early hype he received.

Trent Taylor

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Former 49er 5th-round pick, Trent Taylor, is suiting up for his second year in stripes. Trent was active on the Bengals roster for the final eight games, including the playoff run, and provided stable punt returning during that time.

His most significant moment last season was his 2-point conversion catch against Kansas City in the AFC Championship game. The 28-year-old has no more productivity in stripes than his other Tier 1 receiver, with only two catches for 41 yards, but hasn’t looked out of place at times like Mike Thomas or failed to live up to lofty expectations by the coaching staff like Stanley Morgan Jr.

The thing that separates Trent from the other two veterans is his early career production. In his rookie season, 2017, Trent amassed 430 yards and two touchdowns off 43 receptions. He followed up with 26 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown the following year before being placed on injured reserve following an off-season foot injury. Unfortunately, his 2020 season didn’t go much better, with him spending most of the year on the CO-VID/IR.

If Trent Taylor can stay healthy, he’s shown to be a productive receiver, and his trajectory with the Bengals has been moving up. The former Louisiana Tech standout who put up a 1,803-yard senior season looks primed to secure the WR4 spot for himself.

Tier 2: Practice Squad Players Looking to Make a Leap

Trenton Irwin

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Trenton Irwin has spent much of his 3-year NFL career on the Bengals practice squad. As a result, he’s essentially an unknown variable, even amongst Cincinnati diehards.

He made a bit of a name for himself with the Cincinnati faithful last year with an excellent preseason and made the most of his opportunities with a nice catch in week four against the Jaguars.

Not every NFL career starts glamorous. A lot of times, players don’t get flashy numbers and stats. But, when their number is called, and an opportunity is given, they must make the most of it. Trenton has done that so far. If he has another solid preseason, Trenton Irwin is someone I could see challenging the players around him for more playing time.

Pooka Williams Jr.

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Pooka Williams Jr. played his college ball at Kansas as a running back. After going undrafted and signing with the Bengals, Pooka spent the season on the practice squad and was moved to wide receiver.

There is no doubt that Pooka is a terrific and talented athlete, but converting positions doesn’t always come easy. It’s also hard to judge how successful the transition will be since his film showcases him as a runner, and he hasn’t had any meaningful reps in games.

After a year on the practice squad, the former Louisiana Mr. Football and 4-star recruit could be a dark horse candidate to take a roster spot. His odds at a roster spot only increase with his flexibility by allowing Cincinnati to have depth at both running back and wide receiver with a single roster spot.

Tier 3: The Undrafted Free Agents

Jaivon Heiligh

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Jaivon Heiligh is an undrafted free agent, out of Coastal Carolina; the Bengals signed this offseason. Like most undrafted players, there are a lot of areas of improvement for Jaivon to work on, but he may have more upside than most people think coming into the Bengals locker room.

Bleacher Report had the 6’0 ft. 200 lb. receiver projected as a 3rd round pick. Jaivon was also the 1st Team All-Sun Belt in 2020 and 2021.

His strengths include beating man coverage and working all three levels of the route tree. Jaivon also shows quickness as a twitchy athlete with good lateral movement. The cons listed on his draft profile include his 4.6 40-yard dashes (he’s more of a long stride runner), below-average strength in the run game, and telegraphing some of his routes.

Jaivon is on the 3rd tier of my list because he has the potential to succeed, but some of his game will have to adapt or be overcome at the NFL level. He’s going to need to become stronger, and, traditionally, NFL teams favor quick burst receivers who can go over the top instead of longer stride runners. If he develops during his first tenure at Cincinnati, Jaivon could become a good slot receiver in the mold of Tyler Boyd.

Kwamie Lassiter II

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Kwamie Lassiter II signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas. The son of Kwamie Lassiter Sr, who had a 10-year NFL career after going undrafted, may be the feel-good story of the off-season. Kwamie Lassiter Sr passed away in 2019, and now his son carries on his legacy.

However, Kwamie is beginning his NFL career on merit, not his father’s name, securing an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2020. He decided to sign with Cincinnati to compete for the returner role with former teammate Pooka Williams after the Bengals let Darius Phillips go this offseason.

The 6’0 ft. 185 lb. WR ran a 4.5 40-yard dash. He ended his senior season at Kansas with 59 receptions for 653 yards and three touchdowns. The strengths of his game include making every route look the same from the initial stem and being a solid blocker in the run game.

Kwamie Lassiter looks to make an immediate impact on special teams, and if he can develop over the next couple of years, he could secure a more prominent role in Cincinnati. However, his impact as a WR in 2022 seems limited, leading me to place him in tier 3 of my WR4 list.

Kendric Pryor

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Kendric Pryor, an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, signed with the Bengals this off-season. The 5’11 ft. 183 lb. WR recorded a 4.56 40-yard dash at his pro day but plays much faster. Kendric enters the NFL after a 6-year stint at Wisconsin, where he amassed 98 catches for 1,255 yards and seven touchdowns through the air and another 40 attempts for 409 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Even if those numbers look low, the production isn’t all on Kendric.

Kendric is a linearly fast receiver who can take the top of the defense. His size will probably keep him in the slot, which may have been seen as a con for most teams but fits the Bengals offense just fine. Many people projected Kendric as more of an athlete than a WR, but that’s not necessarily bad for the Bengals. You can coach route running and play recognition, but you can’t teach speed.

Like other undrafted rookies on this list, Kendric has the potential to make the Bengals roster. Still, his value will be seen for his special team contributions more so than his direct 2022 contributions to the receiving corp.

Jack Sorenson

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Rounding out the undrafted free agents, but unquestionably not the least talented, Jack Sorenson, a former Miami (OH) receiver, signed with the Bengals this offseason. Jack is the traditional small school, big production undrafted free agent.

Jack was given 2021 All-MAC 1st team honors after his 1,406 yards, ten touchdown season with Miami (OH). In addition, his season receiving total put him third-best in Miami (OH) school history, and his career receiving total put him fourth.

Draft profiles draw Hunter Renfrow comparisons for Sorenson. He’s an average-sized 6’0 ft. 195 lb. receiver with average speed and strength. Jack is a solid option out of the slot that likes slant and crossing routes. He’s sure-handed and not afraid of contact. He will face far more tough competition at the NFL level than he did in college, but out of all the undrafted free agents Cincinnati signed, I believe Jack has the best chance to impact the WR room in year 1.



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