The first preseason game is in the books, and while the 36-19 loss to the Green Bay Packers doesn’t mean anything for the Cincinnati Bengals on the surface, Friday night had plenty of significance when it comes to shaping the 53-man roster.
Based on which players got the night off and which ones worked — and how they performed — we are getting a better idea of how the roster will look when NFL teams have to get down to the limit on Aug. 29.
Here’s my updated projection for who should be in and who could be cut.
Cincinnati Bengals 53-Man Roster Projection | Offense
Starter: Joe Burrow
Backup: Jake Browning
Practice Squad Prospect: Trevor Siemian
Camp arm: Reid Sinnett
Analysis: Neither Browning nor Siemian was sharp against the Packers, but Browning was the starter and played the entire first half. The assumption is that will flip in Game 2 at Atlanta based on how even the coaching staff has tried to keep the reps even as Burrow works his way back from a calf injury.
Siemian would benefit from playing behind the second-team line — or perhaps the starters if Zac Taylor goes that way — instead of the third-team group he had to deal with Friday night.
Running Back (4)
Starters: Joe Mixon
Backups: Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans
Practice Squad Prospects: Jacob Saylors, Calvin Tyler Jr.
Analysis: Mixon is a lock after agreeing to a pay cut that the team offset with $4.1 million guaranteed this season, but he has a court date Monday on an aggravating menacing charge that could lead to the league suspending him for the start of the season.
The other big variable here is Trayveon Williams’ ankle injury, which he suffered on Aug. 3. If Evans can build on his good performance against the Packers, you could see the Bengals putting Williams on IR to start the season and ease his way back into the fold.
Wide Receiver (7)
Starters: Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd
Backups: Trenton Irwin, Charlie Jones, Andrei Iosivas, Stanley Morgan
Bubble: Trent Taylor, Kwamie Lassiter II
Practice Squad Prospects: Shedrick Jackson, Malachi Carter, Mac Hippenhammer
Analysis: I didn’t have Iosivas making the 53 in my previous two projections, but when you look at how he continues to show up in practice and then again Friday night, plus recent team history, he’s closing in on lock status. While Stanley Morgan doesn’t offer much as a receiver, he has consistently been one of Darrin Simmons’ best players on special teams.
Tight Ends (3)
Starter: Irv Smith Jr.
Backups: Drew Sample, Tanner Hudson
PUP: Mitchell Wilcox
Bubble: Devin Asiasi
Practice Squad Prospects: Nick Bowers, Christian Trahan
Analysis: Wilcox remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, and it’s beginning to look as though that is how he will start the season. The biggest surprise Friday night was that Sample was among the group watching in street clothes, suggesting his spot is secure.
The other development from the Packers game was Hudson showed he could be a viable option in the passing game, catching four passes on four targets for 29 yards before suffering a concussion.
Offensive Line (9)
Starters: LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Cordell Volson, C Ted Karras, RG Alex Cappa, RT Jonah Williams
Backups: Max Scharping, Trey Hill, D’Ante Smith, Jackson Carman
Bubble: Cody Ford, Hakeem Adeniji
PUP: La’el Collins
Practice Squad Prospects: Jaxson Kirkland, Nate Gilliam, Ben Brown
IR: Devin Cochran
Analysis: The Bengals go lighter here with nine instead of 10 in order to keep seven receivers. The Bengals have been working Scharping and Hill at both center and guard, and Carman has played both, so that position versatility will be valuable if the Bengals do go short here.
But Carman is not only on the losing end of his third position battle in three seasons (losing to Xavier Su’a-Filo in 2021 and Volson last year), he’s sliding closer to the bubble with a rough second-half performance Friday night.
Cincinnati Bengals 53-Man Roster Projection | Defense
Defensive Line (9)
Starters: Trey Hendrickson, DJ Reader, B.J. Hill, Sam Hubbard
Backups: Joseph Ossai, Myles Murphy, Cam Sample, Zach Carter, Josh Tupou
Bubble: Jeff Gunter, Jay Tufele, Tarell Basham
Practice Squad Prospects: Domenique Davis, Owen Carney, Raymond Johnson III, Tautala Pesefea Jr.
IR: Devonnsha Maxwell
Analysis: Basham still hasn’t returned from the injury he suffered early in camp. Davis improved his stock Friday night with a solid performance that included a quarterback hit and a fumble recovery. Gunter offers a lot on special teams, but he committed two penalties against the Packers that won’t help his cause.
Starters: Logan Wilson, Germaine Pratt
Backups: Akeem Davis-Gaither, Joe Bachie, Markus Bailey
Bubble: Keandre Jones
Practice Squad Prospect: Jaylen Moody, Shaka Heyward, Tyler Murray
Analysis: Bachie was forced out of Friday’s game with a chest injury, but Taylor didn’t have any information on the severity of it immediately after the game.
If he’s forced to miss time, it would create an opening for Jones, who played a team-high 21 snaps on special teams against the Packers.
Starters: Chidobe Awuzie, Cam Taylor-Britt, Mike Hilton
Backups: DJ Turner II, Sidney Jones IV, Jalen Davis
Bubble: DJ Ivey, Allan George
Practice Squad Prospect: Marvell Tell III
Analysis: The 53rd spot may come down to Ivey and safety Michael Thomas. Ivey has been impressive in practice, but not so much so that the Bengals would have to sweat losing him on waivers if they want to carry him through to the practice squad.
Starters: Nick Scott, Dax Hill
Backups: Jordan Battle, Tycen Anderson, Michael Thomas
Practice Squad Prospect: Larry Brooks, Yusuf Corker
Analysis: Anderson didn’t need a big performance to secure his spot, but he came up with a huge one anyway with two interceptions, one of which he returned 40 yards for a touchdown.
Thomas’ time in the league is nearing an end, but the 11-year veteran still has a lot of value on special teams and even more as a locker room leader.
The Bengals kept just four safeties every year from 2014-21, but Thomas’ presence was a big reason why that increased to five last year. There are always tough decisions on cutdown day, and what to do with Thomas could be the hardest one this year.
Starters: K Evan McPherson, P Brad Robbins, LS Cal Adomitis
Bubble: Drue Chrisman
Analysis: Chrisman will return to practice this week after the unfortunate timing of his medical emergency, but he may not have enough time to catch up and beat out Robbins.
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