After a few years in New England, Brandon LaFell has brought his talents to Cincinnati. But could his lackluster preseason be a problem for the Bengals?
Never get too wrapped up in the preseason. The wins and losses are meaningless. Players are being rested for health, and coaches are all trying out new schemes. In 2014, DeMarco Murray managed just 52 yards on 3.7 YPC in all of the preseason. He was projected to play second fiddle to Joseph Randle. Murray went on to win the rushing title that season with 1,800 yards on 4.7 YPC. Joseph Randle is no longer in the league.
So, sure, preseason storylines can be misleading. Guys that look like nothing can be the next stars, and guys that look like sure things can end up third strings. Preseason action as a basis for evaluation is shaky best. But for a second, let’s throw caution to the wind.
In fact, he’s been worse than bad. He’s been invisible. He’s been out on the field for almost all the first team snaps but has only one catch to show for it. This could mean he’s a bad route runner. It could just mean he’s being covered well. It’s hard to know.
Regardless, as a result, the Bengals are now stuck in a Brandon LaFell-centric purgatory. Cincinnati has more questions than answers. Is he still plagued by the drops problem he had in New England? Could he be an answer for the Bengals’ receiving needs? Is he even a good player anymore?
If LaFell were to keep up these no-show performances during the regular season, it would only be a matter of time before Coach Lewis had to bench him. But who could take his place?
This is the spot where Brandon Tate would be listed. After all, he knows the system and fills the veteran wideout role the Bengals had in mind when they signed LaFell. But in their most surprising move of the offseason, the Bengals cut ties with their longtime backup wide receiver and return man, so he’s out of the equation.
Tyler Boyd has looked good this preseason, but he was already expected to play a role in Cincinnati’s offense. The national media has had high praise for Boyd, but forcing a rookie to do too much in his first year is a recipe for disaster.
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Before the preseason, rookie sixth-round pick Cody Core might have been in consideration for this spot. He’s shown flashes of talent for the Bengals this preseason, making a couple big grabs downfield, but, ultimately, he hasn’t looked the part of someone ready to take on a larger role in the offense.
All in all, it seems the benefactor of bad play from LaFell will be Bengals preseason stud, Alex Erickson. Erickson has looked dynamic every time he’s touched the ball, whether he was making a catch downfield or returning a punt. He’s inexperienced, but he’s the best the Bengals have.
In an offense without LaFell, Tyler Boyd would likely move to the outside, while Erickson would take over the slot. AJ Green remaining healthy would become priority number one. Without him, the Bengals might have to start three rookies at wide receiver.
But, relax Bengals fans. Don’t forget, this is all just preseason. LaFell hasn’t even been bad- just quiet. In all likelihood, LaFell will be back to his usual self for regular season action. And let’s not forget how good Andy Dalton has gotten. Either way, the Bengals will be just fine.