Cincinnati Bengals: Looking At Signed Undrafted Free Agents

Oct 3, 2015; Murfreesboro, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores cornerback Torren McGaster (5) talks with a referee after receiving an unsportsmanslike conduct call during the first half against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have their core class of 2017 undrafted free agents signed, but what do they offer and what chance do they have of making it?

The 2017 NFL Draft has officially concluded. However, that doesn’t mean the fun isn’t completely over yet, Cincinnati Bengals fans. We still have undrafted free agency to talk about.

For a quick primer on what this time of the year is all about, SBNation did a nice introductory post a few days ago. If you don’t wanna get all the specifics, here are some basic notes about it:

  • Teams can sign A LOT of these guys, and they basically all do. It may not actually be unlimited like SBNation says in that linked article (other sources in the past have mentioned a limit on money which teams can attribute towards them, but that may just be in terms of guaranteed cash and not in entirety).
  • Teams can still find solid contributors there. Cincinnati has three former UDFAs already on the roster (including Vontaze Burfict).
  • These players get snapped up FAST. As soon as the draft ends, GMs are already getting these guys on the phone to make agreements and bring them in.

Speaking of how fast this process goes, the Bengals have already begun making their moves in this period. According to the undrafted free agent trackers at CBS Sports and Cincinnati.com, they’ve secured nine players to this point: CB Torren McGaster, S Demetrious Cox, TE Cethan Carter, LB Brandon Bell, FB Darrin Lafausa, RB Jarveon Williams, DE Jason Carr, OL Dustin Stanton, and DL Harold Brantley.

Let’s take a quick look at these guys to see what they bring to the table and figure out if they have a shot at making this year’s Cincinnati Bengals roster.

Nov 14, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores cornerback Torren McGaster (5) blocks a touchdown pass that is intercepted by teammate Commodores safety Oren Burks (20) (not pictured) that was intended for Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Dorian Baker (2) during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Torren McGaster, CB

Cincinnati likes to develop corners more than most teams, and have shown a willingness to have guys brought in at any level sit and learn before being thrown into the fire. That could be a blessing and a curse for McGaster. He’ll happily play physical with receivers, willingly taking them on as a tackler and in playing press coverage, so he has that working for him — but you could say that about pretty much all of what the Bengals already have accumulated at the position.

The team will be patient with him, allowing him time to fix his weaknesses to a point where they feel comfortable with him actually playing. But again, they also will do the same with his fellow corners.

The depth of their group will be hard for him to carve into. Adam Jones, Joshua Shaw, and Dre Kirkpatrick are a good three-man group at the top. Past them, they also have a couple former high picks in Darqueze Dennard and William Jackson III. The Bengals also just drafted another corner already in Brandon Wilson, and picked up a former NFL starter in Bene Benwikere earlier in the offseason.

If they were to keep all those guys and McGaster, that would be eight corners. Even in a league where that position is as important as ever, that’s tough to stomach on a 53-man roster — especially when two of them can only be considered developmental prospects at this point in their careers.

It may come down to who they like better between Wilson and McGaster for the last corner spot in a possible post-cut seven-man group. When in doubt, I’ll give the draft pick the edge, meaning McGaster misses out. If that happens, he could easily be a practice squad guy for a while, though, with an injury call-up acting as a looming possibility.

Sep 24, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers running back Corey Clement (6) is tackled by Michigan State Spartans defensive back Demetrious Cox (7) during the second half of a game at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Demetrious Cox, S

The Bengals have a decent set of starters at safety in George Iloka and Shawn Williams, but their depth behind them is surprisingly shallow. More than anything, they need some more players there to compete for depth right now, and at worst Cox fits the bill.

Cox was solid in college and has some decent attributes. Much like a lot of undrafted guys, though, he also has a slew of inconsistencies, and those could prevent him from earning a decent role at the next level.

He does have run defense in his favor, and if he has the chance to show off his talents there often enough, it wouldn’t be a stretch to think he could challenge for a backup spot with special teams duties on this season’s roster. Current Bengals backup safeties Derron Smith and Clayton Fejedelem aren’t blowing anyone away, and Cox might have more potential for growth in his deficient areas than either of those two.

Cethan Carter, TE

Every team needs role players. Stars do the heavy-lifting on the stat sheet, but the role guys find areas they are good at and handle their defined responsibilities every week to help their team win. Carter is really bad at the aspect we’ve come to expect most of tight ends (receiving), but he did alright in the oft-overlooked aspect where this position first came from: blocking.

The only problem with that — besides the fact that tight end blocking has been heavily undervalued in the league — is his blocking isn’t really at a high enough level to make him really quality as a specialist there.

Basically, he’s unsightly in the most important aspect of his position in today’s game, and just okay at the secondary concern for it. That spells out a quick and easy exit once the roster cuts start coming.

Nov 26, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Monty Madaris (88) runs with the ball as Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Bell (11) attempts a tackle during the fourth quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Michigan State 45-12. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Bell, LB

The Bengals are strong in their starting ranks at linebacker, but even with Jordan Evans being selected late in the draft, it’d be good to continue addressing their positional depth there. Bringing in Bell does that.

He has clear limitations, but clear strengths as well. His athletic limitations probably keep him from being an integral piece of any team, but there are areas he can still help. His sure, powerful tackling would be welcome on a special teams unit. That would also let him use his speed to the best of his ability.

That may be his ceiling on any team with decent linebackers in tow, but don’t overlook it. Though special teams is undeniably the least impactful of the three areas of football, it does still matter enough to shift the balance of games at times. Having Bell out there on the coverage team could help keep Cincinnati on the right side of that equation.

Sep 12, 2015; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive lineman Malik Jenkins (41) stops University of Texas at El Paso running back Darrin Laufasa (15) in the second half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Texas Tech defeated UTEP 69-20. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Darrin Laufasa, FB

Lots of teams don’t make much use of fullbacks any longer, but Cincinnati is one of the teams who does. Ryan Hewitt has been a decent fullback for them, but even though he’s under contract until 2019, he isn’t irreplaceable. Competition is good, and if the Bengals can find someone who is able to provide an improvement, that is always welcome.

Laufasa would also be cheaper. Hewitt is set to count for over $2 million on the cap each of the next three seasons. It doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme (with the cap set to be around $170 million this year, it probably isn’t), but it’s all about relative value. Hewitt took just 218 snaps last year and probably won’t do much more in any given season. When it comes to players who aren’t often on the field, cheaper is by far the preferred option when possible.

Laufasa may not have much to offer beyond blocking, but he’s good enough there that he could make this a competition. His lead blocking was a crucial part of the ground-game success UTEP experienced, and that could translate to the next level.

Cincinnati would have to value that over having the ability of using their fullback as a dump-off option on occasion. I think they should give it hard consideration, but I have my reservations as to whether it’ll end up being enough for a final roster spot.

Sep 3, 2015; Tucson, AZ, USA; Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners running back Jarveon Williams (2) runs the ball under pressure from Arizona Wildcats safety Will Parks (11) and cornerback DaVonte’ Neal (19) during the third quarter at Arizona Stadium. Arizona won 42-32. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Jarveon Williams, RB

Cincinnati made a bold (and highly-criticized) move at Williams’ position early in the draft to pick up Joe Mixon. But even with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard on the roster too, adding another body to the mix was worth it.

Mixon’s high-profile assault incident was a few years ago, and the signs at this point indicate that sort of behavior is firmly in his past — but it’s impossible to fully erase such a brutal act from the consciousness. He’ll be on the shortest of leashes, and any missteps could signal a quick end to his time in Cincinnati.

Also, consider the incumbents haven’t been stellar on the field. Neither has played consistently well across a full season, and neither should have much leeway for on-field error. Plus, Bernard is coming off a torn ACL, so his effectiveness could further be impacted.

Williams isn’t a top-end option, but there are scenarios where he could earn himself a roster spot. In at least one of them, we could see Mixon stay on the right path off the field while Hill and Bernard struggle again on it. In that outcome, Mixon could take on Bernard’s role as the outside runner and pass catcher, while Williams could be the banger up the middle.

Though I doubt that happens this season, I could see Williams being granted a year as the No. 4 guy in a deep-on-paper grouping before having a shot at a bigger role in 2018.

Jun 14, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; A view of a Cincinnati Bengals helmet during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Carr, DT

As Lance Zierlein predicted in his evaluation of Carr, his size and length alone were enough to get a team to bite. Unfortunately for Carr, he’s also pretty spot-on about him not being anywhere close to an NFL product as things stand.

Measurements can be enticing, but if a player isn’t able to turn those into some kind of impact on the field, they mean nothing. Carr couldn’t manufacture many positive outcomes against even low-level college competition. So how is he supposed to do so against professionals?

Simply put, he won’t. Even before considering the draft additions to the line by this team, he would’ve had a hard time making the roster. With them, he’s nothing more than a camp body.

Dustin Stanton, OT

The Bengals needed offensive line help in the worst way, but barely addressed it in this draft. They obviously have a higher view on guys like Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher than most people outside the organization, but doing nothing makes little sense.

Stanton is by no means an answer to those problems at tackle, but he could at least be a developmental prospect for them. He could be built into a decent backup if things go well, and if the team is patient with him in the process it’d work out well for them.

Even if Ogbuehi and Fisher become decent starters this year, the depth behind them could use an influx of new blood. Eric Winston is long past being anything more than a backup, and Andre Smith has played subpar for multiple seasons while failing to take advantage of good situations (there’s a reason the Bengals sought to replace him with Fisher in the first place before he left for his Vikings stint).

Should things go well, Stanton can stick around and eventually take the place of at least one of those two guys.

Harold Brantley, DL – Northwest Missouri State

There’s little to question with why Brantley didn’t get drafted. A few years ago he was a decently promising prospect, gobbling up five sacks and 12 tackles for loss in two years at Missouri from 2013-14. Unfortunately, off-field issues (including academic problems and team violations) led to him being dismissed from their program before 2015. He was able to get transferred over to Northwest Missouri State for 2016, but his time there was a step down from the Mizzou days in terms of production.

The Bengals already addressed their defensive line in the draft (Jordan Willis/Carl Lawson at DE; Ryan Glasgow at DT) and have some unproven guys with potential on the roster too (Andrew Billings/Marcus Hardison). But another body being added to the mix isn’t a bad idea. I just wouldn’t expect him to make it through cuts, however. He doesn’t offer as much upside as those others.

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