Though not drafted, former Wisconsin Badgers Alex Erickson and Darius Hillary found spots on an active NFL roster this spring, both with the Cincinnati Bengals. For the first-team, All-Big Ten selection in Erickson, he'll have a chance to showcase his abilities in a deep receiving corp. Hillary, on the other hand, is the hometown kid fighting for a spot with the cornerbacks.
The Bengals currently have 12 wide receivers on their roster as of May 13th, including A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, and former Wisconsin-Whitewater standout Jake Kumerow. How loaded is Cincinnati's receiving corp, and how much of an uphill climb could the former walk-on in Erickson have?
RT: As of now, the Bengals' receiver position definitely has some openings, but it will still be hard for a guy like Alex Erickson to crack. A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell and second round pick Tyler Boyd are all roster locks. That leaves three spots to be fought for this summer. Brandon Tate was re-signed this offseason and he always manages to find himself on the 53-man roster, whether or not he deserves it. That's mostly due to his return abilities, so if one of the young receivers is able to prove they're a reliable returner, it's possible (though unlikely) Tate could be pushed out. Among the returning players, the Bengals have 2014 seventh-round pick James Wright who is returning from microfracture surgery, 2015 seventh round pick Mario Alford who was on the roster but played in only one game last year, 2016 sixth round pick Cody Core out of Ole Miss, Michael Bennett who spent parts of 2015 on the practice squad (I'd consider him a long shot) and Kumerow, who you mentioned, who spent the 2015 season on the practice squad. Fans have been rooting hard for Kumerow over the last year and we're all hoping he proves he's worthy of one of the roster spots. He's certainly not a guarantee to make it though.
The Bengals brought in Erickson, Antwane Grant and Alonzo Russell as undrafted players at the receiver position following the Draft and I'd say it'll be an uphill climb for any of them to make the roster. But, if Erickson proves he's worthy of a spot on the roster, there will be opportunities up for grabs. The Bengals have given undrafted players great opportunities in past years and receiver is one of the least deep positions on a deep Bengals roster.
Where do you see Erickson, who's only played wide receiver for a handful of years after playing quarterback his prep career, in the Bengals' offense?
RT: It's hard to say right now. I think his best shot is to make an impact on special teams and Marvin Lewis has already indicated he's impressed with Erickson's return abilities. Erickson returned punts during the team's rookie mini-camp and reportedly didn't drop one, which is a good sign.
Darius Hillary is one of nine Bengals cornerbacks. What's the feeling of the hometown kid, whose father played there, coming back and suiting up for the black and orange?
RT: Hillary has without a doubt been the most talked about undrafted player signed by the Bengals. Everyone wants to hear his story, hear him talk about his dad and get to know him. Still, I don't think he has a shot at making the roster; the practice squad is a possibility though. Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick will be the Bengals' starting cornerbacks. Darqueze Dennard will be the next man up and will play the slot. Additionally, the Bengals drafted a cornerback in the first round of the Draft, William Jackson III, who is obviously a lock to make the roster. Then there's Josh Shaw a 2015 rookie who has impressed the coaches and is sure to make the roster as well. The Bengals also really like Chris Lewis-Harris who has bounced back and forth from the practice squad to the roster for the last few years. He's no longer practice squad eligible as he enters his fourth year in the league, so it'll be time for Lewis-Harris to prove himself this summer. Chykie Brown was brought in this offseason and I'd say he has as good of a shot as the undrafted players of making the team, still, making the roster doesn't seem like a real possibility for Hillary.
What position in that defensive backfield, in that Cincinnati scheme, suits him best?
RT: Again, it's hard to say right now and I haven't watched more than a few of his college highlights. His best shot is to make an impact on special teams. The Bengals love using cornerbacks as gunners and that's how most of the young guys get a shot at making the roster.
In your opinion, and including possible help on special teams, what are their chances of making the active roster? The practice squad?
RT: I'd say the odds are not in their favor and Erickson has more of a chance than Hillary, but they're both more likely fighting for a spot on the practice squad than the roster. I'd give both of them a good shot at making the practice squad. The Bengals, if anything, are loyal, and I think Hillary is a guy they'd like to keep around. But, we'll have to see as OTAs start next week and then once training camp gets going this summer.