2020 Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers: Don’t Sleep on This Unit

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2020 Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 09: Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross (15) and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) celebrate a touchdown during the NFL game between the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals on September 9, 2018, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It could certainly be said that we are currently experiencing a golden age of NFL wide receiver talent. The only way it could be better is if Antonio Brown could figure out his life and if Calvin Johnson hadn’t prematurely retired in 2016. Buried under the radar are the Cincinnati Bengals and their quietly stacked wide receiver room. Don’t sleep on the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers. There is enough talent to make defenses pay.

2020 Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receivers: Don’t Sleep on This Unit

Let’s look at the top-six receivers on the Bengals’ roster. Each brings something different to the table. While not every single one is a household name, each will be benefactors of the newly-drafted stud, Joe Burrow. Burrow proved at LSU that he is able to scramble and make plays when the offensive line and/or the play breaks down. He is going to need this ability in Cincinnati because they still refuse to sign a real right tackle and continue to trot out the human turnstile, Bobby Hart.

Alex Erickson

Of the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers, Erickson is not one to scare opposing defenses. As a receiver, Erickson has yet to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards; he’s currently at 947 yards through four years. Additionally, he has only caught one touchdown pass which was way back in week ten in a win over the Denver Broncos in 2017. Honestly, Erickson has not proven himself as a top pass-catcher at the NFL level. However, that’s not why he is on this team.

Did you know, Erickson has led the NFL in kick return yards (810 in 2016), punt returns (39 in 2017), and kick returns (40 in 2018)? There should be a disclaimer on the kick return stats, of course. Players tend to get more yards and chances when their team’s defense gives up a lot of scores. Regardless, Erickson has proven to be an electric punt returner, though he has yet to score a special teams touchdown. Even if Darius Phillips breaks out this year (which I’d love to see), Erickson’s job as a special-teamer should be safe.

Auden Tate

The next three 2020 Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers are full of potential (or yet, unrealized potential). Auden Tate is the epitome of exciting potential. Unfortunately, he’s only shown what his massive 6’5″ frame can do in two, injury-shortened seasons (19 career games). 2019 was a career year for Tate, considering literally everyone went down injured at some point in the season. In 12 games in 2019, Tate hauled in 40 passes off of 78 targets, 575 yards, and scored a touchdown.

Thus far in his career, Tate has had 92 targets, but only 62 were catchable. Of those 62, he has recorded 44 catches. He is not a burner by any means, but he can be as dangerous as any considering he averaged 14.4 yards per reception last year. With all of the focus on the following set of receivers, will Tate be able to take advantage of advantageous matchups and have a decent breakout campaign in 2020? Burrow has shown he can find the best matchups and exploit them, so Tate could be a lowkey surprise.

John Ross

The Bengals have two first-round receivers. One of them has played to expectations, the other is John Ross. Ross burst onto the scene by running a supersonic 4.22 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL Combine. Since then, Ross has played all of 24 games in three seasons, never once appearing in all 16 games. His rookie year was marred by injuries/conflict with then-Head Coach Marvin Lewis. In 2018, Ross found the endzone seven times off of 21 receptions and 201 yards in 13 games. 2019 was, on average, more productive. Ross caught 28 passes, 506 yards, and three scores.

Perhaps the fact that the Bengals declined his fifth-year option will motivate him. Ultimately, it was the best move because Ross has not been able to stay healthy (not always his fault) nor has he produced to the expectation of the ninth-overall pick. Like Tate, Ross should be able to take advantage of defenses focusing on these next three 2020 Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers. Bengals fans hope Ross can come into his own in 2020. They really don’t want to be associated with yet another first-round bust (Akili Smith, Cedric Ogbuehi, etc.).

Tee Higgins

Could the Bengals have found their new number-one receiver? Obviously, the last two athletes on this list will have something to say about this, but expectations are high. In this year’s draft, the Bengals selected Higgins 33rd-overall over the likes of Michael Pittman, KJ Hamler, and Denzel Mims. At Clemson, Higgins paired with potential 2021-number-one-overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, and boy, was it exciting.

As a two-year starter, Higgins hauled in 59 passes in each of his sophomore and junior seasons. However, he improved his yardage (936 in 2018 to 1167 in 2019) as well as his touchdowns (12 in 2018, 13 in 2019). That is some serious production from a guy who probably had to play into the fourth quarter maybe five or six times. At the next level, Higgins is getting high praise. Only time will tell, but it can be said that the “9+85=7” saying will be revived.

Tyler Boyd

Over the last two seasons, the Bengals number-one receiver has been Tyler Boyd. Due to circumstances out of his control, he was thrust into that position. Thankfully, he has stepped up in a big way and was rewarded with a four-year, $43 million extension. Of his 242 catches, 2,902 yards, and 15 touchdowns, 166/2,074/12 were in the last two years. It is nice to see that the Bengals did not mess this one up as they did with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.

Going into 2020, there is no reason to think Boyd won’t be able to lead the team again. Even with everyone healthy, Boyd is a production machine. Regardless of whether or not defenses line up their number-one or number-two corner over him, Boyd still finds a way to get open. He was able to put up those numbers with an average-to-bad Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley, imagine what he’ll be able to do with a quarterback who can actually throw the ball and throw it accurately.

A.J. Green

The probable leader of the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals wide receivers will be Adrial Jeremiah Green. If he were able to stay healthy, Green would be widely considered to be the greatest Bengals receiver of all-time. Unfortunately, “what-ifs” do not pay the piper. In the last two seasons, Green has only suited up for nine games…which were all in 2018. He got off to a monster start in 2018 and was on pace for a career year.

The big question will be: can he stay healthy? Despite being unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension, Green has said he will sign and play under the franchise tag. He wants to retire a Bengal. When healthy, Green has proven to be at least a top-five receiver. Burrow-to-Green can be a lethal connection, so look out for it come Sundays in the fall.

Oh, and it seems that sports fans have a short memory. Here’s a gentle reminder of what A.J. Green can do:

Don’t Sleep On This Unit

Yes, the Bengals went 2-14 in 2019 and picked first overall in the draft. Yes, they still pay Bobby Hart to play offensive line and failed to truly address how bad it was. However, of all of the units on this Bengals team, the wide receivers would have to be the deepest and best. Can Burrow overcome the issues in Cincinnati? Possibly. We saw at LSU that he was able to make plays when the play broke down. In all honesty, Cincinnati only needs Burrow to be average to have a solid offense. With this receiving corps, paired with a top running back in Joe Mixon, the Bengals’ offense can surprise the league.

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