The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off a 2021 campaign that showcased one of the most dynamic wide receiver trios in NFL history. They’re looking to run it back similarly in 2022 with a revamped offensive line and a new secondary acquired through the draft. From top to bottom, this year’s roster is shaping to be one of the best in franchise history.
While this could be the Bengals team to hoist its first Lombardi trophy, the NFL is a competitive league. Injuries and the salary cap can derail a season in a hurry. Some fans have wondered if the Bengals have enough depth behind Chase, Higgins, and Boyd, and the answer to that question is no. There is a give and take to every team built in the NFL, and the price the Bengals are paying for one of the most dynamic WR corps in history is a lack of depth behind the big-name stars.
Today, the discussion is about who can step up to be the Bengals’ WR4. To preface this, it should be noted that WR4 isn’t a position or single designation. Different types of receivers are utilized in different ways. How the Bengals would respond to Chase missing a game (knock on wood, I’m already feeling cursed) would most likely be different from how they would handle Higgins missing a game (this article is definitely cursed).
The focal point of all of this is to show who is behind the dynamic trio. For some fans, this may be the first time you’ve heard of some of these players; for others, this may be more about opening a dialogue about where each player is in their development. To facilitate this, I’ve grouped the WRs into a tier list–partly because it’s the internet and tier lists are always popular, partially because discussions like this often overlook nuance. While players have been grouped into a tier list, players within that list have not been ranked. Let’s get at it.
Tier 1: The Veterans
Veteran wide receiver Mike Thomas resigned this season for another year in Cincinnati. It might come as a surprise that out of all the wide receivers on this list, I’m quite possibly the lowest on Mike Thomas. In two seasons with the Bengals, Mike has started one game and appeared in 26. He’s been targeted 32 times with 18 receptions, and his 2020 season was a career-high for him with 132 yards and his only career touchdown.
If I’m so negative on Mike Thomas, then why do I have him in tier 1 of my list? In my opinion, Auden Tate was the best WR (discounting Chase, Higgins, and Boyd) last year. He only had three receptions. The year previous, he had 14. Both seasons are less than Thomas. Zac Taylor likes Mike.
Whether this is because Mike Thomas is better than most of us or because he was on the Rams during Zac’s tenure is irrelevant to the fact that the coaching staff trusts him. He’s also a veteran going into his 7th season in the league. If Mike weren’t in contention for playing time, Cincinnati wouldn’t have resigned him.
The 7th year wide-out is not the locked-in WR4 for the Bengals next season. Instead, he is the measuring stick. The coaching staff and the fans know who Mike Thomas is and what production level he brings to the team. It’s a sharp fall-off from the Wide Receiver trio ahead of him on the depth chart, but Mike Thomas is undoubtedly the floor of expectation as to what to expect from the WR depth this season.
It will be up to the young guys on this list to show they can perform and take the role for themselves. With a crowded top end in the WR corps, this may be the best opportunity a young player could ask for to snag a roster spot for themselves.
Stanley Morgan Jr
Stanley Morgan Jr, a 2019 undrafted free agent, resigned for two more years with the Bengals this off-season. Unfortunately, Stanley hasn’t had the most straightforward path with the Bengals. In 2019, he played in 11 games as a special teams contributor, but in 2020 he only played six games and spent most of the season on the practice squad.
Stanley, alongside Damion Willis, was hyped up by the Bengals coaching staff their rookie year, but both failed to live up to their early expectations. Nevertheless, he managed to make the roster in 2021 and played special teams in every game for the Bengals.
In his three seasons with the Bengals, he has almost no production to speak of in the receiving game, having career stats of 5 catches for 29 yards off 14 targets. Like Mike Thomas, Stanley Morgan hasn’t proven himself with the offense and appears to be more of special teams signing.
Again, like Mike Thomas, Stanley makes it to tier 1 on the list because of his veteran status. However, the upside to Stanley is that he’s younger than Mike Thomas and has managed to scrape his way up the roster over the last few years. This season will most likely tell us if Stanley Morgan can live up to the early hype he received.
Former 49er 5th-round pick, Trent Taylor, is suiting up for his second year in stripes. Trent was active on the Bengals roster for the final eight games, including the playoff run, and provided stable punt returning during that time.
His most significant moment last season was his 2-point conversion catch against Kansas City in the AFC Championship game. The 28-year-old has no more productivity in stripes than his other Tier 1 receiver, with only two catches for 41 yards, but hasn’t looked out of place at times like Mike Thomas or failed to live up to lofty expectations by the coaching staff like Stanley Morgan Jr.
The thing that separates Trent from the other two veterans is his early career production. In his rookie season, 2017, Trent amassed 430 yards and two touchdowns off 43 receptions. He followed up with 26 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown the following year before being placed on injured reserve following an off-season foot injury. Unfortunately, his 2020 season didn’t go much better, with him spending most of the year on the CO-VID/IR.
If Trent Taylor can stay healthy, he’s shown to be a productive receiver, and his trajectory with the Bengals has been moving up. The former Louisiana Tech standout who put up a 1,803-yard senior season looks primed to secure the WR4 spot for himself.