Khalid Kareem Facing An Uphill Battle To Make The Roster

August 6, 2022

Kareem, the defensive lineman, drafted in the fifth round in 2020, is currently on the physically unable to perform list, but the room has gotten crowded with young talent this summer.

The former Notre Dame standout hasn’t been able to make an impact on the field during his first two seasons in Paul Brown Stadium. Still, the Bengals have invested multiple resources in the position, and Kareem is now in what feels like a battle to keep his spot on the team.

Kareem was never viewed as much of a pass rusher, lacking the athleticism and explosion that those players usually have. He was described by most draft experts as a prototypical 4-3 base end with the physicality and size to shine against the run.

He got plenty of chances to play in his rookie season, kind of a lost year for the Bengals amid the global pandemic and the season-ending injury to franchise quarterback, Joe Burrow. With Carlos Dunlap on his way out of Cincinnati and not much depth behind starters Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard, Kareem played all 16 games and even notched his first career sack in that Week 10 loss to the now Commanders, in which the Bengals also lost Burrow. It seemed like Kareem had a found a role as a rotational end for the Bengals.

After being placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the 2021 campaign, Kareem didn’t make his season debut until Week 8 against the Jets, and then missed a few more games because of illness and to the concussion protocol the rest of the way. He only played more than 30% of the snaps twice last year, in Week 18 against the Browns in a meaningless game and in their Wild Card matchup against the Raiders. Fourth-round rookie Cameron Sample and even undrafted free agent Wyatt Ray surpassed him in the depth chart.

Kareem was never likely to become a full-time starter at the position for the Bengals, so the signing of Trey Hendrickson last offseason to replace the departed Lawson didn’t affect him much, but the addition of Sample and Joseph Ossai in the 2021 draft and third-round pick Zach Carter and seventh-round selection Jeffrey Gunter this summer meant the team wasn’t happy with their depth at the unit. Now all those young players are surging and making plays in camp while Kareem is absent.

The defense has been the talk of the training camp thus far, facing an offensive line at less-than-ideal strength and with Burrow sidelined recovering from an appendectomy. Gunter, Carter, and Ossai, along with backup nose tackle Josh Tupou have cemented their position as the second unit, leaving only one or maybe two spots left to be taken. Kareem, who doesn’t offer as much pass rush upside, will likely have to fight with 2021 seventh-rounder Wyatt Hubert for the job as a fifth defensive end.

Kareem’s best skill is stopping the run. While that is still important in today’s game, even if offenses throw the ball more than ever, the Bengals employ a hybrid defensive scheme that doesn’t suit him as well as playing the old Michael Johnson role in Mike Zimmer‘s 4-3 system would have. One might argue that his size and strength make him a versatile weapon for defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, as he could deploy him in various roles even if outside pass rusher isn’t one of them. But the Bengals also want to be able to rush the passer with just three or four players and play with two high safeties behind to limit big plays, putting a lot of pressure on their defensive linemen to get to the quarterback on their own.

Unfortunately for the third-year Detroit native, the investments made by the Bengals at the defensive line seem to be paying off in training camp, and that might have made him the odd man out.