CINCINNATI -- Now that the Cincinnati Bengals' preseason is over and we wait for their cut downs to be made official Saturday, what better time to make our final prediction at the 53-man roster for the season opener against the Oakland Raiders. Here is a position-by-position look at who stays, who goes when the Bengals make their final cuts.
As they've done in recent seasons, look for the Bengals to keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster and tuck a third away elsewhere. McCarron's solid play through three preseason games has the team convinced he can handle the No. 2 duties in case something were to happen to Dalton. That means third-teamer Keith Wenning will go to the practice squad, where he can be pulled up in case of emergency.
RUNNING BACK (4)
We've reached our first difficult cut on the roster projection. Cedric Peerman, a seven-year league veteran who has spent the past four seasons with the Bengals, gets removed here for Wilder, the 2014 undrafted signee who stood out throughout the preseason. Wilder had key carries on the Bengals' eventual game-winning drive in Thursday night's finale, and also took care of his opportunities on special teams, an area where Peerman had his most value on the team. This year's undrafted signee at running back, Terrell Watson, will be hidden on the Bengals' practice squad.
Very few surprises here as the top three positions have been set virtually since Jones returned for training camp last month after missing all of last season with foot and ankle injuries. Tate has long impressed coaches and wasn't truly on the chopping block, although it likely was close when camp began. James Wright's season-ending knee issue preserved Tate's roster spot, though. Some outside Cincinnati might be surprised to hear this, Little actually had a very strong preseason. Alford's speed makes him a roster lock, but Jake Kumerow (a practice squad projection) wasn't far behind.
H-BACK/TIGHT END (4)
It may make logistical sense to keep only three players at this position, but the Bengals would have a tough time doing that with this young and talented bunch. Besides, as they showed often in the preseason, the Bengals aren't scared of using several heavy blocking packages that sometimes feature three players from this group being on the field at one time.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
In limited action, the rookie Fisher didn't look all that strong this preseason. Dan France, a 2014 undrafted signee, actually played better at offensive tackle than the second-round pick. But here rests an interesting case: Do you try to stash away your high-round draft pick on the practice squad, or do you send a player like France back there? The Bengals might prefer to have France poached away instead of Fisher in the event another team were to pluck players from their practice squad. Also, we're going with nine players here to free up one spot that could be used elsewhere.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
Here's perhaps the most shocking cut on this roster projection: Devon Still, after the past year he and his family went through, will be released by the Bengals. It's a scenario the defensive tackle said Thursday that he's prepared for. There just simply were too many bodies and not enough spots to go around at defensive tackle, although Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson were out a large part of the preseason due to nagging injuries. Still performed well this preseason overall, which means in the event he actually does get released, he will be picked up by another team. You can bank on that.
One of the more difficult internal conversations involved Vontaze Burfict and how he ought to be listed. The Bengals certainly best know where Burfict stands through rehabilitation from microfracture surgery. But we're erring on caution here and placing him on the physically unable to perform list to start the season. It means he would miss the first six games, but could move onto the 53-man roster by midseason. This will give him more time to get healthy, and more time for the Bengals to better evaluate whether the players listed above deserve to make the roster.
You may have seen where Marquis Flowers, a linebacker who could play some safety, was cut on the list above. Like Still, he could be a player who generates a lot of conversation in meetings between coaches and their people on the personnel side of the organization. As for the true safety position, only Shiloh Keo and Floyd Raven Sr. appear to be projected cuts.
We're going with only five cornerbacks here. A very good argument could be made for six. An even better argument could be made that from a performance standpoint, Chris Lewis-Harris deserves the final corner spot over Hall. When this projection was first drafted, Hall was left off. If the Bengals were to cut him, they would recoup $7.8 million in cap savings, but also incur a $1.8 million dead money charge. They may be adverse to taking that on, particularly as they currently have the least amount of dead money charges in the league. Clearing Hall's salary could help in terms of signing other players who are beginning contract seasons, like Green and Iloka. What helps save Hall is his versatility. Although he didn't look great at slot corner and safety in the preseason, he can play both positions, including on the boundary.
Tom Obarski may have had a fine preseason kicking for the Bengals (aside from Thursday night's missed field goal), but the same specialist setup they have had since 2010 returns for a sixth season.