One of the cornerstones of the recent run of success that has taken the Cincinnati Bengals to the postseason five years in a row has been continuity. The team has put an emphasis on resigning its own players in free agency or in some cases locking up key guys with extensions before they even hit the open market.
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But NFL rosters have a way of turning over quickly no matter how focused the front office is on keeping the core in place. Every year there is a new batch of draft picks, college free agents and players from other teams who fight their way on to the roster while pushing others off.
Even the continuity-conscious Bengals have a roster in which more than a third of the players (31 of 89) were not with the team in 2015.
Here’s a list of the top 10 newcomers heading into the start of training camp of July 29.
10. Christian Westerman, offensive line. Even with his freakish strength and versatility, the fifth-round pick may not see much action unless there is injury on the line.
9. Clayton Fejedelem, safety. The team’s seventh-round pick has a chance to make the 53-man roster and join Mario Alford (2015), James Wright (2014) and T.J. Johnson (2013) as recent seventh rounders still with the team.
8. Cody Core, wide receiver. The sixth-round pick has impressed the coaches – and Pro Bowl defensive back Pacman Jones – during OTAs and minicamp.
7. Chykie Brown, cornerback. The fifth-year player who spent 2015 with the New York Giants and has 56 games under his belt has showed a knack for making plays during offseason sessions.
6. Andrew Billings, defensive tackle. He said sliding all the way to the fourth round would motivate him for the duration of his career, and he should get plenty of opportunities to prove it as a rookie.
5. William Jackson, cornerback. There have been repeated occasions this offseason where the rookie has validated the Bengals’ decision to use their first-round pick on him, but Jackson’s playing time may be limited with three other first-rounders ahead of him on the depth chart.
4. Brandon LaFell, wide receiver. The Bengals signed the former Patriot to a one-year, $2.5 million contract after Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones left in free agency. LaFell is likely to line up as the starter opposite A.J. Green for the opener in New York against the Jets.
3. Nick Vigil, linebacker. Arguably the most impressive rookie during offseason workouts, the third-round pick has been a quick learner at all three spots and should add key versatility and depth in the middle of the defense.
2. Karlos Dansby, linebacker. The Bengals signed Dansby to a one-year, $2 million contract this offseason. It may be midseason before we truly see how much the 34-year-old Dansby has left in the tank after 12 seasons, but his greatest value is likely to come in the first three weeks while Vontaze Burfict serves his suspension.
1. Tyler Boyd, wide receiver. Yes, LaFell enters the season as the starter, but don’t be surprised if the dynamic Boyd finishes the year with more catches and yards. Talent plus opportunity could result in a big rookie season for the team’s second-round pick.