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Alex Erickson is ready for a bigger WR role, if the Bengals give him a chance

There’s no question the slot receiver can play. The question is what the Cincinnati offense will look like under a new head coach.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals

Maybe the best compliment I can pay Alex Erickson is that he plays like a guy who will likely be on the Patriots’ roster sometime in the next four or five years, if you get my drift.

Although he didn’t have a ton of receptions last season (20 for 167 yards and no touchdowns), he sure did appear to be open quite a bit when he was in for the Bengals. I’ll tell you this much: you won’t see many receivers get in and out of their break any quicker than Erickson does. His routes were almost always very crisp, and he didn’t waste any motion when breaking in or out on a route.

Erickson also seemed to have a good feel for when to take off and when to sit down against zone coverages. He was primarily a slot receiver, but with his size (6’0 and 195 pounds), I don’t see any reason why he couldn’t play some out wide as well from time to time. I don’t know how much of a deep threat he can be because I didn’t see him run a lot of deeper routes, but on the short to intermediate routes he was putting in work.

He is a guy who has probably been easy to overlook because he hasn’t been used all that much in his career yet.

I came away very impressed after watching Erickson’s film this offseason. Last season when they started calling his number, he was definitely ready. That dude was scooting all over the field, and he looked like he can take another step forward with his production this year.

The Bengals as a team were a mess at the end of last season, losing seven out of their last eight games. Erickson personally finished strong, however. He started four out of the last six games and put up some of his best numbers of the year in the last three games.

The question for me on Erickson isn’t really about his ability, because I flat-out think the guy can play. My question is more about how new head coach Zac Taylor and new offensive coordinator Brian Callahan plan to run the offense.

I don’t have any doubt that Erickson would be a fantastic slot receiver with A.J. Green and Tyler “Break the Bank” Boyd on the outside. But the Bengals also have a very good tight end in Tyler Eifert, although he hasn’t played in more than eight games in the last three seasons. C.J. Uzomah, who stepped in for Eifert last season, ended up with 43 receptions and he’s also a viable option passing game.

So are the Bengals going to try to keep one of their tight ends in the game on passing downs? Will they run much four wides? Will Eifert actually be healthy this year?

The answers to those questions will probably go a long way in determining just how big or small of a role Erickson will have in the offense this season.

Talent-wise, however, I believe Erickson is ready to become a big-time slot receiver for the Bengals (or some other team).

He knows how to get open, has good hands, and he’s not afraid of contact, either. He can be a guy who moves the chains consistently on third-and-short to medium situations, if he is provided the opportunity to do so. If he is fully incorporated into the offense, I can see Erickson easily doubling his production this season. Especially since his production has steadily improved every year since he entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2016.

There is one other guy who may stand in the way of Erickson taking on a bigger role in the offense this season, and that is the athletically gifted, but so far inconsistent, John Ross.

Ross certainly has the potential to be a game breaker with his speed, and whenever he actually catches a ball, he is a threat to score. There just aren’t many guys in the league with his wheels, period, and you can’t teach that kind of speed. However, I’m not sure Ross is ever going to look as comfortable playing out of the slot as Erickson does.

The reality is Ross was the No. 9 pick in 2017 and while his numbers weren’t eye-popping last season, he did manage to score seven touchdowns off just 21 catches. So I have a feeling the new regime is going to do everything they can to give him an opportunity to get on the field.

One factor in Erickson’s favor is that he returns kicks and punts, and he does both well. His value on special teams makes it easier to assume that he both makes the team and will be active on gamedays this fall. And if he is active, you would think the Bengals would go ahead and use him on offense as well, because why the hell not?

With Green out after sustaining an ankle injury that required surgery early in training camp, the Bengals may need to lean on players like Erickson to keep the offense rolling early on in the season at least. I believe that the more opportunities Erickson gets this season, the more he will continue to shine.

His production this year should blow away anything he has done in the league up until this point.

Confidence level: Moderate