Bengals bubble watch: James Wilder Jr.

June, 28, 2014
Jun 28
10:00
AM ET
For the next six days we're taking a look at Cincinnati Bengals who could be on the dreaded training camp roster bubble later this summer. These are players whom we think you should expect to see fighting for spots when the eventual 75-man preseason roster gets trimmed to the regular-season 53.

As permitted by league rules, the roster currently stands at 89.

[+] EnlargeJames Wilder Jr.
AP Photo/Al BehrmanJames Wilder Jr. is fighting for a roster spot as one of the Cincinnati Bengals' running backs.
We're not going in any particular order. After starting with Taylor Mays on Monday, then Brandon Tate on Tuesday, J.K. Schaffer on Wednesday, Cobi Hamilton on Thursday, and Rex Burkhead on Thursday, we turn next to running back James Wilder Jr.:

Why he's on the bubble: As we mentioned in Burkhead's post, the Bengals' running backs have arguably the highest percentage of players on the training camp bubble. It's because they had so many during organized team activities and minicamp, and have relatively few spots that are truly available. Of any player in this "Bubble Watch" series, though, perhaps no player is more clearly in a practice-squad scenario than Wilder. Only playing three years of college ball in a system at Florida State that operated on a shared-carries routine, Wilder still is a little raw for the NFL. He's got the instincts, size and vision to play at this level, but a little more polishing would help the undrafted free agent become even better. Where the "bubble" comes into play has to do with whether the Bengals decide if he is purely practice-squad material, or if they feel it best to simply part ways with him during training camp. For now, the former appears to be the case.

What he has to do to get off the bubble: Unlike the others we're looking at here, there really is no way for Wilder to get off the bubble. Unless he starts running faster than second-round pick Jeremy Hill and showcases better hands than him, there's no reason to believe Wilder will end up cracking the 46-man game roster by the start of the season. Circumstances occur and injuries happen, though, meaning he has a shot to be called up if the right situation presents itself.

Odds he makes the (practice squad): Very high. We amended this section of the Bubble Watch specifically for Wilder, since it's quite doubtful here in late June that he ends up making a 46-man game-day roster. Because he is a bit of a project, it would make sense for the Bengals to hold on to him for practice-squad purposes, assuming they feel confident no other team would want to snatch him away and do the same. If Wilder progresses as a "redshirt," he could give the Bengals a unique addition to their backfield plans in 2015. A three-man rotation certainly would be in the cards at that time. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson used three backs somewhat regularly in his last coordinator's gig in Oakland, and hasn't said one way or the other if he'll employ that back-field setup again this season. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis possibly sticking around and Cedric Peerman and/or Rex Burkhead joining Hill and Bernard, the Bengals definitely will have enough backs to set up a three-man rotation.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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