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Bubble watch: BenJarvus Green-Ellis

7/16/2014

Late last month and earlier this month we began taking a look at 11 Cincinnati Bengals who could soon be on the dreaded training camp roster bubble. Camp opens next Thursday.

We had a bit of an interruption, but here is one of the final two players on our bubble watch. Each of the players on this list are ones 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.

Here are links to the nine players who we already analyzed: Taylor Mays, Brandon Tate, James Wilder Jr., Cobi Hamilton, J.K. Schaffer, Dontay Moch, Sam Montgomery, Jayson DiManche and Rex Burkhead.

Up right now: BenJarvus Green-Ellis. One more on the way Thursday.

Why he's on the bubble: Do I really have to answer this? If you've been following along the past two months you know quite well that BenJarvus Green-Ellis' future in Cincinnati looks extraordinarily cloudy. Ever since the Bengals picked Jeremy Hill in the second round of May's draft, conventional logic has said that the veteran Green-Ellis no longer has a place on the team. Hill's drafting coincides with Green-Ellis entering the final year of a three-year deal. After lacking production last season, it stands to reason the Bengals are more willing to build for their future, instead of giving a vet like Green-Ellis an opportunity to continue playing. That's the signal Hill's selection sent, at least. Publicly, the Bengals maintain Green-Ellis has a place on this team and that they believe he can contribute. During minicamps and organized team activity practices, though, he was relegated in some cases to third- and fourth-back status, playing behind the likes of Hill, Giovani Bernard and a combination of Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead. Green-Ellis has been playing for his job since May, and he'll continue to do so when the Bengals return next week.

What he has to do to get off the bubble: On the carries that he receives both in practices and in preseason games, Green-Ellis will have to prove he still has a little home run ability. By rushing for a career-low 3.4 yards per carry last season, Green-Ellis seemed to indicate that his age -- he just turned 29 -- was beginning to catch up to him, and that he wasn't quite the same big-play threat he was even a year prior. In 2012, he had 10 runs in which he gained 15 yards or more. In 2013, he rushed for 15 yards or more on only two carries. It's worth mentioning that Green-Ellis had injuries last season that slowed him some early on. That aside, if he can show off a propensity for picking up big yards this training camp, he might be able to stave off the push Peerman, Burkhead and Wilder certainly will give him. If the Bengals decide to take just four running backs, better big-play production could help Green-Ellis ensure he's part of that group. He also will need to showcase the hands that made him such a valued running back at the start of his career. Through his first four years, Green-Ellis didn't fumble the ball once in a regular-season or postseason game. He's done it five times in the past two seasons. He also caught only four passes in 2013 after having 22 receptions the year before. As the Bengals look to get their running backs more involved in the passing game, Green-Ellis will want to stand out in that regard, as well.

Odds he makes the team: Low. While I'm inclined to go 50/50 here, I'm beginning to think that deep down the Bengals have seen the writing on the wall. They like Burkhead's work ethic and potential, they value Peerman's versatility on offense and special teams and they may like the one-two punch Bernard and Hill could give them atop the running back depth chart. It seemed rather telling when Green-Ellis barely saw less action during the spring practice season than some of his aforementioned counterparts. He has the experience and leadership that can be invaluable to a team with a backfield as young as Cincinnati's, particularly in the playoffs. There are reasons to keep him, but the reasons for dumping him seem more compelling right now.