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Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Bengals rookie report: A late-season check

By Coley Harvey

CINCINNATI -- Let's start this by wishing each and everyone of you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. Hopefully Santa was as kind to your families as he was to mine.

As you well know, the Cincinnati Bengals news and analysis doesn't stop here on the ESPN.com Bengals blog; not even for an in-season holiday. Don't you worry, though, I'm still very much enjoying my day away from Paul Brown Stadium, just like I'm sure the Bengals are, as well. We'll be back there Thursday morning when practices resume for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens.

It appears at first glance that Cincinnati's 2013 draft class has had a solid first year. As you take a brief holiday break, take a look at our check-up on the Bengals' rookies in this breakdown (in draft order):

TE Tyler Eifert. 1st Round (21st overall).

The lowdown: Eifert has been a key contributor throughout the season, catching passes in all 15 games so far. Another large presence on the outside edge, he also has factored heavily in the Bengals' blocking game, helping open holes for running backs like Giovani Bernard, and keeping quarterback Andy Dalton upright. Eifert's potential appears limitless, whether he someday becomes the featured tight end in the offensive system, or continues to play a complementary role in a two-tight end scheme. While the Bengals haven't had him and Jermaine Gresham on the field at the same time as often as they did at the beginning of the season, they still are giving him his share of repetitions and passes. Through 15 games, Eifert has 39 catches on 59 targets for 445 yards and two touchdowns.
Grade: B+.

RB Giovani Bernard. 2nd Round (37th overall).

The lowdown: The season began with pleas for the Bengals to go with Gio. They were heard then and continue to be. With 673 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 157 carries, the shifty, speedy and agile Bernard has provided the Bengals the perfect balance to the pile-moving, body-checking BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The pair could end the season with 1,500 yards rushing between them, helping answering the question about whether Cincinnati's two-back system really was a good idea. But it's not just in the rushing game where Bernard has made a name for himself. He also ranks second on the team with 51 receptions. He has 463 yards receiving including three receiving touchdowns. His ability to make plays in space both in the pass-catching and rushing game have made Bernard a true offensive weapon. The Bengals walked away with a steal when they selected him early in the second round. His blitz pick-up and blocking skills have improved over the course of the season, as well, making the pick even more smart.
Grade: A.

DE Margus Hunt. 2nd Round (53rd overall).

The lowdown: Expectations were high for Hunt entering the season, but they may have been a little too exaggerated. The first-year defensive end, who only started playing American football while at college at SMU, has gone through a few learning pains this season. Much of the early portion of the year was spent trying to get him to understand basic principles to playing any position on the defensive line at the NFL level. He's caught on, slowly watching his playing time increase. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins' season-ending ACL injury helped get Hunt on the field more often. He was inactive for the first four games and missed two more in the early part of the season. Since he's been playing more, he has recorded two defensive tackles and seven more on special teams. The Estonian's best football still appears to be ahead of him.
Grade: B.

S Shawn Williams. 3rd Round (84th overall).

The lowdown: Mostly limited to special teams, Williams hasn't appeared much on defense this season. His most defensive snaps came in the 49-9 blowout of the New York Jets in late October. He was part of 10 plays. He also played one more two weeks later against Cleveland. With players above him on the depth chart, Williams hasn't really been expected to be a defensive factor this season. On special teams, though, he has had impact. In that same game against the Browns, he had a first-half blocked punt that helped give the Bengals some early momentum.
Grade: B+.

LB Sean Porter. 4th Round (118th overall).

The lowdown: An injury during training camp hasn't allowed Porter to show what all he's capable of doing. The Texas A&M product had one tackle in the preseason opener in Atlanta before tearing his labrum four days later. Since then, he has been on injured reserve.
Grade: N/A

OT Tanner Hawkinson. 5th Round (156th overall).

The lowdown: An extra body on the 53-man roster, Hawkinson hasn't played at all this season. He's only been active four times this season. Primarily on the roster for depth purposes, the young lineman is still learning how to play on a team that has a group of solid tackles above him. Depending upon what happens with backup tackle Anthony Collins' contract status in the offseason, Hawkinson could earn a bigger role in the next few seasons.
Grade: N/A

RB Rex Burkhead. 6th Round (190th overall).

The lowdown: A fan favorite, Burkhead has had trouble getting on the field. When Green-Ellis and Bernard are eating up all the snaps from a backfield that also contains the likes of Cedric Peerman, the rookie won't see too many active games. In fact, he's only been active once so far this season.
Grade: N/A

WR Cobi Hamilton. 6th Round (197th overall).

The lowdown: Relegated to practice squad duties, Hamilton hasn't appeared in a game this season. He has been a good simulator of some the receivers the Bengals have faced this season. Maybe he's a reason behind some of Cincinnati's defensive success.
Grade: N/A

OT Reid Fragel. 7th Round (240th overall).

The lowdown: Fragel was relegated to practice-squad duties after the roster was trimmed following training camp. He was picked up off of Cincinnati's practice squad in October by Cleveland.
Grade: N/A

C T.J. Johnson. 7th Round (251st overall).

The lowdown: Johnson also has been on the practice squad since the start of the season, and remains there.
Grade: N/A