NFL: Trenton Irwin’s performance with the Cincinnati Bengals

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It was another near miss for the Cincinnati Bengals as they missed a return trip to the Super Bowl by the closest of margins, falling 23-20 to the Kansas City Chiefs on a last-second field goal. With a host of excellent young skill players and a superstar QB in Joe Burrow, the Bengals look poised to contend for some time, though there are obviously no health or playing level guarantees from week to week, much less year to year. 

The mid 1980’s Dolphins provide a cautionary tale. QB Dan Marino lit up the league in his second season throwing to star young receivers Mark Duper and Mark Clayton. They got to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Joe Montana Niners. The Dolphins looked poised to contend for years, and they did to some extent, but never made it back to the Super Bowl even though Marino went on to a long Hall of Fame career. There is no saying the Bengals and Burrow follow that same path, it more just highlights how tough it is to get back to the top every season. A lot has to go right.

Having unsung players step up and contribute is always key to a successful season. The Bengals got just that in Wide Receiver Trenton Irwin, a guy few beyond big Bengals or Fantasy football fanatics likely ever heard of before the 2022 season. Irwin actually started bouncing around NFL practice squads back in 2019. He played college ball for Stanford and caught 152 passes in his career for 1738 yards and five TDs, including an impressive 40-game streak where he caught at least one pass. At 6’1”, 204 lbs, and average wheels for his position, he had neither the size nor speed to attract much NFL interest. He ended up signing as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins. He did not make the roster and got in August, then signed with the Bengals practice squad in October 2019. He got his first taste of an actual NFL game in late December 2019 but did not get any targets.

Irwin stuck with the Bengals but got waived just before the 2020 season and re-signed to their practice squad, where he remained until a call-up for a Week 16 game in what was then another lost Bengals season. Burrow and the team showed promise in early 2020, but then Burrow went down with a torn ACL midway through the season and the team fell out of contention. Irwin managed to get in the record books, getting two targets from backup QB Brandon Allen, catching one of them for five yards.

It all turned around for the team in 2021, though not quite so much for Irwin. The Bengals won the AFC North and notched their first playoff wins in 30 years on the way to a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Rams. Irwin went back to Bengals training camp, and again did not make the opening roster, and again signed on with the practice squad. He did get his first activation earlier though, in September, and all told appeared in seven games overall. Irwin as a complete afterthought in the offense, catching two passes total for 34 yards on five targets. 

Current Season Performance

Things started out the same in 2022 as they did every other season, but he finally got his breakthrough. Irwin got waived before the opener, then re-signed to the practice squad. Rinse and repeat. He got called up mid-season for a Monday night game vs the Browns thanks to an injury to star receiver Jamar Chase. He caught two of his three targets for 27 yards and showed enough to stick on the roster for the rest of the season. Two weeks later he caught three of his four targets for 42 yards vs the Steelers, including his first NFL touchdown, and then he caught two more TDs in Week 16 vs the Patriots. All told Irwin turned into a reliable fill-in as Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd all missed time down the stretch. Irwin finished with 15 catches on 23 targets for 231 yards and four touchdowns. He finished the year as the Bengal’s fourth receiver and will likely not have to go through the whole practice squad routine in 2023.

No 2023 odds are out just yet, but when they open up right after the Super Bowl, expect to see the Bengals as one of the Super Bowl favorites. Sports betting is legal now for Ohio residents aged 21 or over. New customers can take advantage of many Ohio sports betting promos, including ones offered at Caesars Sportsbooks. Sign up, deposit funds, and place a bet. If it hits, collect the winnings. If it loses, receive a Bet Credit equal to your stake, with a maximum of $1500. 

Despite a rash of injuries on both the offensive line and secondary, the Bengals made it all the way to the AFC championship game. 2023 looks like a very important year for the team as it is likely to mark the final shot to win with Burrow on his rookie contract and relatively low salary cap hit. Higgins will enter his fourth season as well, putting him on the cusp of a big payday. Chase is only a year behind. It is about to get even more and more important for guys like Irwin to emerge and contribute as the Bengals will have to start letting more expensive depth pieces move on in order to keep all the stars on the roster.

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