Vincent Rey figures to play a big role for the Cincinnati Bengals this season.

Duke in the NFL: Previewing the 2017-18 season

With the 2017 NFL season kicking off Thursday night, several Blue Devils find themselves playing key roles on 53-man rosters. The Blue Zone previews the season ahead for these former Duke players. 

Jamison Crowder, Washington

After enjoying a breakout season in 2016 in which he was one of the league’s most consistent receivers, Crowder returns to Washington in 2017 with high expectations. Washington retained quarterback Kirk Cousins this past offseason, which bodes well for Crowder, who benefitted greatly from the team's willingness to trust Cousins and his receiving corps in 2016. Washington finished the year ranked second in the NFL in passing offense, and Crowder ranked third on the team behind DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. 

After both Jackson and Garcon left Washington, expectations are high for Crowder. The 5-foot-9 receiver scored seven touchdowns last season, a figure that few expect him to match given his small stature. Nevertheless, he still figures to be a bigger part of an offense that will continue to run through Cousins and his receivers. 

In his last appearance in the preseason against Cincinnati, he grabbed two of three targets for 24 yards. He has certainly been a reliable option for Cousins to lean on in his first two seasons in the league—he has caught almost 72 percent of passes targeted to him. 

Jeremy Cash, Carolina Panthers

Now in his second year with the Panthers, Cash figures to see an expanded role in 2017. The former Blue Devil standout linebacker will still be a backup when the season begins behind Thomas Davis, Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson, but will likely see more action on special teams. 

In Carolina’s last preseason game against the Steelers, Cash recorded four tackles before traveling back to Durham to take in the Blue Devils’ season-opening 60-7 rout of NCCU Saturday. 

Laken Tomlinson, San Francisco 49ers

After two years in Detroit, Tomlinson was traded to the 49ers on the last day of August for a fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft. The Lions picked him in the first round in 2015 to help rebuild their offensive line, but the success they hoped for never fully materialized. 

Graham Glasgow replaced Tomlinson at guard last year, and Tomlinson only made it back into the starting lineup once Glasgow moved over to center. Tomlinson will likely compete with Zane Beadles and Brandon Fusco for a starting guard position as starting left guard Joshua Garnett continues to recover from a knee injury. 

Ross Cockrell, New York Giants

Cockrell also found himself on the move last week—the Steelers shipped him to the Giants in exchange for a conditional 2018 draft pick. The Farmington Hills, Mich., native made 16 starts for Pittsburgh in 2016 and made 62 tackles, an improvement from the 44 tackles he posted in seven starts for the Steelers in 2015. He projects to be the No. 4 cornerback on New York’s roster ahead of Michael Hunter, who has been out with a concussion.

Vincent Rey, Cincinnati Bengals 

With Vontaze Burfict out for the first three games of the season for violating the NFL’s player safety policies, Rey will again start in his place at linebacker in the season opener. 

Burfict also missed the first three games of 2016 for player safety violations and the first six games of 2015 while recovering from microfracture surgery. During that six-game stretch in 2015, with Rey starting in place of Burfict, the Bengals went 6-0. 

The seventh-year pro has also impressed in his other shorter stints as Burfict’s replacement in the starting lineup, enough that Cincinnati rewarded him with a three-year extension in 2016. Rey also figures to see plenty of time in special teams as well. 

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