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Rashard Mendenhall #34 dives into the end zone for a touchdown as Chris Crocker #42 and Kelly Jennings #23 defend (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Where The Holes Lie On Defense: Safety

Safety: (Was it really any secret that I was going to choose both secondary spots?) You’ve got the aging and embarrassingly bad Crocker on one side, and the slightly-above-average Reggie Nelson on the other. There’s also Taylor Mays and Robert Sands who factor into the equation for draft discussions. Reggie Nelson is a free agent this year, and it’s expected that the Bengals will resign him. Crocker has one more year on his contract and will be getting 1.75 million from the Bengals this year, making him unofficially the fifth-highest paid player on the Bengals in 2012 (grumble…grumble…). Taylor Mays is signed for two more years. Robert Sands has three more years on his rookie contract. Gibril Wilson is a free agent this year. Special teams ace Jeromy Miles is a restricted free agent this year.

42 Crocker, Chris S 5-11 197 31 9 Marshall
26 Mays, Taylor S 6-3 230 23 2 Southern California
45 Miles, Jeromy S 6-2 210 24 2 Massachusetts
20 Nelson, Reggie S 5-11 206 28 5 Florida
31 Sands, Robert S 6-4 209 22 R West Virginia
27 Wilson, Gibril S 6-0 206 30 8 Tennessee

I think that Strong Safety Chris Crocker deserve’s the co-LVP along with Nate Livings. And, I don’t think anyone will argue. Crocker has had his fair share of embarrassing mistakes this year and all of them make you scream at the TV and wonder why a 31-year old veteran can be so stupid. Whether it’s blown coverages, missed tackles, or penalties, Crocker seems to know how to embarrass himself. Interestingly though, he doesn’t rank as poorly as you’d think. On Pro Football Focus, Crocker placed 43rd out of 86 safeties in the league that received significant playing time. (Surprising?) Crocker’s mistakes may be horrendous, but don’t think he is one of the worst players in the league.

I’d slot Crocker as very, very mediocre player. He is one of Zimmer’s guys from their time together in Atlanta, and he can make a few plays in the run game. However, talent-wise he has a very low ceiling. He’s 31 already, and I can’t see him improving a lot by 2012. He’s the team’s weakest link on defense, and I hope the Bengals organization recognizes that.

However, we may see him in stripes again next year. If the Bengals don’t draft his replacement in the first two rounds of the draft, no safety on the team is good enough to replace him just yet. Taylor Mays could get there eventually, but no one outside the Bengals organization knows just how well he is progressing at this point. We heard good reports at the beginning of the year, then Mays gradually replaced Gibril Wilson as the team’s third safety, but he still made mistakes on the field (remember when he whiffed on Donario Alexander in the endzone in the Rams game?). If Mays doesn’t improve and the Bengals don’t draft a safety, Crocker will be starting again for the Bengals in 2012.

At the Free Safety position, Reggie Nelson appears to be locked in as the started for 2012. All signs point to Reggie getting resigned with the Bengals in 2012 and beyond. But, his play hasn’t been perfect this year. To the casual eye, it appears that Reggie has done everything right this year, but I must warn you from thinking that Reggie is without his flaws. From my film study this year, I can say that Reggie is often out of position in both run and pass defense. He can miss tackles because he doesn’t line up in the proper area, and can be slow to react to the QB’s eyes and sprint to where the ball is going. If he were more decisive, he could have prevented a lot of completions this year. Reggie does lead the team in interceptions with 4 this year, but these have mostly been the result of the defensive line getting to the QB as he throws a wobbly duck high in the air. I’ll say this about Reggie: he’s had a good year and set a good foundation, but he must improve his play if this team wants to win a Superbowl.

Of the other guys, I know very little about Robert Sands, except that he’s really tall. Sands is one of the tallest safeties in the league at 6’4″, and his combination of size and athleticism is part of why the Bengals drafted him in the 5th round of the 2011 draft. He’s been inactive for almost every game this year. I’ve heard he has good football instincts, so the fact that he hasn’t seen the field yet makes me think he simply isn’t ready to play at the NFL level just yet. He’s been inactive for 15 of 17 games this year, and could be a big special teams contributor in 2012 if he still isn’t ready to see the field then.

Jeromy Miles is one of the best special teams players on the Bengals. I don’t think he has much of a shot at being the future at safety, but he is certainly a contributor to this team. He is a restricted free agent this year, and will probably be back in 2013 for another year of dominance on coverage teams.

Gibril Wilson probably won’t be on the team in 2012. It looked like Wilson had a very bright future ahead of him in 2007, when he was starting with the New York Giants. Wilson signed a huge contract with the Raiders the next year, then was cut a year later. Then, he signed another huge contract with the Dolphins, but was also cut a year later. Wilson is a smart veteran player. But, he probably doesn’t belong starting in the NFL. He’s not the answer at safety, though he is a good backup and special teams player. With Taylor Mays’ role on this team steadily increasing, I can’t see a future on the team for Gibril. He probably won’t be resigned.

College Names To Rememer: Alabama’s Mark Barron (projected first rounder), Alabama’s Robert Lester (projected second rounder, though a FS), Oklahoma State’s Markelle Martin (projected second or third rounder), Montana’s Trumaine Johnson (projected second or third rounder, though a CB)

Priority: 1. Reggie Nelson is 28. Chris Crocker is 31. You really want to bank the future that much on Taylor Mays and Robert Sands? Markelle Martin or Mark Barron could start as rookies and immediately improve on what the Bengals have in Chris Crocker.

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Tags: 2012 Draft

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