…because unfortunately, there is less to work with at that position. Despite his glaring inability to make a textbook tackle at any point last season, Reggie Nelson should get the nod to be resigned and to start next year at free safety unless Robert Sands is maturing much faster than anyone is anticipating. Listed at 6’4”, Sands could be considerable force and eventual replacement for Nelson who is only 5’10”, but I haven’t seen any indications of that sort of upgrade taking place just yet. Taylor Mays could be ready to assume of the starting job at strong safety across from him, but you can bet that a back-up for Mays isn’t exactly what Coach Zimmer will be looking for – it’s going to be a full-blown replacement in case he isn’t ready. Chris Crocker, Gibril Wilson and Jeromy Miles aren’t options at this point; they all need to go. Still, one or all may end up staying just because the free agent market for strong safeties just isn’t there. LaRon Landry (Washington) is really the only prospect the Bengals should consider, and though injury prone, he could be a huge addition / option should he manage to keep himself healthy.
Regardless if someone like Landry comes to the Queen City or not, neither he nor Mays can be counted on to carry the season. Mark Barron (SS, Alabama) is still the consensus number one safety this year and should be the target of the 21st pick of the Draft. Barron is a huge value that would add longevity and security to a position, which is and has been debatably the largest liability on either side of the ball for the past few years. The point is that the cornerback corps can be made effective without using a draft pick; the strong safety position simply cannot.
This is, of course, a best case scenario. There is a lot of work left before the Bengals can feel comfortable selecting a first round safety. Hall has show serious indicators he will not only be ready to play, but make an impact. An additional starter caliber corner has to be acquired as insurance for Clements, if not visa-versa. Legitimate back-ups have to be found or resigned, game day ready. Dubiously, should the stars align and the Bengals feel comfortable with their corners, don’t expect any trade ups to go get Barron if it starts to look like he will be selected early. Markelle Martin (S, Oklahoma State) will be waiting in later picks as will sleeper George Iloka (S, Boise State) in the third and fourth rounds respectively. Neither will raise the capacity of the position, but will rather simply keep the carousel of mid-level talent turning.
The compensation pick then becomes Dre Kirkpatick (CB, Alabama). Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama) and Alfonzo Denard (CB, Nebraska) could be available as well, but they make me nervous because of their size; both are listed at less than six feet. Kirkpatrick is not only 6’3” but has a dominating physical style of play will make him an aggressive force with the NFL’s immerging hybrid tight ends and over-sized wide outs. Best of all, Kirkpatrick has all the indicators of being convertible to the safety position, something that makes him extremely interesting long term provided his as of late drug incident is an isolated one. Regardless of moves in the next few months, take the Vegas odds that someone from the starting Crimson Tide secondary will be in stripes by the end of the first round.