Should the Bengals seek a safety in this year’s NFL Draft? Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
For the past few years the Bengals have enjoyed some above average play from their secondary. After helping Reggie Nelson reclaim the promise he showed prior to struggling with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Bengals have benefitted from his presence for several years now. This while George Iloka has burgeoned into one of the NFL’s most promising safeties. Acquiring both of these players at such bargain rates–David Jones and a seventh-round pick were traded for Nelson and Iloka was selected in the fifth round–has been a huge score for the Bengals.
In 2016, both players will become free agents and their retention isn’t assured. The Bengals have a lot of players to re-sign in the next couple of years, and though Iloka should be a large priority, another team could effectively court him; being a rising star at just 24 years old will do that. He’s improved substantially over his three years in the league. He played the sixth-most snaps this past year on defense, which displays the value he has within the defense. Iloka has been a huge part of the defense’s success and should be re-signed come next off-season.
The same cannot be said for Reggie Nelson. Although Nelson has been very effective the past few years, the fact remains he’ll be 33 in 2016, which puts him firmly on the back end of his career. It’s not a guarantee that his age will make him ineffective, but it may just be poor timing for the end of his contract. The Bengals have the opportunity this coming year to invest in another safety to possibly replace Nelson; the Bengals already have one potentially promising safety in Shawn Williams.
The suggestion of taking a safety in the upcoming draft shouldn’t be viewed as a slight to Williams who has shown promise over his first couple of seasons. Rather it should be viewed as taking advantage of an opportunity and responding to a changing NFL. Although it’s early in the draft process, there are several safeties that show promise in this year’s draft class. More than this, the NFL is increasingly emphasizing pass-catching tight ends. This presents defenses with the opportunity to employ more safeties in an effort to combat these players; look no further than the success the Bengals have experienced when utilizing Taylor Mays in this way; of note, Mays is a free agent this year.
Also to be considered is the division. The running games of the AFC North’s participants are strong. Having a solid “in the box” safety helps in a big way. George Iloka has proven to be great in this way while he possesses the size and coverage ability to defend the pass. Iloka could move to free safety, which could allow the Bengals to seek a safety to play either position in the deep part of the field.
As the 2015 draft approaches, the Bengals should begin to consider safeties. With Nelson likely moving on in the next two years, investing in one now would give the Bengals options and time to develop any player they bring aboard; something that the team has favored in recent years and is a reason to not discount Williams despite his lack of defensive snaps. Keep an eye on this positional group in the coming months and give us your thoughts. We’ll be sure to do the same in upcoming pieces.