If the Bengals don’t sign Eric Reid, would that make safety a play in the first round of the draft?
If Eric Reid does not end up on the Bengals, safety is definitely a moderately important need for them in the draft. While Shawn Williams and George Iloka can manage as a safety tandem, there is virtually no depth behind them. Also, with Iloka playing somewhat out of position and Williams slipping a bit last season, the Bengals could even stand to improve on the current starters.
However, as we have documented here on Stripe Hype, the Bengals have more pressing needs than safety in the first round. Most notably, the offensive and defensive lines could use serious reinforcements. The Bengals should address these two positions before looking at safety in the first few rounds. I have vouched for defensive tackle Maurice Hurst at pick 21, while other mocks have us taking offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey, center Frank Ragnow, and offensive guard Will Hernandez, any of which would fill the Bengals most critical needs.
The one exception to prioritizing the lines before safety is if one of the generational talents happens to fall to the Bengals at pick 21. Safety Derwin James out of Florida St. in particular is a player who could take a tumble on draft day. He’s a top ten talent in my eyes, but certain flaws may help him fall outside the top twenty into the Bengals’ lap. James was an absolute monster on the field at Florida St., showing he can be effective at stopping both the run and the pass. However, he dealt with serious injury issues in college. If those injury concerns are enough to dissuade GMs from taking him early in the draft, the Bengals should certainly snatch him up in the first round.
Most likely, the Bengals will address the safety position in the third or fourth round of this year’s draft. In going through mocks, I have found that a third round is a great place for the Bengals to target their favorite safety prospect since there is a drop-off in safety talent after Day 2 of the draft. Two guys in particular I like are Jessie Bates II out of Wake Forest and Kyzir White out of West Virginia.
Bates is a pure “center fielder” free safety who has great ball skills and play recognition. Though he’s not a phenomenal athlete, he could eventually replace Shawn Williams if his injury issues prove to be too much. White, on the other hand, is much more of a hart-hitting strong safety. A protege of former Oakland Raiders first rounder Karl Joseph, White has the upside to become the starting strong safety, allowing Iloka to move back to free safety. The safety talent pool is solid enough for the Bengals to wait until at least Day 2 of the draft to address the position; they don’t need to spend a first-round pick on a safety this year.