The Cincinnati Bengals brought drafted players who can contribute right away at their position and be major upgrades in the special teams area as well.
The Cincinnati Bengals made it a point in this year’s draft to bring in players that can not only contribute to their respected positions right away but on special teams as well. Second-round pick safety Jessie Bates, fourth-round pick running back Mark Walton, and fifth-round pick cornerback Darius Phillips have experience returning kick and punt returns in college. Cincinnati desperately needs a playmaker in the return game and one or even two of these rookies could be the answer.
According to Jay Morrison of the Dayton Daily News, safety Jessie Bates has looked athletic and smooth returning punts at rookie minicamp. Even more so than cornerback Darius Phillips apparently. Bates and Phillips are the top candidates for me when it comes to the return game. In college, Bates returned 27 punts for 234 yards and a touchdown averaging 8.7. His last year at Wake Forest he averaged 17.9 yards per return.
Phillips has the most experience in the return game during his four years at Western Michigan. Over those four seasons, Phillips returned 32 punts for 327 yards and a single touchdown. In the kickoff returns, however, he returned 130 kickoffs for 3,193 yards and five touchdowns averaging 24.6 yards per return. Former Miami running back Mark Walton spent time on special teams returns during his freshman year with 17 kickoff returns for 300 yards.
Last season, the Bengals returners were cornerback Adam Jones and wide receiver Alex Erickson. Jones was released by the Bengals this offseason but there is still a possibility that he could return. Erickson could find himself not making the roster this year if Cincinnati coaches find someone better in the return game, which shouldn’t be a hard job to take over.
Last season Erickson returned the ball 40 times for 278 yards which is a small seven-yard average. It’s obvious that the Bengals need more productivity out of their return game in 2018 and Bates or one of these other rookies could be the answer. However, while it is exciting to hear about players impressing at rookie minicamps, they are playing against most players that won’t even make the roster. We will see how the rookies do when they can compete with the veterans next week at phase three of OTA’s.