How often will the defensive rookies see the field?
First round pick Billy Price is all but guaranteed to start at center for the Bengals this year. However, it is unclear how much the other rookies will see the field. The Bengals spent their next three picks on defensive players, all of whom could contribute this season.
Second round pick Jessie Bates II seems to be the third safety on the team, and the best pure free safety. While he’s clearly behind George Iloka and Shawn Williams, Teryl Austin might throw out some three safety sets, allowing Bates to get on the field. Otherwise, Bates will likely spend this season developing behind Iloka and Williams. It’s worth watching to see if Bates, Iloka, and Williams are on the field at the same time during camp, though.
The two third round picks – Sam Hubbard and Malik Jefferson – are in an even tighter spot for playing time. Hubbard, a pure edge rusher, is ready to contribute this year, and Austin has already stated he wants to get Hubbard playing time. Still, it will be tough to beat out Carl Lawson, Michael Johnson, and Jordan Willis for snaps. Hubbard could be useful for heavy blitz packages, though, something the Bengals may experiment with during camp.
Jefferson, on the other hand, may be the most athletic of the Bengals linebackers. His issue, though, is feel and technique, so he may spend a year on development like Bates. Jefferson’s athleticism could be useful against the run game this season, still. Jefferson is a better run stopper than probable starter Nick Vigil, so he may take some snaps from Vigil this season. It will be worth watching what the Bengals’ coaches have Jefferson focus on during camp this year.