Darius Phillips, Cornerback
The first player who has been overlooked by fans this offseason is cornerback and kick return specialist Darius Phillips. After an impressive 2019, many expected that the third-year corner would have a more substantial role in 2020. While Phillips was more than deserving of a starting opportunity, the additions of Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in free agency leave him buried on the depth chart.
In 2019, Phillips had a breakout season. Thanks to injuries all over the secondary, the young cornerback was thrust into playing time on multiple occasions. Despite limited opportunities, Phillips led the Bengals in interceptions, getting four picks in only 109 snaps (10% of all defensive snaps) and just one start.
Phillips was a favorite of Pro Football Focus (PFF) as well. With an overall grade of 81.6, he found himself among the top ten highest-graded corners in the entire league. His coverage grade of 83.8 also ranks among the top ten corners in the NFL. If not for some significant signings in free agency, Phillips would be a shoo-in for a starting role in 2020.
In addition to excellent defensive play, Phillips is a dangerous kick returner. In 2019, Phillips returned 17 kicks for a total of 373 yards. However, that doesn’t include a kickoff he returned for a touchdown against the Bills in Week 3 of the 2019 season that was unfortunately called back on a bogus holding penalty. Phillips is an electric kick returner who should give Alex Erickson and Brandon Wilson a run for their money as the lead returner.
Between Phillips’ defensive skills and special teams prowess, he is a valuable weapon for the Bengals, regardless if he gets the chance to prove it in 2020.