The future of the Cincinnati Bengals’ cornerback room is uncertain and it’s an aspect of their team they absolutely must address this offseason. Once thought to be a strength of the roster due to multiple first-round investments over the years, things are shaping up to get ugly in the secondary if the front office doesn’t piece together a solid plan to secure the position.
Top corner William Jackson III is set to hit free agency come March, and it’s far from a sure thing that he’ll be retained. In fact, it seems his situation is trending in a direction that makes him more likely to sign elsewhere, although it’s entirely too early to know for certain.
The club did sign Trae Waynes to a massive contract last season, but he’s yet to take a single snap in stripes thanks to injury, giving further cause for concern. There’s also youngster Darius Philips on the roster, and he’s shown flashes of brilliance from time to time. However, he’s far better suited to play slot cornerback and his injury history is troubling, to say the least.
Simply put, the Bengals are in a precarious position when it comes to the corner position. Whether it be through free agency, the draft, or both, reinforcements have to be added.
CB Ifeatu Melifonwu is the perfect mid-round Bengals target
It’s clear the Bengals need to add talent to the cornerback room. The problem is, they arguably have far more pressing concerns. The offensive line needs a major upgrade and the defensive line requires bolstering after the unit finished with the fewest sacks in the league in 2020.
So, there’s a good chance the available cap space and top draft selections go towards those positions, not cornerback. That’s where Syracuse standout Ifeatu Melifonwu steps in. Current projections from many have him going in the third or fourth round, a perfect range for Cincinnati to pounce on his upside while still attacking their more alarming concerns.
Speaking of upside, Melifonwu has plenty of it. He has unusual size for the corner position, standing at 6’3 and weighing nearly 200 lbs. In other words, he possesses the kind of physicality to match up with even the biggest receivers he comes across.
Joe Marino of The Draft Network had this to say about the Massachusetts native,
"“Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu is long, rangy, athletic, and physical, making him a toolsy prospect that is an ascending talent…has the potential to develop into a terrific starter as he becomes more consistent and solidifies his technique.”"
Clearly, Melifonwu has the potential to develop into an exciting starter. Even if that doesn’t happen right away, his stature combined with his athleticism makes him a perfect candidate to match up against tight ends and in nickel situations from day one.
Melifonwu fits the bill of a typical Bengals draft selection
Adding even further to Melifonwu’s intrigue is his ability to contribute in run defense. Last year, he ranked third in tackles among ACC cornerbacks. Strong tackling ability is an attribute the Bengals clearly tried to add to their secondary last year through free agency, and it’s a trait that could already have him on their radar.
The redshirt junior checks off the experience requirements Cincinnati so often seeks as well. He’s had two full seasons of starts under his belt.
Melifonwu accepted an invitation to this year’s Senior Bowl, an event Zac Taylor and co. have already proven to pay close attention to. Keep an eye out for the stellar corner as he faces off against some of the nation’s best prospects. If he performs up to his potential, he could very well end up trading his Syracuse orange for the shade found in the Queen City.