The Bengals went into the 2011 NFL Draft needing a safety badly. Unfortunately, this year's draft class wasn't considered very strong at the safety position and the Bengals needed a quarterback, wide receiver and linemen just as bad. So, it wasn't too terribly surprising that they hadn't selected a safety by the time the fifth round rolled around.
What was maybe a little more surprising was their fifth round selection. Both Tyler Sash and Ahmad Black, who were ranked higher on most big boards at the safety position, were both on the board when the Bengals went on the clock with the No. 134 pick, but the Bengals decided to select West Virginia's Sands.
It seems, though, that they got the safety they wanted.
"We’re very happy to be able to choose Robert Sands at this point in the draft. He’s a guy with some unique qualities," Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Croyle said. "He’s very tall — an angular guy — who’s six-foot-four and 217 pounds. He has played in a lot of different spots in the scheme they run at West Virginia. They’ve utilized him in a lot of places because he’s a rare athlete who can run. He has some very good football instincts."
In his time at West Virginia, Sands started 31 of 39 games. He recorded 151 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, recovered one fumble, deflected eight passes and intercepted six. While all of those are impressive stats for a college safety, what attracted the Bengals to Sands the most may be his versatility.
"I feel comfortable at the free or the strong," Sands said. " I feel comfortable in the back (defensive backfield) being able to see the whole field and having everything in front of me. I like it back there. I played some linebacker last year, but that was because of special package deals in third-down."
"When I step out on that field, I make sure everybody knows who I am, and I make sure they’re accounting for me." Sands said.
Former Bengal John Thornton believes that Sands can be the Bengals opening day starting safety. That might be the case, but even if it's not, Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Croyle believes that he'll definitely make an immediate impact on the team's defense.
"He’s very aggressive, runs the alley and makes plays on balls out in space, which impressed us because he is a big guy," Croyle said. "When you see tall guys like this, you want to see if they get broken down and make tackles on smaller athletic guys, which he did and did it pretty consistently throughout the year. He’s a guy who has that type of athleticism. Because of his size, I think he’ll have a lot of opportunity to help us."