The NFL Draft. It's the time of year fans feel empowered, slotting players into needs for their favorite team while some just like the challenge of predicting the first rounds. Though it's premature to make predictions on what positions the Bengals will draft -- free agency hasn't happened yet and players could still be franchised or signed with their respective teams -- it's still fun as hell to debate the uncertainty that's still four months away.
As for the Bengals, our early projections for team needs isn't a short list. At least one guard, perhaps several (depending on the team re-signing one of their own, namely Bobbie Williams), is an absolute necessity. Perhaps the team could sign a guard in free agency, or perhaps someone like David DeCastro will fall to them at 17 or 21. Yet one area that could be identified as a need, but might not be addressed as such, is safety.
If Cincinnati re-signs Reggie Nelson, who is entering free agency as an unrestricted free agent, it still leaves one starting safety position up for grabs with the presumption that Chris Crocker's role will be reduced from starter to "utility guy" in the secondary. Will Cincinnati look to the draft for a safety?
"I think we’ll have the most intense competition at the safety spot that we’ve probably had," (Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin) Coyle said Wednesday. "Along with the guys we hopefully bring back, this group will have the most competition that we’ve ever had in terms of players being on the cusp of challenging to be starting players. These guys are at the point now where they legitimately have the opportunity to go out there and prove themselves."
The players Coyle keeps referencing are the younger guys Cincinnati acquired last year in Taylor Mays and Robert Sands, along with cornerback Brandon Ghee possibly having a greater role in next year's defense.
Defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle argued that along with their big size, they run well and once they get the mental aspect down, they could reach a high level.
"They’ve got to be very technique sound and conscious because it’s not easy for a big man to change direction in space. They’ve got to be conscious of playing low, bending their knees, and being able to anticipate the game to make plays. I think they’re capable. I’ve seen them do it numerous times on the practice field."
Taylor Mays, a former second-round draft pick for San Francisco, will enter his first offseason with the Bengals after a season in which he dealt with several nagging injuries.
Said Coyle of Mays: "He has some unique physical qualities which puts him in a rare category. The one aspect of playing the position though is to become an effective safety it doesn't require size and speed. There's a football intellect and savvy that the great players have have. All these guys have the physical skills that once it comes together they'll be effective."
Does that mean the Bengals won't address safety in the NFL Draft? No. They still need work developing the team's depth and if a player like Alabama's Mark Barron, listed as the draft's best prospect at safety according to Scout Inc. and 14th overall, is available, the team has to consider it. After that the talent level at safety declines, with Notre Dame's Harrison Smith, Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin, USC's T.J. McDonald and Michigan State's Trent Robinson rounding out the top five positional rankings according to Scout Inc.
Regardless if the draft doesn't offer solutions at safety, the team may already have one in the works, developing the younger players acquired last year.