TUSCALOOSA AL - SEPTEMBER 11: Mark Barron #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide intercepts a pass intended for Brett Brackett #83 of the Penn State Nittany Lions at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 11 2010 in Tuscaloosa Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
According to well-informed and hard-working Joe Reedy with the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cincinnati Bengals hosted Alabama safety Mark Barron at some point this week. Generally accepted as the top safety prospect in this year's NFL Draft, it's questionable if Barron would even fall to the Bengals at No. 17 due to the number of teams that have a need for someone -- however Bolts from the Blue selected Barron for the San Diego Chargers at No. 18 during the SB Nation Mock Draft (we picked Stephon Gilmore).
While questioning his durability, Scout Inc gives him an exceptional grade in instincts, recognition and run support with above average grades in coverage and ball skills:
Quick to diagnose. Shows very good awareness in zone coverage. Very effective reading QBs' eyes and consistently gets an early break on the ball. Does a nice job diagnosing routes in man-to-man coverage, as well (10:17 1st QTR vs. Ark 2011). Understands angles in run game and plays with discipline. Another coach-on-the-field type.
After the team released veteran Chris Crocker, the Bengals have three safeties signed for the 2012 season, including starting free safety Reggie Nelson. Taylor Mays is expected to make the move as the team's starting strong safety, but if the team elects to draft Barron with one of their first two picks (do we seriously have to say "if he's available"?), then you might as well write "open competition".