CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 1: Taylor Mays #47 of the Cincinnati Bengals draws a pass interference call while defending a pass for David Gilreath #12 of the Indianapolis Colts in the first half of an NFL preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on September 1, 2011 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
The Cincinnati Bengals had an excellent draft, at least on paper. They addressed needs, found steals through value, solidified positions, generated upcoming vicious camp battles. That being said the Cincinnati Bengals still have a need at strong safety (In$ider), according to Football Outsiders' Danny Tuccitto.
We tend to agree that strong safety is thin. Cincinnati didn't address safety until the end of the fifth round, didn't sign any safety-specific undrafted free agents and invited New Mexico's Bubba Forrest and Eastern Kentucky's Patrick McClellan for this weekend's rookie minicamp.
Taylor Mays is projected as the starter at strong safety with Jeromy Miles as his backup. According to Ourlads depth chart, George Iloka is Reggie Nelson's backup at free safety with Robert Sands listed third on the depth chart. However we suspect that more interchangeability will be at play.
It's at another position in the secondary, however, where the Bengals' biggest hole remains: strong safety. Typically, when a team decides to unceremoniously release an aging team captain, it has a promising understudy already in place (see Pittsburgh's handling of Hines Ward). To replace Chris Crocker, who was allegedly let go due to durability issues even though he started all 16 games last season, Cincinnati has … Taylor Mays? San Francisco basically gave Mays away after only one season, accepting Cincinnati's seventh-round pick in 2013 for a player they drafted in the second round.
Are there in-house options at strong safety other than Mays? Sure, except that Robert Sands, Jeromy Miles and 2012 fifth-rounder George Iloka all have played even fewer NFL snaps on defense than Mays has.
On the free-agent market, the pickings are even slimmer. The best strong safeties out there include Yeremiah Bell and Melvin Bullitt. The Bengals could always bring back Crocker (who is still available), but perhaps Cincinnati is best off if it waits for training camp cuts to make its move.