On Thursday, we kicked off a top-five list of the best player trades in Cincinnati Bengals history. To some criticism and controversy, running back Brian Leonard kicked off our list at No.5. We continue our list with a player who currently starts on the Bengals defense in safety Reggie Nelson.
When Nelson entered the league as a first round pick of the Jaguars (No.21 overall), expectations were high. As a rookie, Nelson answered the bell and was a fringe Pro Bowler, racking up five interceptions, a sack, 11 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. It laid a path for even higher expectations going forward.
A combination of depleted talent around him, coaches misusing him as a cornerback at times and underperformance by Nelson himself put him in the doghouse of then-coach Jack Del Rio. After three seasons in Jacksonville, he was officially on the trading block in 2010.
The Bengals came calling and struck a deal for Nelson shortly before the season began. They shipped embattled cornerback David Jones and a conditional pick that didn't end up being dealt because of those conditions not being met in 2010. Perhaps it centered around Nelson only starting six games for the Bengals that year.
Even with the limited starts, Nelson played good football for the Bengals and propelled himself into a starting role in 2011. After another good season in 2011, Nelson was a sought after free agent. He narrowed his search down to the Jets and the Bengals and ultimately decided to stick in Cincinnati, which was a refreshing change for the Bengals in free agency. He continued his Cincinnati renaissance in 2012, putting up another quality season and is locked up for another two seasons.
In his Bengals career spanning three seasons (about two and a half as a starter), Nelson has racked up nine interceptions, one touchdown, four forced fumbles, three sacks and 28 passes defensed. Perhaps the biggest play he has made as a Bengal came in Week 16 last season when he intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass to help set up the winning field goal and send Cincinnati to the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
He has solidified the back end of the defense with his play and has shown the ability to make plays against the pass and the run. He's one of Mike Zimmer's favorites and is quickly becoming one of the fan favorites as well.