One major concern in the past few offseasons for the Bengals has been the safety position. The Bengals came into the 2011 season needing to upgrade the position once again and, for a few minutes, it seemed that they did. Donte Whitner announced that he was signing with the Bengals on Twitter but moments later he took it back and signed with the 49ers. The Bengals were going to head into the season with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as their starters.
Even after the team traded for 49ers safety Taylor Mays, Crocker and Nelson were the main guys. Once again the Bengals need to upgrade the safety position before the season starts. Before we get into that, though, here are the grades for each Bengals safety and the grade for the unit as a whole for 2011.
Free Safety Reggie Nelson: Nelson started every game at free safety for the Bengals and of the two starters, he was the best. He struggled in run support at times with a ProFootballFocus.com score of -3.8 but he wasn't too bad in pass coverage, earning a score of 1.5. Nelson also had three sacks on the season and picked off four passes. He was flagged for some terrible hits on defenseless receivers penalties but for the most part played pretty well. His overall grade from PFF was -3.1.
Strong Safety Chris Crocker: Crocker is a liability on the field both in pass coverage and in run support. His grade for coverage was -2.9 and his run defense score was -4.7. The only positive score he received was as a pass rusher. The play that stands out to me the most was his terrible tackling (I guess he was trying to tackle) attempt on Arian Foster in the playoff game. Crocker has to be replaced for the Bengals to shore up the secondary in 2012. His overall grade was -4.7.
Free Safety Gibril Wilson: Wilson played as much as 30 snaps in some games but in most games he was barely on the field. His run defense score was -0.8 and his pass coverage grade was -0.2. He also had a score of -1 for special teams play.
Strong Safety Taylor Mays: One player that Bengals fans wish they could see more of is Mays. He only saw action in seven games and didn't really play enough in those games for us to get a good look at what he could do. He had a run defense score of -0.8 and a pass coverage score of -1.3 for a total grade of -2. He did have a special teams grade of 1.5, though.
Free Safety Robert Sands: The rookie safety out of West Virginia was only active for one game, the Week 13 matchup against the Steelers, but didn't accumulate any stats.
Strong Safety Jeromy Miles: Miles was also only active in the team's Week 14 matchup and like Sands, he didn't accumulate any stats.
While I'm mostly comfortable with Reggie Nelson moving forward, I'm not comfortable with Crocker. The Bengals need to take a long hard look at the safety position before they take the field in 2012. Whether they promote Mays or find a new safety in the draft or in free agency, it's clear they need to do something. One thing that the Steelers and Ravens have in common, other than their great defenses, are great safeties in Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. If the Bengals want an elite defense, they have to upgrade the position.
For their play in 2011, I would give the Bengals safeties a D. What would you give them?