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Offseason Positional Outlook: Safety

With the 2015 draft just a month away, we turn our attention to the defense and take a look at how each position performed in 2014 and what to expect in 2015. We start our look at defense with the safeties.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

2014 Depth Chart (4 Safeties)

FS: Reggie Nelson
SS: George Iloka
Backups: Shawn Williams, Taylor Mays
PS: None

2014 Recap:

Coming into the 2014 season, the safeties were a bit of a question mark. Nelson was a proven commodity and Pro-Bowl caliber safety, but the jury was still out on Iloka, Williams and Mays. The jury is still out on Williams and Mays, but not Iloka. Iloka and Nelson combined to become one of the better safety duos in the NFL and bring a lot of optimism to the position in 2015.

2015 Outlook:

FS: Reggie Nelson

For the second time in the past three years, Nelson led the Bengals in interceptions (4) and continued his reputation as a hard hitting, play making safety. Nelson has become one of the best players and best leaders on a solid Bengals defense and will enter the 2015 season as the unquestioned starter at free safety.

SS: George Iloka

Iloka entered 2014 with a lot of questions, so much so that the Bengals brought in veteran Danieal Manning to compete for Iloka’s starting job. Iloka impressed so much in camp that the Bengals cut Manning and Iloka proved them right for doing so. Starting all 16 games, the 24-year-old Iloka had his best year as a pro, notching 79 tackles and 3 interceptions. The 6’4", 225 pound Iloka also built a reputation as a big hitting safety (ask Jimmy Graham) and started garnering comparison among Bengals fans to another big, hard hitting safety – David Fulcher. Iloka will be a free agent after the 2015 season and likely earned himself a nice payday with his 2014 campaign.

Shawn Williams

Iloka’s emergence as a quality starting safety was good news for everyone but Shawn Williams. The second year player, and former 2013 third round selection of the Bengals, was hoping to get a shot to show the coaches what he could do. Thanks to Iloka playing so well, Williams only saw the field on special teams and limited mop up duty. With Nelson and Iloka entering contract years, 2015 will be a big season for Williams to show whether or not he can assume a starting role should Nelson and/or Iloka not return.

Taylor Mays

Like Williams, Mays saw limited action as a result of Iloka’s emergence. However, due to the former first round pick’s size and versatility, he did see a bit more playing time as a nickel linebacker. Mays recently signed with Minnesota, so the Bengals will be looking to replace Mays at both backup safety and coverage linebacker.

Outside Competition

2015 Positional Free Agency Outlook

The only safety currently on the roster with a contract beyond 2015 is Shawn Williams, who has  just a handful of NFL snaps to his name. Neslon, Iloka and Williams are locks for 2015, so that leaves one open spot for a safety. Don’t look for the Bengals to fill that spot before the draft. I believe the Bengals will leave that spot open going into draft and depending on how the draft falls, will determine if the Bengals fill that last safety position with a rookie or a free agent. My prediction is that they will sign a veteran safety (like a Danieal Manning type) and draft a rookie because at the end of the 2015 season, I believe the Bengals will re-sign Iloka and let Nelson walk - unless he is willing to sign at a bargain price.  I love Nelson, but he will turn 33 at the start of the 2016 season and I don’t see the Bengals offering him much.

2015 Positional Draft Outlook

I believe the Bengals will draft a safety and probably pick up a free agent rookie as well. In fact, with the holes the Bengals filled in free agency, I don’t think you can rule out a first round safety. If Alabama’s Landon Collins is still on the board when the Bengals pick in the first round, it is not out of the realm of possibility that they take him. Either way, with just three safeties on the roster, one aging veteran and two expiring contracts, the Bengals will be adding one or two new faces to the safety position in 2015.

General Roster Makeup: 4 Safeties
2015 Roster Prediction:
S (4): Nelson, Iloka, Williams, ??
PS (1): Rookie

2015 Positional Stock Outlook:


With Nelson and Iloka, the Bengals are set at the safety position in 2015 (barring injury) and have a solid returning duo. However, beyond the 2015 season, things look a little murky.