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Bengals 2015 Rookie Review: Cornerback Josh Shaw

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Josh Shaw stepped up many times during his first season and helped Cincy's secondary to not miss a beat when guys like Darqueze Dennard and Adam Jones were hurt.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the Cincinnati Bengals picks from the 2015 NFL Draft, few foresaw Josh Shaw being arguably the biggest rookie contributor.

The Bengals used the 120th-overall pick of the draft to select Shaw, and depending on who you asked, he was considered a great value or a slight reach. Though it was a late fourth-round selection, Shaw was one of the more well-known prospects, though it wasn't for the right reasons.

During his 2014 senior season, Shaw was a defensive co-captain for the Trojans, but ended up being suspended 10 games after he injured himself (and lied about it) jumping off a balcony to avoid continuing a fight with his girlfriend.

Because Shaw only played in three games (plus the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl), scouts spent more time focusing on tape from his prior years when Shaw was an All-Conference defensive back at USC while playing both cornerback and safety.

After beginning his career at Florida before transferring, Shaw became a full-time starter for the Trojans in 2013, and in the 14 games he started, 11 were at corner and three at free safety. He notched 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, seven pass defenses and four interceptions. He had a pick-six and returned a blocked punt against Cal for another defensive score.

That kind of versatility and being able to make an impact at both positions made the Bengals like Shaw enough to grab him in Round 4. Cincy loves versatile players who can play multiple positions on defense, which made Shaw very attractive to them, to the point they almost traded up to get him.

After a good showing in training camp and the preseason, Shaw played in 15 games in 2015 as he became not only a key special teams contributor, but also got significant snaps on defense. That was thanks in large part to Darqueze Dennard's season-ending shoulder injury in Week 11, which effectively made Shaw the fourth corner for the rest of the season.

Perhaps Shaw's best game came in Week 14 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which he earned his first and only start as a rookie. He played 52 snaps and helped limit All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown to just seven grabs for 87 yards. Shaw also had a critical third-down stop on Brown at the end of the first half to hold Pittsburgh to a field goal.

That game also saw Ben Roethlisberger pass for just 282 yards and no scores as Shaw and the Bengals defense held down Pitt's high-powered offense (Steelers also scored 14 points off turnovers). Shaw finished that game with a season-high eight tackles.

For the season, Shaw would finish with 23 total tackles and one pass deflection. Though he has the ability to play safety, Shaw showed his best position in the NFL right now is at corner, where he could very well become a key player for the Bengals in 2016.

Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Chris Lewis-Harris are all free agents this offseason, and Dennard is coming off shoulder surgery that could limit him this offseason. Dre Kirkpatrick will also be on the final year of his rookie deal in 2016, so all but Dennard could be gone as early as 2017.

While we should expect to see some of those guys re-signed, having a guy like Shaw ready to step up and play more significant snaps will make life easier for the Bengals in how they decide to shape their secondary in the coming months and years.