The Bengals have a clear need for safety depth this year. Shawn Williams and George Iloka are likely to be the starters in 2016 and the team seems to like backups Derron Smith and Taylor Mays. Still, losing Pro Bowl free safety Reggie Nelson to the Oakland Raiders this offseason is huge. As much as the Bengals like Williams and Iloka, finding someone who can provide competition in camp as well as provide an insurance policy should something happen seems like a good idea in a year where they don't seem to have many pressing needs going into the draft.
If you're looking to replace the element that Reggie Nelson brought to the table, look no further than Boise State safety, Darian Thompson. During his time in college, he broke the Mountain West Conference's all-time career interception record with 19. The Bengals haven't knowingly met with him, but he has great potential with the only red-flags being on-field ones that can be ironed out in practice. And, the Bengals have already had great success with one Broncos safety... Iloka!
Height/weight: 6'2", 208 lbs
Arm Length: 30 3/8"
3-Cone drill: 7.26 sec
Vertical Jump: 32.5"
Broad Jump: 118.0"
40-yard dash: 4.69 sec
NFL Comparisons: Morgan Burnett (NFL.com), Bacari Rambo (CBS)
Depending on who you ask, Thompson is considered to be a prospect that will be drafted as early as the mid second round and as late as the end of the fourth round. It's not hard to see why people are intrigued. He was very productive at Boise State, earning All-American honors both of the last two seasons. He's considered to be one of the best pure safeties in the draft, so the Bengals should definitely keep him on their radar if he falls to them on Day 2.
He's an extremely agile player, despite being fairly large and intimidating. If the Bengals could have him available to back up Shawn Williams and contribute on special teams in the mean time, it would be hard to see much of any downside to picking him up. If they pass on him in the second round and still don't have a safety by the third, you've got to think they will pull the trigger. If they don't and he's available in the fourth, like some believe he could be, they'd be absolutely insane to pass on him.
Strengths: He doesn't just look like a free safety, he's got the kind of size that can rival most players in the NFL. At 6'2", few receivers are going to be able to cleanly jump over him for deep passes. Because of his size and agility, he's got much more room to let a receiver get behind him so he can undercut the route and intercept the ball. If he ends up with a bad angle, he can probably still get his hand on the ball and knock it down. He's also got quite the impressive ability to get into the backfield if asked to. He can pull linemen away from the edge if needed, or chase down a ball carrier in the backfield. Purely from an upside standpoint, his potential seems limitless.
Weaknesses: Thompson could stand to improve his mental game. He hasn't quite developed the kind of awareness or instincts to make a strong impact on the NFL right away. He's also fairly undisciplined in both coverage and pursuit. It leads to more open deep plays than you're probably comfortable with, and it can lead to quite a few missed tackles. He needs to simultaneously loosen his hips and tighten his game. He improvises too much in coverage which, as mentioned earlier, can lead to a lot of great interception angles, but can also lead to blown coverage against an elite receiver or tight end.
Bottom Line: Thompson is the kind of player that looks great at first, but over-analyzing his game can lead to second-thoughts and even potentially scaring some coaches off. Unfortunately for him, over-analyzing everything is pretty much what scouts and coaches are paid to do. If teams were looking for a player with a ton of upside that needs a lot of refinement in his game, he'd be likely to be in first round consideration. However, teams are looking for guys who are highly talented and ready now, so there's a chance that he slips all the way to the fourth round.
Projected round: 2-4