The way the Bengals wrapped up the draft shouldn't surprise anyone who has been keeping up with their activity leading up to this weekend. They selected safety Clayton Fejedelem out of the University of Illinois with the 245th pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Given the fact that the Bengals did not re-sign Reggie Nelson in the offseason, you had to know they were probably going to be thinking safety at some point in this draft. The fact that they liked Fejedelem has been evident ever since they met with him in February and attended his pro day in March. He seems like the kind of player who has a good chance to stick with the team and potentially make an impact. Obviously the Bengals liked him, and it's not hard to figure out why.
What Fejedelem brings to the Bengals
Run stopping power: Fejedelem is a box safety, which is starting to become seen as more and more obsolete in the NFL. However, his style of play, instincts, and talent are all geared toward stopping the run every time. He has downhill pursuit instincts. He also has enough vision and reaction time to be able to make up for his less than stellar play in man coverage. It wouldn't be a bad idea to use him in a nickel role to cover slot receivers while he builds up his general coverage skills.
Film Room Junkie: For having some fairly pressing weak spots in his game, he's motivated and driven enough to work on his issues with determination. He probably wasn't talented enough in certain aspects to be taken any higher than the seventh round, but he could very well be one of those players who really 'clicks' in the professional environment of the NFL.
Used to being underestimated: When you're picking up a guy in the seventh round, you're looking for someone who has the chance to grow into their talent, despite not having quite shifted into that final gear yet. Fejedelem already knows what it's like to be a gear behind everyone else and find success anyway. He began his playing career in high school and didn't end up with enough buzz by the time he graduated to be pursued by many college programs. Instead of being deterred by the lack of interest, he walked onto the University of Illinois football team and eventually secured a starting spot, recording a breakout season in 2015.
Why Fejedelem to the Bengals makes sense
Special teams prowess: Fejedelem was a consistent contributor on special teams at Illinois and we know the Bengals love picking up guys with a lot to prove then sticking them on special teams. It's hard to say whether or not he's strong enough as a safety to beat out any of the guys currently on the roster, but his ability to contribute on the kick and punt return defense teams should improve his stock for the team dramatically.
Solid Tackler: One of the Bengals' biggest problems lately has been missing tackles. They missed 120 total in 2015 alone, according to Pro Football Focus. Granted, that's just a little below average for the NFL, but 120 missed tackles is nothing to be proud about. Fejedelem hits ball carriers right in the chest, rarely risking a dangerous play or a penalty.
His solid tackling technique resulted in a conference leading 102 tackles in 2015. Whenever he's on the field, he should be an upgrade for the Bengals' ability to bring the ball carrier down.
Owns the zone: While it's true that box safeties are going out of style in the NFL, the Bengals' defensive scheme is still generally pretty friendly to this style of player. He needs to improve on his man coverage if he wants to make an impact as a consistent starter in the NFL, but he's got the kind of instincts and pursuit ability to make zone coverage a strong point in his game. He attacks the catch point, so a receiver can get their hands on the ball and regularly not come down with it when trying to work in his zone.