Ever since Marvin Lewis took over in 2003, players he's selected in the final round of the draft have rarely made the 53-man roster, let alone made a big impact for the Bengals. Clayton Fejedelem hopes to break that trend after he was the team's lone seventh-round pick in this year's draft.
The Bengals selected the Illinois safety with the 245th overall pick of the 2016 Draft and his journey to the NFL is one rarely seen as his career began at the NAIA level. Before attending Illinois, Fejedelem played for NAIA school St. Xavier State. During his time there, Fejedelem sent his highlight tapes to FBS schools around the country in hopes of making the jump to major college football.
That led to Illinois promising Fejedelem that he could walk on if he could get accepted into Illinois. In 2014, he was accepted and became one of the Big Ten's best safeties during his final year of college. He led his team in tackles with 140 this past year to go with 4.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and seven pass deflections. That came after his junior year in 2014 when he was a part-timer racking up 49 tackles and two pass deflections.
After only one impactful year in the FBS ranks coupled with beginning his career at the NAIA level, Fejedelem was not someone expected to be drafted until late on Day 3, if at all. Keep in mind, there are 253 total picks in the NFL Draft.
ESPN's Todd McShay ranked him 286th overall. Pro Football Focus had Fej as their 201st-best prospect. Neither Mel Kiper nor SB Nation's Mocking the Draft had the Illinois safety ranked in their top 300 prospects.
If you average out all of the services that did rank Fej, he had an average ranking of 241.5. That would indicate the Bengals got good value in him with the 245th overall selection.
Coldomaha.com rounded up more than 40 draft boards and combined them to evaluate how players were ranked overall. They ranked Fejedelem as the 271st-best prospect. That means he was valued a bit lower than where the Bengals got him, with pick 245.
As for his rookie season, Fej is battling Floyd Raven and Derron Smith for playing time at the third safety spot behind starters George Iloka and Shawn Williams. I believe the second-year Smith wins said job, leaving Fej only having to beat out Raven for the final safety spot on the roster.
That is until Taylor Mays returns. He enters 2016 suspended for the first four games, so he won't count against the 53-man roster until Week 5 at the earliest. That means even if Fej makes the initial 53-man roster, he has to show enough for the team not to cut him if they want to put Mays on the 53-man roster.
The Bengals probably won't keep more than four safeties this year, especially with cornerback Josh Shaw being able to play safety. That's going to make it challenging for Fej to remain on the 53-man roster all year, but it's up to him to prove his worth.