The Bengals finished the 2015 NFL season with a top five ranking in opposing quarterback rating (76.9), passes defensed (87), interceptions(21), and passing touchdowns allowed (18). Part of this stout passing defense was due to pressure up front generated by Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, but part of it was also due to a solid group of defensive backs.
Saying that the Bengals place an emphasis on cornerbacks is like saying that Johnny ex-Football places an emphasis on partying. The Bengals’ draft history testifies to this claim, with first round picks invested in Jonathan Joseph, Leon Hall, Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard and now William Jackson over the past dozen years.
Even with the assumed departure of long-time Bengals cornerback (and current free agent) Leon Hall, the Bengals have set themselves up well to be stocked at the cornerback position for the upcoming year and into the future.
Here is a look at the cornerbacks who the Bengals currently have with their salary cap hits:
|Adam Jones||$7.6 M||$7.7 M||$6.7 M|
|Darqueze Dennard||$2.2 M||$2.5 M||tbd|
|Josh Shaw||$0.7 M||$0.7 M||$0.8 M|
|Dre Kirkpatrick||$7.5 M|
|Chris Lewis-Harris||$0.7 M|
|Chykie Brown||$0.6 M|
The Bengals also added Darius Hillary and Frankie Williams in undrafted free agency this year. They'll have an uphill battle to crack the 53-man roster, but could have a good shot at making the practice squad.
At first glance, the starting lineup that comes to mind is Jones and Kirkpatrick, with Dennard coming into the game on nickel defense formations. In such a scenario, Jackson’s contributions would be limited to special teams and injury backup duties.
Another possibility would be using Jones extensively as a returner. Jones is a very good punt returner, and a secondary of Jackson, Dennard and Kirkpatrick could give Jones the opportunity to focus on returning, while taking fewer snaps on defensive formations. This seems highly unlikely with Jones coming off a Pro Bowl season, and the team’s tendency to play veterans over youngsters. Jones was also easily the Bengals' best cornerback last year, so it makes the most sense to keep him on defense. But limiting Jones’ snaps in the secondary could help stretch out his productiveness, too.
Yet another scenario could be to use the excess of cornerbacks to cover the shortcomings at safety. Jackson and Dennard are likely better in coverage than George Iloka and Shawn Williams. Perhaps the Bengals could pursue switching in one of the cornerbacks for one of the safeties on obvious passing downs, like they do with pass rushers up front? I realize such a suggestion might be crazy talk, but it would be a good use for the many impressive cornerbacks on the roster.
Looking beyond the upcoming NFL season, once Jackson is officially signed, they will have four cornerbacks signed for the 2017 and 2018 seasons as well. The Bengals' secondary looks to be stocked with young, quality players for many years to come.