clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2017 Bengals positional analysis: Cornerbacks and safeties

While the back end of the secondary is set, the starting cornerback spots for the Bengals in 2017 are up in the air pending offseason decisions.

The Bengals have many decisions to make this offseason in an effort to bounce back from a disappointing 2016 campaign. In free agency, there are a number of current players the team will be looking to re-sign. The team will also scour the available free agents outside of Paul Brown’s Stadium’s doors. And, as always, the NFL Draft remains the team’s top priority of the spring.

Last offseason, the Bengals made one of the heaviest investments to the secondary position we’ve seen in quite some time. Dre Kirkpatrick played on the relatively-expensive fifth-year option of his rookie deal, while fellow starting cornerback Adam Jones signed a lucrative three-year contract as he approached 33-years-old. The team also used a first round pick on William Jackson III, cementing what seemed to be a very solid future for the club at the time.

At safety, George Iloka received a big contract to stay with Cincinnati, while the team allowed the aging Reggie Nelson to leave for Oakland. They decided to rely on the relatively-unproven Shawn Williams, and gave him a $19.5 million extension last May as a sign of confidence.

What’s in store for the Bengals in the secondary this year? How did the unit do last year? On this week’s Orange and Black Insider, we examined the 2016 output from the cornerbacks and safeties and looked ahead to what the offseason holds for the club at those positions.


Because of the two aforementioned contracts to Iloka and Williams, the Bengals fortunately have their two starting safeties intact for the next few years. Initially, both had slow starts to 2016, but they picked things up, as did the rest of Cincinnati’s defense, as the year came to a close.

Iloka and Williams had three interceptions apiece last year, and they seemed to get more comfortable playing next to each other later in the season. Seeing improvement from Williams in his first full season as a starter was a nice sight and bodes well for the future.

The questions at the position sit behind the starters. Derron Smith seems talented, but he missed four games with injury and had just eight tackles last season. Josh Shaw played a lot of cornerback in 2016 and grabbed an interception from the spot. He is also a swing safety and experienced some growing pains in 2016. The team found a nice special teams player in Clayton Fejedelem, but if he was forced to fill in due to a possible injury to any of the guys in front of him, it may lead to a precarious position.


This is where most of the offseason questions on defense reside. In free agency, Kirkpatrick has to be one of the top three inside targets for the Bengals along with offensive linemen Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth. Kirkpatrick isn’t an elite corner, but is a quality starter, boosted by his improved play from 2015 to 2016 in his second year as a starter.

While the franchise tag is an option for Kirkpatrick, it would be expensive for the team and could hamper other plans—especially with their usually-conservative nature in free agency. But another situation going on with a teammate might lead to him having more leverage in negotiations.

As almost every Bengals fan knows by know, Jones is having another legal issue this offseason. He’s dodged major issues since his 2010 arrival in Cincinnati, but off-field run-ins have still occurred during his Bengals tenure. The Bengals are still mulling over what to do with Jones, whether it’s making a statement by cutting him in an effort to create a clean slate in 2017, or giving the talented player yet another chance.

However, Jones had down year in 2016, as both a corner and return man, which doesn’t help his cause. Neither does his seemingly-manageable cap hit should he be released, whether it’s before or after June 1st. Jones is apparently entering anger and alcohol management, which is great to see, but it might be too little, too late with his track record, on top of his approaching 34 years of age when the 2017 season starts.

If the Bengals do decide to part ways with Jones or can’t re-sign Kirkpatrick, it becomes time to rely on the youngster in Jackson and yet another first round corner from 2014, Darqueze Dennard. But, with Dennard’s disappointing injury history and subpar stints when on the field, as well as Jackson coming off of a major injury himself, can they be trusted?