Since safety Nedu Ndukwe was drafted as one of the more successful final round steals Cincinnati has scored in 2007, not many other players have made an impact after being drafted in the final round. Ndukwe was snagged out of Notre Dame and went on to have a solid four-year career in Cincinnati.
In 2016, the Bengals found another late-round safety who could become a solid addition on the defense. That’s Clayton Fejedelem who the Bengals selected out of Illinois with the 245th overall pick of the 2016 Draft. 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, he 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 as a walk on, if he could get accepted into the school. 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 in 2015 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-time player notching 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.
But not only did Fejedelem make the Bengals’ final roster, he also shined in the limited playing time he got in the preseason and regular season. In fact, Fejedelem joined Nick Vigil and Tyler Boyd as the only Bengals draft picks to appear in all 16 games this past season.
That’s because Fejedelem became a mainstay on special teams, though he did earn occasional defensive snaps throughout the year. He finished the year with 10 total tackles, most of which came on special teams.
From the limited snaps we did see of Fejedelem, his game was somewhat similar to what Taylor Mays used to be for the Bengals’ defense: A hard-hitting safety that could play linebacker on passing downs and was almost always lined up in the box, but limited coverage abilities kept him from ever having a bigger role.
Still, that’s a nice role for a guy who made the roster as the fourth safety, and it’s a role he’ll hopefully keep for the foreseeable future. As long as the Bengals don’t draft another safety, Fejedelem is in good position to make the final roster again next season. He likely won’t get many defensive snaps with Shawn Williams, George Iloka and Derron Smith on the roster, but just one injury to that group could propel him into a bigger role.
What did you think of Fejedelem’s rookie year?