Clayton Fejedelem had a better rookie season than many expected of the Cincinnati Bengals seventh round selection from the 2016 NFL Draft. Although he didn’t see too much playing time in his first year, he proved himself as a worthy backup. However, the football offseason can be extremely unpredictable at times and the Bengals added another safety in this year’s draft. Can he maintain his status on the team in 2017? We take a look at where he stands and what his role may look like this season.
Weight: 203 pounds
Hometown: Lemont, Illinois
Experience: Second year
Fejedelem is signed through 2019; in 2017, Fejedelem will earn a base salary of $540,000, while carrying a cap hit of $555,887 and a dead cap value of $47,663. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.
The Bengals selected Fejedelem with the 245th overall pick in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. In 2016, he made 10 tackles and 1 stuff in 39 snaps played on defense. That's actually a pretty impressive tackling rate and it netted him a 70.5 grade from Pro Football Focus on the season. Comparatively, fellow backup safety Derron Smith received a 67.5 grade from PFF in 2016, while starters Shawn Williams and George Iloka received grades of 80.6 and 78.1 respectively.
Fejedelem surprised a lot of people by the unconventional way in which he made it to the NFL. Starting out with the St. Xavier Cougars of the NAIA, he bet on himself by transferring and walking onto Illinois' football program, becoming a regular starter, and managing to play well enough to catch the eyes of NFL scouts. In two years with the Fighting Illini, Fejedelem recorded 189 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. He also scored a touchdown on a punt return in his senior season.
Since coming to the NFL, playing time has not been easy to come by as the Bengals are set at both starting safety positions. Iloka and Williams are both entrenched as starters with multiple years left on their contracts.
However, Fejedelem carved out a niche for himself as a reliable backup and special teams contributor. His tenacity and practice habits have been consistently praised by Bengals coaches and it would be surprising to see another safety beat him out for a roster spot.
But, the Bengals did add another defensive back in the draft this year, sixth round standout Brandon Wilson, who is a multi-threat player with experience at safety, cornerback, running back and kick returner. He’ll challenge Fejedelem for his roster spot, but the Bengals may find they’re best off keeping both players and dropping a player at a different position.
The Bengals typically keep four safeties on the roster and it seems the final two spots will come down to Smith (a 2015 sixth round pick), Wilson and Fejedelem. Demetrious Cox, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan State, was also added to the competition at the position this offseason. All four players are technically practice squad eligible and the battle among the safeties this summer to make the 53-man roster should be a fun one to watch.
Roster odds: 65 percent.