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Bengals roster breakdown, 90-in-90: Josh Shaw

Now entering his third year, the fourth-round defensive back out of Southern California has found his niche in a deep Bengals secondary.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have more first-round picks at cornerback than any other position on the roster. But draft status hasn’t kept cornerback Josh Shaw from securing a significant role on the Bengals defense. The versatile pass defender has proven to be valuable as a special teamer and a rising member of a defense that ranked just outside the top 10 in opponents passing yards per game.

Let’s review what Shaw has done so far since joining the Bengals, how he got here and what to expect from him in 2017.

Josh Shaw

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 200

Position: Cornerback

College: Southern California

Hometown: Palmdale, California

Experience: Third year

Cap status

Shaw is under contract through 2018. In 2017, he is on the third year of his four-year rookie contract, earning a base salary of $615,000 and carrying a cap hit of $738,431. He has $246,862 worth of dead money attached to his deal if he were to be cut this year, per Spotrac. At the conclusion of this season, he is eligible to receive an extension on the fourth year of his contract, and is currently set to become a free agent in 2019.


Shaw was taken by the Bengals with the 120th overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, and his path to the draft was nothing short of unique. After spending two years at the University of Florida where he started only one game, he transferred to the University of Southern California and was allowed to play right away without sitting for a year thanks to the hardship waiver he was granted by the NCAA. Shaw played three productive seasons for the Trojans, though the final season was abbreviated due to a significant suspension. That suspension was due to the now infamous pool incident, which caused the potential day two prospect to slide all the way to late in the fourth round, at which point the Bengals gladly picked him up.

Shaw tested very well athletically and brings the best combination of size, speed, explosiveness and flexibility out of the current cornerbacks on the Bengals’ roster who the team drafted.

Current cornerbacks drafted by Cincinnati

Year Player School Height Weight 40 Yard Bench Vertical Broad 3 Cone Shuttle Drafted
Year Player School Height Weight 40 Yard Bench Vertical Broad 3 Cone Shuttle Drafted
2016 William Jackson III Houston 72.38 189 4.37 10 DNP 116 6.86 4.32 1st Round / 24th pick
2015 Josh Shaw Southern California 72.50 201 4.44 25 37.5 130 7.01 4.12 4th Round / 120th pick
2014 Darqueze Dennard Michigan State 70.88 199 4.52 15 36 134 7.07 4.41 1st Round / 24th pick
2012 Dre Kirkpatrick Alabama 73.63 186 4.5 DNP 35 120 7.2 DNP 1st Round / 17th pick

His physique and movement skills made him a prime candidate for special teams in his rookie year, and ended up playing the sixth most snaps on special teams in 2015. Late in the season, he started taking snaps from Darqueze Dennard in the slot in the Bengals nickel defense. He upheld that role to start the 2016 season when Dennard missed the first game of the season, but kept it even when Dennard returned.

According to PFF, no other slot cornerback allowed a lower passer rating through the first four weeks of the season last year. He finished the season with one interception, three passes defended, 31 solo tackles, and started 12 of the 16 games in which he appeared. In terms of snap counts, he recorded the fifth most snaps in the secondary, and almost doubled Dennard’s defensive snaps by season’s end. All while still playing the fifth most snaps on special teams.

Considering the Bengals play with three cornerbacks more than any other package on defense, Shaw is indeed a starting cornerback. And unless Dennard starts to look like a cornerback with first round talent, Shaw will remain a starter in the slot.

Roster chances

The Bengals added cornerback Bene Benwikere via free agency and drafted safety Brandon Wilson late in this year’s draft. These are the only additions to an already jam-packed secondary, but Shaw’s spot on the roster is his and only his to lose. Perhaps his playing time isn’t set in stone in case Dennard, William Jackson or KeiVarare Russell show out in training camp and in the preseason; but Shaw is looking like the best mix of talent and return on investment as a fourth-round pick the Bengals have had since Clint Boling back in 2011. In addition to playing cornerback, he can also play safety, which is something the Bengals had him do in 2016 due to injury and something the team may look to continue in 2017. He’s emerged as a dependable member for both the starting defense and special teams, and that should continue in 2017. His best play is likely still ahead of him, and the Bengals will want to see that for themselves.

Odds: 90 percent