Although he has spent the last two seasons on the fringes of the Bengals’ roster, Derron Smith has played an important role as backup safety. During the past few seasons, the Bengals have had security at the starting safety positions, keeping him locked primarily into an insurance role. However, he has done a good job impressing the coaching staff in the offseason and filling in the few times his number has been called. Additionally, he has been a consistent contributor on special teams, which is always an important thing for young backups looking to maintain roster spots.
What talent was added to challenge Smith for his position in 2017 and what are his chances of making the roster?
Weight: 197 pounds
College: Fresno State
Hometown: Banning, California
Experience: Third year
Smith’s rookie deal runs through 2018. In 2017, Smith will earn a base salary of $615,000, while carrying a cap hit of $644,658 and a dead cap value of $59,316. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, according to Spotrac.
Although initially projected as a second or third round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, questions about Smith’s size and inconsistency on the field caused him to fall all the way to the sixth round. The Bengals selected him with the 197th overall pick in the draft, adding another notch on the their belt for great value picks acquired in the later rounds of the draft.
So far, Smith has developed slowly for the Bengals. Then again, it is hard for him to find a chance to break out when competing against established starters like George Iloka and Reggie Nelson in his rookie season. The same goes for last year, when Nelson’s spot opened up, but was immediately given to Shawn Williams, who was next in line for the starting safety role and received a big contract extension during the offseason to boot.
In his first two seasons, Smith was active on the roster for 28 of 32 possible games. He only recorded seven tackles during his rookie season (2015), though three of them came in the Bengals’ wild card game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last year, he saw the field a bit more often during the regular season, recording eight tackles and one pass deflection. Some would argue his production at the NFL level shows teams were right to let him slip to the sixth round, but opportunities at the safety position have been very difficult to come by in Cincinnati since Smith arrived.
In 2017, it would be a huge shock to see Smith find much more playing time with Williams and Iloka entrenched at the starting positions. Both players are under contract through 2020, while Smith is only under contract through 2019. Barring injury, it would be very surprising to see him receive much playing time this year.
Then again, it is also unlikely Smith will see much competition for his roster spot. The Bengals did draft Brandon Wilson in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. But, Smith is about as consistent and reliable as Bengals backup safeties go. There’s also Clayton Fejedelem, the team’s seventh round draft pick in 2017, who did well in OTAs and minicamp. The Bengals typically only keep four safeties, but currently have three players beyond the starters who were drafted in the last three years, and thus, have a high chance of making the roster.
Smith is still practice squad eligible with very little tape to catch the eyes of other NFL teams if he were to be waved with the intention of bringing him back. Crazier things have happened than a third-year, sixth round pick getting waived, but Smith’s chances of sticking on the 53-man roster in 2017 are strong.
Roster odds: 70 percent