Clayton Fejedelem is quietly poised for a big role with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017.
In 2016, the Bengals drafted Fejedelem out of Illinois with the 245th overall pick in the NFL Draft. Not only did Fejedelem make the Bengals’ final roster, but the hard-hitter also shined in the limited playing time he received in the preseason and regular season. Fejedelem also joined third-round linebacker Nick Vigil and second-round receiver Tyler Boyd as the only Bengals rookie draft picks to appear in all 16 games last year.
That’s because Fejedelem became a full-time contributor on special teams, though he did earn occasional defensive snaps throughout the year. He finished the year with 10 total tackles, seven of which came on special teams.
From the limited snaps during which we saw Fejedelem, his game was somewhat similar to that of Taylor Mays when he was with the Bengals: a hard-hitting safety who could play linebacker on passing downs and was almost always lined up in the box.
Now, Fejedelem is hoping to take on a bigger role in the Bengals’ defense, something he feels good about after a year in the system.
“As far as the Xs and Os go, I had to know everything last year to be a reliable backup, so I’m not worried about any of that kind of stuff,” Fejedelem told Bengals.com. “It will be nice to be able to communicate and make checks with the first teamers just to get used to their speed.”
Veteran cornerback Adam Jones likes what he’s seen from Fejedelem, who he calls one of his best friends on the team, as they enter their second year together in the Bengals’ secondary.
“He plays hard and physical,” Jones said. “He came in against Baltimore and did the job. He knows what he’s doing out there. We’re going to get nicks during camp, but he can step in and do the job.”
Fejedelem has actually developed a nice friendship with Jones, who the youngster has a great appreciation for due to how well he reads opposing offenses. That has helped Fejedelem see what he needs to do in order to become an impact player for the Bengals.
“It’s rare to see someone that knows so much on pre-snap reads,” said Fejedelem. “You can say you’ve been in the league forever, but when we go in the (secondary) room upstairs to watch film, he’ll give a little talk. During the season when we see a team for the first time it’s amazing how fast he can recognize it. You learn how to study the game when you watch it with a guy like that. Just being able to break down the pre-snap reads.”
Even though Fejedelem rarely saw any defensive snaps as a rookie, he’s still capable of playing the type of role that can spell future success for players in Cincinnati. And with the Bengals only adding one defensive back in the draft this year, Fejedelem is in good position to make the roster again in his second season.
That said, assuming Fejedelem makes the final roster, he still won’t get many defensive snaps with Shawn Williams, George Iloka and Derron Smith on the roster. The Bengals also added another safety in the draft this year, taking Brandon Wilson in the sixth round. Wilson is a multi-threat player with experience at safety, cornerback, running back and kick returner. Wilson was also someone the Bengals had to trade up for, making it likely he makes the final roster. That, in turn, makes it far from a sure thing that Fejedelem makes the final roster if he doesn’t have a good camp.
But as is life in the NFL, just one injury could propel a player into a bigger role. Both Smith and Iloka are dealing with injuries that could sideline them for multiple weeks during training camp and the preseason. And, as mentioned, Wilson is on the NFI list and has yet to practice.
It now looks like Fejedelem will, at the very least, have a big role in this defense through camp and into the preseason. That may even include a couple of starts in the Bengals’ four preseason games, where Fejedelem could suddenly become one of the more intriguing players to watch.
It’s still going to be a tough battle for Fejedelem to get on the field for Cincinnati this year, so he’ll need to have good showing during the next month to prove he shouldn’t be stuck on the bench in 2017.