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Bengals rookie review: Defensive back Brandon Wilson

The Bengals didn’t get to see much of Brandon Wilson outside of special teams, so his roster status for 2018 has some uncertainty.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Wilson was easily one of the more intriguing rookies to watch for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017.

The Bengals love versatility, but they’d never had someone quite like Wilson. He’s also someone Cincinnati had to trade up to select in the 2017 NFL Draft with pick No. 207, moving up from pick No. 217 while trading the No. 227 pick in the process.

Even though it was a late-round pick, trading up to get Wilson showed the Bengals were high on the do-it-all defensive back from Houston. He’s one of only four players the team has ever traded up to select.

This pick actually came one year after the Bengals took fellow Houston cornerback William Jackson III in Round 1. With Jackson off to the NFL in 2016, Wilson stepped up as a starter during the 2016 season, racking up 43 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, one interception and one forced fumble.

Wilson played all over Houston’s defense, and he even spent some time at running back, too, especially as a junior. In 2016 on offense, Wilson record five receptions for 52 yards and four carries for six yards while seeing time as a running back in the Las Vegas Bowl. He also chipped in 21 kickoff returns for 510 yards (24.3 average) and even returned a missed field goal for a touchdown vs Oklahoma.

It was in 2015 when Wilson’s offensive ability was really on display. He accumulated 188 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 attempts (5.1 yards per carry average) and added six catches for 49 yards.

Some draft experts had Wilson projected to play running back in the NFL, but for 2017, he stuck to defensive back with the Bengals. He was listed as a safety for his entire rookie season, though we rarely got to see him in any capacity. That’s because a knee injury kept Wilson sidelined for most of the offseason workouts, then all of training camp and the first three preseason games.

Wilson was active in the fourth preseason game but didn’t log any statistics. He was waived during final roster cuts before being signed to the practice squad. Once injuries began hitting the Bengals’ defensive backfield, Wilson was called up to the 53-man roster and wound up being active in the final eight games, though he was used mostly on special teams and recorded five tackles.

Now, Wilson will remain somewhat of an unknown going into the 2018 offseason. If he can stay healthy, he should get OTA reps at safety, cornerback and possibly running back. The Bengals do have Brian Hill, Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon under contract next season, not to mention a pair of promising youngsters in Jarveon Williams and Tra Carson.

Then the Bengals are loaded at cornerback with Darqueze Dennard, Adam Jones (for now), William Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Shaw and Keivarae Russell.

That leaves Wilson’s best hopes of making the final roster will be as a backup safety again. Clayton Fejedelem was good enough in 2017 to secure his spot as the third safety, but Wilson has the inside track as that fourth safety for now. Shaw will likely continue to pull double duty as a safety and cornerback, but if the Bengals finally make him a full-time safety, that could be bad news for Wilson.

The Bengals have already cut Wilson once, so he’s far from assured of a roster spot next season, especially if he can’t stay healthy.