Could the Bengals actually take a safety in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft?
To this point, nearly every mock draft has had the Bengals taking either an offensive tackle or a linebacker with the 12th overall pick. Those are two of the team’s biggest issues right now, and there also appears to be several worthy prospects of the No. 12 pick that could address those issues.
But in the first mock draft from Bengals.com, Geoff Hobson is going with the best player available at No. 12. In this projection, that winds up being Florida State Seminoles safety Derwin James.
While safety doesn’t appear to be a need, it wouldn’t be hard for the Bengals to find an upgrade over Shawn Williams, who has been above average in his first two years as a full-time safety in Cincinnati’s defense.
George Iloka didn’t exactly light the world on fire last year either, but he’s done well enough throughout his career to think his spot is very safe.
But the good thing about James is he’s a freakish athlete that’s strong enough to hold up at linebacker and versatile enough to line up all over the defensive backfield, as Hobson writes:
Before last season, NFL.com reported James bench presses 450 pounds while nearing a 600 squat. The site said he would have ranked in the top five for the broad jump at last year’s combine with 11 feet, 3 inches, and there’s a video out there of him leaping over a person. Coming out of high school in Haines City (FL), his 40-yard dash time was 4.49 seconds.
In the same NFL.com story, the Florida State strength coach who has worked with such NFL players as running backs Devonta Freeman and Dalvin Cook says, “It’ll be some time before I see another one like this. Maybe never.”
So here’s a guy that can cover slot receivers and play the run, plus he’d have two terrific mentors back there in starters George Iloka and Shawn Williams. This guy has all the tools to be groomed as a playmaker.
That’s exactly what the Bengals’ defense needs more of: Playmakers who can dramatically impact a game in a single play. They just haven’t had enough of that over the last two seasons, and that’s helped contribute to back-to-back losing seasons.
James could also help cure the Bengals’ woes at linebacker, especially on passing downs when they often get torched in this regard. Having James and Burfict in at linebacker could help cure that woe in a big way.
Then whenever Iloka or Williams need a breather or are injured, James can fill in for them and there not be any dropoff (perhaps even be an upgrade).
And for a safety, James will make as many plays in the backfield as a linebacker would. He finished this past season with 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. The Bengals’ leader in sacks among linebackers recently has been Burfict with a combined 3.5 sacks in the past two seasons (not counting Carl Lawson, who played mainly at defensive end). They’ve also gotten far too few tackles for loss from their linebackers.
The Bengals could use another defender who can cause havoc in opposing backfields, something James was great at this past year.
Would you be happy with taking James at pick No. 12?