The Bengals have struggled to keep George Iloka and Shawn Williams on the field at the same time.
This caused the team to throw Clayton Fejedelem and Josh Shaw out there at safety at times. The Bengals also lost Derron Smith after he was from the practice squad to the Browns’ active roster. While they were serviceable, the team could use an upgrade.
1). Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Fitzpatrick is the perfect example of what safeties will be required to be in about five years. The NFL is quickly evolving to a place where your defense needs a safety who can play a linebacker position during passing situation, as well as play slot receivers or tight ends. Fitzpatrick can do all those things. He struggles as a deep safety, and he needs to get a little better awareness, but those are things he can easily develop. He can also command a locker room.
2). Derwin James, Florida State
James is a physically dominant player. He has all measurables to be one of the best safeties in the NFL. The only knock draft evaluators seem to have on him at this point is he could still develop into a better coverage and run stopper in the NFL. Basically, you just have to wait for his final form to show up in a season or two, which doesn’t feel bad at all. Like Fitzpatrick, he can also easily fill the up close and personal safety role.
3). Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
It is rare you see two safeties from the same school so highly regarded in one draft. One of the major knocks against Harrison is that he wasn’t really the leader of the defense. He more came in and handled his work, which allowed Fitzpatrick to run the show. Still, his physical ability will easily see him go early in this draft. He has a knack for finding the ball in the running game, and he isn’t afraid to lay the lumber on a guy. If you factor in his athleticism, you could see him reaching the same level of play as the two safeties who will be drafted before him.
4). Jessie Bates III, Wake Forest
Bates is a great coverage safety, and he would probably be viewed higher in any other safety draft class. He has incredible instincts and ball skills, but he really lacks that tackling ability teams are looking for more and more. Odds are he will end up as being more of a deep safety early on in his career while he works on that.
5). Justin Reid, Stanford
Reid doesn’t have the same size as the safeties before him, but he could still end up being a valuable contributor in the NFL. He played deep safety and the slot for Stanford, and he could likely be plugged right into that role in the NFL. He doesn’t like any sort of athleticism that would hinder him there. The major issue teams will have with him is his ability to contest jump balls with bigger receivers. That is something opposing teams will likely target, and he may always have issues with that.