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2018 NFL Draft: Analyzing Bengals’ selection of Jessie Bates III in Round 2

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The Bengals land an impact safety in Round 2. What does the Wake Forest defender bring to the table?

NCAA Football: Duke at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals have yet to stay put since the draft order was first finalized, and for the second year in a row, the Bengals moved down in the second round.

In a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs that involved both teams’ second and third-round picks, the Bengals ended up taking Jessie Bates III with the 54th overall pick.

The one position the Bengals showed plenty of interest in during the offseason but didn’t address prior to tonight was safety. The team expressed interest in Kurt Coleman before free agency but watched him sign with the New Orleans Saints. They also brought in Eric Reid earlier this month but they let him leave without a deal. They were clearly interested in addressing the position, and they’ve now done it with Bates.

What Bates brings to the Bengals

Playmaking ability: In his sophomore year at Wake Forest in 2016, Bates accounted for five of the Demon Deacons 12 interceptions. He scored on two of them as well. At his best, Bates is a ballhawk who you can throw out in the deep middle of the field and he’ll take it away.

And when he has the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to score it. These are two qualities the Bengals simply don’t have in the back half of their defense. Bates immediately provides diversity and a valuable trait to a Bengals defense that needs to force more turnovers.

Hash-to-hash speed: At the combine, Bates ran a clean 4.5 40 yard dash. At 6’1” and 200 pounds, Bates has good play speed. His 6.78 3-cone and 4.26 short shuttle times are also indicative of his ability to open and turn his hips and track the ball with deep speed.

If the Bengals want to implement more cover 1 and cover 3 looks with George Iloka and Shawn Williams playing as the “buzz” defender as a third linebacker, Bates has the athleticism to patrol the middle of the field.

Understanding the pick

Clear signs: Whether it was a free agent or an early draft pick, the Bengals were clearly interested in bringing in a third safety to rotate with George Iloka and Shawn Williams. Clayton Fejedelem has shown to be useful as a reserve, but Bates brings a skillset that neither Fejedelem or their two incumbent starters have.

Immediate contributor: With their desire to add another safety to the mix, it’s clear that Bates is going to be asked to play significant snaps immediately in Teryl Austin’s defense. The sooner the pick was made, the more comfortable the team would be playing him early.

Versatility: The Bengals don’t play a true strong and free safety, they like to have both Iloka and Williams to handle single high and cover 2 shell coverages, but they also have to play in the box. Bates can also be useful close to the line of scrimmage as he is a terrific run defender and can handle hook/curl coverage responsibilities.

Playing the value game: If the Bengals were targeting Bates all along, and they still got to draft him after trading down and improving their draft slot for their second third-round pick, then they played it perfectly. After essentially acquiring two starters on the offensive line after trading down in the first round, they got the safety they wanted and moved over 20 spots in the next round. The process is working for them.

The Bengals now pick back-to-back in the third round (77th and 78th), and they have their third safety they’ve been coveting. Not a bad move.