The Bengals are hoping Jessie Bates can make an impact in more ways than one in his rookie season.
The former Wake Forest safety collected six interceptions, 10 pass deflections and 177 total tackles over the last two seasons before declaring for the NFL Draft.
But while Bates was known as a ball-hawking safety, an underrated aspect of his game was his punt-return skills. He finished his career with 27 punt returns for 234 yards (8.7 avg) and one score.
For comparison, Alex Erickson had 40 returns for 278 yards (7.0 avg) and no scores in 2017. The Bengals need to get more out of their punt returner, so Bates may answer the call.
The Bengals would certainly love to have another player who can make an impact as a punt returner after losing Adam Jones this offseason. Jones split time with Erickson as the punt returner for the last two seasons, though Jones made the bigger impact with 131 yards on just six returns (21.8 avg).
It just so happens Bates has looked good there in minicamp thus far, according to Jay Morrison of Dayton Daily News.
But safety Jessie Bates looked especially athletic and smooth, and not just on defense. Bates also caught punts and looked more steady and sure-handed than fifth-rounder Darius Phillips, who had five kickoff and one punt return touchdown in college.
Jones has made it sound like he’ll sign with a team soon, but while he says the Bengals are still an option, having Bates shine here makes it even likelier that Jones will not return to Cincinnati.
This is a great way for Bates to ensure he’s on the field early and often as a rookie. He could be the third safety getting a lot of snaps on defense while doubling as a returner on special teams, which is an area Marvin Lewis demands his rookies to make an impact in if they want to play in their first professional season.