2017 did not go as planned for Brandon Wilson.
But almost immediately upon joining the team Wilson injured his knee and missed all of OTAs. He was then placed on the Active/Non-Football Injury list at the start of training camp, making it so he could not practice with the team. Following the Bengals’ third preseason game, Wilson was surprisingly removed from the NFI list, which ensured he couldn’t start the NFL season on an injury list and would either be on the roster or be cut days later. It didn’t seem to make much sense as outsiders figured the Bengals would stick him on a regular season injury list instead of giving him a few short days to prove he belonged after having no practice since day one of rookie minicamp.
As such, Wilson was put in a terrible situation and was cut from the team before being added to the practice squad. It took a slew of injuries including Jeremy Hill being placed on Injured/Reserve in mid-November for Wilson to finally be promoted from the practice squad to the roster.
Interestingly, Wilson played some running back in college in addition to being used at both cornerback, safety and as a returner on special teams, but the intention wasn’t for him to play running back just because Hill was done for the year. The Bengals envision Wilson as a safety in Cincinnati.
“My rookie year didn’t start off as well as I wanted it to, but the ending of the season was good for me,” Wilson said in an exclusive interview with Cincy Jungle. “Whenever I did get activated on game day, I played mostly special teams so that was great for me and being able to bounce back like that and contribute to the team was a step in the right direction.”
But in 2018, Wilson is hoping to be more than just a special teams contributor. He sees his best fit with the Bengals at the safety position.
“I’ve got the speed to contribute to the safety group, I know that,” Wilson said. “I know that I just need to get with the veterans and let them help guide me and understand the game more.”
Wilson will be doing just that this offseason as he’s now healthy and participating in OTAs for the first time. He joins last year’s starters at safety, George Iloka and Shawn Williams as well as Clayton Fejedelem, rookie second round pick Jessie Bates and undrafted rookies Trayvon Henderson and Tyrice Beverette at the position. Luckily for the newbies—and Wilson—the Bengals’ veterans at the position like to help out their teammates.
“Oh my goodness, they’ve helped me so much,” Wilson said of his teammates. “All the vets in the defensive back room, they’ve all helped me out. Especially when I first got there, they helped me a lot.”
One guy who specifically has helped Wilson is a Bengals player on the rise who actually was teammates with him at Houston, too. That’s 2016 first round pick William Jackson III.
“It was fun playing with Will last year,” Wilson said of Jackson. “It’s crazy and really cool we’re on the same team. It’s fun having someone you played with you in college in the NFL. He’s an inspiration.”
Jackson had a breakout campaign of sorts in 2017, intercepting Aaron Rodgers and bringing it back for a touchdown in Week 3 of the season. It was just the second time an NFL player secured a pick six against Rodgers.
“It wasn’t surprising that he took off last season,” Wilson said of Jackson. “He’s been doing what he’s doing in the NFL since he was at Houston so it wasn’t a shock at all to see him do so well.”
At Houston, Wilson played in 40 games over the span of four seasons and accumulated 138 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions (1 that went for a touchdown), 15 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery (which went for a touchdown) and 3 forced fumbles. On special teams, he added 44 kick returns for 1,125 yards (averaging 25.5 yards per return) and 2 touchdowns. On offense, he shined in a limited role with 44 rushing attempts for 194 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns as well as 11 catches for 101 yards (9.2 yards per reception). Scoring on offense, defense and special teams made Wilson stand out to the Bengals when the team traded up to draft him. His 4.4 second 40-yard dash didn’t hurt either.
But after not getting on the field much in his rookie year—and tallying just five tackles on the season—Wilson is trying to take better care of his body to stay in NFL shape both mentally and physically.
“I’m taking care of my body more. Being ready for whatever comes my way,” he said. “I’m staying on top of everything and making sure that I do what I can to prevent injuries. I’m just taking care of my body.”
Wilson will need to take care of his body, stay healthy and fight hard both at the safety position and on special teams to carve out his space on the roster this year. The competition will be fierce among the defensive backs and it’s no guarantee he makes the 53-man roster. That’s especially true as Fejedelem has proven himself to be a key special teams player, even getting the nod as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2017.
This offseason has been a big one for Wilson. He got married to the woman he had been dating since eighth grade, went on an amazing honeymoon to Hawaii and spent some time back home in Shreveport, Louisiana. He also has been working hard, training at Ignition APG in the Cincinnati area with Bengals players past and present like Vincent Rey and Brandon Tate.
“My goal this year is to make the Pro Bowl,” Wilson said. “That’s what I want to do. I’m just going to work my butt off; that’s the only thing I can do. I’m just ready to play and meet my goals. And, you know I’d like to win a World Championship.”