What better way to get to know the newest Bengals rookies than by talking to those who covered their college careers? After learning more about Malik Jefferson with Burnt Orange Nation yesterday, today, we’re getting to know Jessie Bates with SB Nation’s Wake Forest website, Blogger So Dear. Riley Johnston has graciously offered up the answers to some of our burning questions on the Bengals second round pick, safety Jessie Bates.
Bates played two seasons at Wake Forest, during which he recorded 177 tackles (including 9.5 for loss), 6 interceptions (2 of which went for touchdowns), 10 passes defensed and 2 forced fumbles. He also returned punts at Wake Forest, totaling 27 returns for 234 yards (averaging 8.7 yards per return) with 1 touchdown. The Bengals love his ball-hawking abilities, so let’s learn more about them!
Rebecca Toback: What do you think about the Bengals’ addition of Jessie Bates in Round 2 of the draft?
Riley Johnston: I am obviously a little biased as a Wake Forest writer, but I think he is an excellent selection for the Bengals and is somebody who can come into certain packages and contribute right away. He is a natural “centerfielder” with a knack for making big plays all over the field. I am by no means an expert on what Cincy currently has going on at their safety positions, but Bates is a guy who will be hard to keep off the field.
RT: What was Bates known for during his time at Wake? Other than being one of the team’s safeties, of course.
RJ: He is a bit of an interesting case because Wake Forest flipped him right before National Signing Day as a three-star when he was committed to Toledo, then he came in and just blew the competition away after his red-shirt season. He made the ACC all-rookie team and was actually runner-up to Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence for Rookie of the Year in the ACC, which is pretty amazing considering the talent that comes into Clemson, FSU, Miami, N.C. State, and Louisville every year. He is a high character guy and somebody who was consistently raved about by the Wake coaching staff.
RT: What do you see as some of his strengths?
RJ: His biggest strength in my eyes is how intelligent he is on the football field. He recognizes very quickly what the offense is trying to do, and that, paired with above average athleticism, allowed him to thrive in the ACC. He has lightning-quick reflexes and is fantastic at reading the QB’s eyes to make a play on the ball. This led to multiple interceptions for touchdowns throughout his career at Wake Forest. His 4.5 speed and ability to field punt returns (as you may have seen in the bowl game against Texas A&M) make him a versatile player who can line up at a lot of different places in the secondary.
RT: How about any weaknesses?
RJ: I think his size could be a concern early in his career. He needs to add some weight to his frame but maintain his explosiveness to be an effective every down player in the NFL. He also battled some injuries last season that kept him out of multiple games. I don’t think the sample size is high enough to raise questions about his durability, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. From a playing standpoint I think his over-pursuit of plays hurt him at times in games where he would get out of position due to trying to do too much. If he can maintain his positional discipline and rely on his instincts to back him up, he will be fine. He gets in trouble when he tries to do too much.
RT: Did he have any major injuries/injuries of note while in college?
RJ: He had a knee injury that caused him to miss a couple of games late last season, but nothing massive.
RT: Was he a leader on the defense at Wake Forest?
RJ: I always got the sense based on his demeanor on- and off-the-field that while he was not necessarily a vocal leader (that probably fell to Cam Glenn, the safety next to him) Bates let his game do the talking and pave the way for the defense. He has a quiet confidence about himself that is rare for collegiate players to have, and that allowed him to excel.
RT: The Bengals need a playmaker at safety. Is that how you’d describe Bates?
RJ: Absolutely. At Wake Forest he was able to rack up a ton of tackles and interceptions, but his greatest asset was being in the right place at the right time. In his freshman season he took interceptions back for touchdowns against Indiana and UVA, and was the only freshman in America to have multiple interceptions for touchdowns. Last year in the Belk Bowl he took a punt return back for a score on a short field that was extremely difficult. He was the guy that I always looked at to make a play when the Deacs needed one, and more often than not he made it.
RT: Anything else Bengals fans should know?
RJ: He’s just an outstanding young man who comes from humble beginnings. He will represent Wake Forest and Cincinnati very well on- and off-the-field and I wish him nothing but the best to him in his NFL endeavors!