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Film Room: Bengals add playmaker to secondary in Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates

Athleticism and intelligence are hallmarks of Jessie Bates’ game. He has the skills to be the ball-hawking safety the Bengals’ defense has been looking for,

Wake Forest v Indiana Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Bengals selected Wake Forest safety Jessie Bates III in the second round of this year’s draft. Bates is noted for his ability to play the center field role, but he can do much more than that. Bates is can play many different roles in a defense and has shown the ability to make plays regardless of where he lines up or what he is asked to do.

Physical Attributes

Bates is an extremely gifted athlete. As the video from the NFL combine demonstrates, Bates has great speed and can flip his hips effectively. He also has very impressive change of direction speed as evidenced by the second video. This video shows how effectively Bates can plant a foot in the ground and break on the ball.

Coverage Skills

Bates puts is athletic ability to work in coverage. He is talented enough to match up in man coverage wirth slot receivers. In the clip below, Bates is in loose man coverage. He stumbles a bit in his transition as the wide receiver cuts, but collects himself and stay in great position between the man and the quarterback. Being in good position, and seeing the receiver look back for the ball, Bates looks back as well and is able to defend the pass.

Here Bates is in cover two and the slot receiver runs a corner route into the end zone. Bates broke with the receiver and got into position underneath to attempt to make a play. This is a an extremely difficult route for a cover two safety to defend when the quarterback effectively place the ball outside. Here Bates demonstrates in practical form the same athleticism that he showed in the clip from the NFL combine.

In this clip, Bates is playing the cover one robber and is essentially free to read the quarterback and make a play. That is exactly what Bates does as he breaks underneath the post route and deflects the ball to prevent the touchdown. This is a great read by Bates.

In the next clip, Bates is the safety on the left side in a two high safety look. The opposing offense is running a four vertical concept with all four receivers running go routes. When a team is running this concept one of the inside receivers is termed the “bender” and his job is to bend is route into the void in middle of the field verses cover two or cover four.

Bates plays on top of the receiver on the left while reading the quarterback. When the quarterback indicates that he is throwing the bender, Bates breaks and makes the goal line interception. This is an excellent read by Bates and a major momentum swing in Wake Forest’s favor.


Bates can do play just about any role a safety will be asked to play, but regardless or where you line him up he is a playmaker. He has a penchant for undercutting routes which can be a dangerous habit, but it has often turned into interceptions for Bates. Bates is a skilled punt returner and it shows once he gets the ball in his hands on defense. The clip below is a sample of what he can do as a ball carrier.


Bates had 177 total tackles in two years at Wake Forest and was pretty consistent. He makes great reads and breaks on the ball quickly which allows him to make many tackles close to or behind the line of scrimmage. The clip below shows both his speed and his tackling ability as he makes the tackle on the pitch as the backside alley player against the triple option.

The Bengals have some talented players at safety in George Iloka, Shawn Williams, and Clayton Fejedelem but Bates brings something different to the table. Bates may prove to be the best deep field safety in the group, but he has the ability to play well at any safety position. His athletic traits and ability to read the quarterback make him a playmaker with a knack for finding the ball.