Jessie Bates III didn’t grow up too far away from Cincinnati. He’s from Fort Wayne, Indiana, just a short trip north from Cincinnati. It was there that the foundation of his work ethic and humble attitude was laid.
“Very grounded. Quiet kid. He doesn’t have a dominating personality. Kind of goes with the flow,” said Kurt Tippmann, Snider High School’s head football coach, via Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “As a three-sport athlete, he was a very focused guy. He had a knack for staying focused on what he was doing at that time. A gym rat.”
It was this mindset that helped Bates become the Bengals’ second-round pick in this year’s draft. It will probably also help him become the future starting safety for the Bengals at some point. Part of what makes Bates such a special player is the amount of time he puts into the game, but most of it is just knowing when there is a play to be made.
“What makes him such a good player is he’s so instinctive,” Tippmann said. “Some of that is natural, but some of that is the amount of time he spends studying. As a young guy, he wasn’t really the best athlete. He didn’t just separate himself with pure speed or pure athleticism. He had those things, but not to the same extent that other people had that same stuff.”
Tippmann went on to give an example of Bates leaving an assignment on the goal line to jump a route, which turned into a 99 yard interception return for a touchdown. It’s plays like that at turning points in a game that Bates can help make. It is also something the Bengals desperately need.
So many times last season, it was a matter of the Bengals never being able to make that play to put a team away. One or two more plays in just a few games could’ve been the difference in the season. This is something the Bengals will be expecting of Bates as they continue to open up the playbook to him this offseason.
Bates was more restricted in his second season at Wake Forest than his freshman season. However, that didn’t have as much impact on him deciding to leave school early for the NFL. In fact, several important things led to his decision to leave for the NFL after only playing two seasons.
“Seven of the top 10 safeties (in the NFL) weren’t first round-picks and that was kind of the idea if I was going to come back. So I could be a first-round pick,” Bates said. “It’s the thing Marvin [Lewis] even preaches to this day. It doesn’t matter what round you get picked, it matters what you do when you get there. I just wanted to take the step. I knew I took a leap of faith.”
That is a very savvy answer for such a young guy. It also seems that an MCL injury and change in scheme at Wake Forest may have motivated him to take the leap more quickly.
“That part of it was obviously tricky. It was a frustrating part of the season,” said Bates of his injury. “Also being hurt for the first time ever, (could) have been another reason for coming out. I had never been hurt and that was kind of a scary thing for me. It could have been a lot worse.”
Bates’ college safeties coach has another reasoning for his player’s drop in interceptions in the 2017 season. In an exclusive interview with Cincy Jungle, Lyle Hemphill said much of the drop off had to do with quarterbacks looking away from Bates.
“We asked him to do a lot of man-to-man over the slot, which is something that’s very hard to do,” Hemphill, Wake Forest’s safeties coach said. “Which really took his eyes off the quarterback a lot of times and I think that had a fair amount to do with why he didn’t have as many interceptions. He also wasn’t targeted nearly as much. A couple people tried him early in the year and then they’d go away from him. He has great range, great hands, he was a centerfielder so he can track the ball really well. That’s going to be one of his strong points, even if it wasn’t this past year.”
As for Bates leaving college early, it also doesn’t hurt that he will be eligible for his second contract when he is only 25-years-old. Considering how long safeties tend to stick around in the NFL, he may have a shot at a third big contract before he hits 30.
Either way, the future looks bright for Bates and his humble demeanor.